Dear Patti,

I’ve been dating Oscar for 18 months and am definitely in love with him. I’ve known some fabulous men in my past but none of them have even come close by comparison. His intelligence, openness, and kindness surpass anyone I’ve dated. We connect physically, mentally and emotionally. He’s so easy to talk to about anything and we never get into fights. In my past relationships, it wasn’t always that way.
   

The problem is that he doesn’t ever want to have children and I really do. As much as I love him, I can’t possibly see myself committing for the rest of my life to never having a family of my own. I come from a large family and have four siblings. They all have families, and my nieces and nephews mean the world to me. I’ve let Oscar know my feelings but, for the time being, the issue is on hold. We don’t talk about it. We’re just continuing to love each other and enjoy ourselves. We both know, however, we’re going to have to deal with this irreconcilable difference eventually.

I heard from a mutual friend that Oscar was going to propose but has now put it aside. That’s very sad to me. In my heart I know this relationship can’t go anywhere. I can’t seem to break up, nor can I commit. I also know I’d always regret it if I never became a mother. Please help me decide what to do.

    

  — Evelyn 

Dear Evelyn,

Your relationship initially sounded open and healthy until the two of you ran into an extremely serious obstacle. Subsequently, you have both become avoidant. For this reason I recommend couple counseling and thoroughly discussing this issue and your respective emotions surrounding it. Communication is extremely important right now. The sooner the issue is discussed openly, the better. It may take several sessions to tell your complete truth to each other — or even to tell it to yourselves.

Let Oscar know how passionate you feel toward him, but that you’re now holding back from a true commitment because you can’t imagine your life without children. It’s important to be honest and express your deep disappointment and whatever else you’ve been feeling after learning he doesn’t share your hopes and dreams about parenthood.

Ask yourself whether you’ve truly expressed your feelings to him in a clear, comprehensive way. Does he know why you want a baby? Does he realize the extent of your desire? Try to picture a life without children and talk with him about what kind of life — without kids — he’s imagining. While there are certainly advantages to a childfree lifestyle, that might be meaningless to you if you have an ache, a longing for a family that just can’t be ignored.

The therapist will help Oscar explore and express his feelings to you as well. Is he afraid he won’t be a loving father or that it would interfere with the close relationship with you? Is he afraid of the pregnancy, childbirth or divorce? Are there health issues or a desire to not pass on his own genes? Would adoption be an option? Or is it more because of his desire to have his life’s pursuits unencumbered? If this is clearly Oscar’s life choice, his decision needs to be listened to and respected.

Children are wonderful if you have the temperament and desire to be a parent, but not everyone wants to be. Before you make the life decision as to whether you stay together or break up, you first need to understand each other.

I encourage couples to compromise with one another but not by being untrue to themselves. This, of course, is an extremely big decision in your life. You’re at a crossroads right now—a very important one—and you mustn’t allow anyone to minimize it. As a therapist, I’d never tell you what path to take. Nor should you allow any therapist, spiritual leader, friend or family member to decide for you. Sometimes one realizes his or her partner is most important, no matter what. Other times, even though it’s hard to see past the immediate pain of ending a relationship that gives you so much joy right now, parenthood may not be something you can compromise about. The decision is yours, and yours only, to make. n

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, is a psychotherapist in private practice with offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.