One of the most sensitive issues to navigate in marriage is family planning. It’s wonderful when you and your husband are in perfect agreement about when to start your family and how many children to have. It’s even more amazing when your bodies cooperate with the plans you’ve decided on. In reality, most couples experience a glitch along the way. For example:
He wants to wait a few years until they’ve saved for a down payment on the house, but she hears the biological clock ticking.
After three kids, she wants to even it out with another, but he just wants his wife back.
Four years of “trying” and no baby. Everyone is giving opinions about adoption, in vitro, and fertility medication (especially the in-laws!). The husband and wife are so confused, they feel too paralyzed to do anything.
Situations like these are volatile for a number of reasons.
Family decisions involve deeply held spiritual and ethical convictions about when life begins, what makes a “complete” family, and trusting God for his direction. When couples argue about birth control or having another child, they are tapping into a stream of emotions and beliefs that can be extremely difficult to navigate. Let’s not forget the added stress of overbearing family pressure!
These decisions also have a profound impact on a couple’s future. Having another child, adopting, or extensive fertility treatment will inevitably influence a family’s schedule, interpersonal dynamic, and bank account. There are a lot of lives to take into account.
Deep Convictions, Difficult Choices
With many life decisions, a husband and wife can compromise. They learn to listen to each other and find some middle ground that meets both of their needs. But this is often impossible with family planning issues. After all, you can’t have half a child or hold to some of your convictions but let go of others. It can feel very much like a stalemate. Because the stakes are so high, resolving the issue superficially can set a couple up for years of resentment.
Evan and Kristin had a blended family with five children, but Kristin wanted a child from their marriage. Evan put his foot down, stating the family was already stretched for time, money, and emotional resources. But Kristin sincerely felt their family just wasn’t complete. After many heated discussions, Evan finally relented and agreed to try for a child together. Kristin was thrilled a few months later to find out they were expecting. When their son was born with Down syndrome, though, Evan and Kristin were crushed. Kristin immediately fell in love with her son, but Evan withdrew.
It wasn’t until years later that Evan confessed how angry he was with his wife. From his perspective, having “one more child” completely changed the landscape of their family. While he loved his son, he resented that he would never have the “empty nest” he had planned someday with Kristin. From his perspective, having a child with special needs threw their complicated family dynamics into utter chaos.
I’ve heard dozens of stories like this: A husband doesn’t believe in using birth control, but his wife is exhausted after seven kids and doesn’t want another, so she refuses to have sex with her husband. A couple can’t agree on when to start a family, so they keep putting it off. When they finally decide in their mid-30s, she can’t get pregnant. She resents him for the wasted years and blames him for her barren womb.
How do you navigate these situations? Is there any way to avoid regrets and resentment when you disagree over family planning? Superficial problems can be addressed with simple advice, but significant conflict can only be resolved through hard work. The following suggestions require time and willingness to work together in seeking the Lord.
The average couple debating about a family planning issue is dealing with an overwhelming myriad of factors, including financial, ethical, spiritual, biological, and emotional considerations. Through hours of heated debates and emotional expression, things can get muddled. You and your husband may feel like you have the same conversation over and over and get nowhere. If this describes you, it may help to break down the information as you process it together.
Take a few weeks or months to talk and pray through categories of information that will help you make a wise decision together. It may even help to write things down or make a chart as you discuss and pray. Here are some categories to consider:
Emotional: Why is this decision important to each of you? How would it impact you if scenario X occurred? What dreams and hopes for the future does this decision represent?
Biological: What have the medical experts advised? What are the medical pros and cons?
Spiritual and Ethical: What convictions does this decision tap into for each of you? What biblical teaching is relevant to your situation?
Financial: What is your financial situation? How would various scenarios impact your finances? What emotional triggers are associated with your finances?
Outside Opinions: How are others pressuring you? How much weight should you give their opinions? How can you mitigate the “voices” that are putting pressure on each of you?
Seek Wise Counsel
God’s Word tells us the value of seeking out the advice of wise counselors, which is particularly true regarding significant life decisions. Family planning issues certainly fall under this category.
You and your spouse need to surround yourselves with people who have your best interests in mind and can provide wisdom. A counselor, pastor, or mentor can help you communicate, resolve conflicts, and give perspective from a different life stage. Medical experts and genetic counselors will give information from their unique expertise. Close family and friends may be helpful in speaking to your specific circumstances.
Don't Make a Decision Indepdently or Impulsively
I’ve met with couples who have argued for years about infertility issues without reaching a conclusion. Then, one night, in a heated discussion, the husband or wife capitulates. They haven’t actually resolved the issue; one of them simply wore out the other one. This is no way to make such a life-changing decision.
In other situations, a wife makes a family-planning decision “on the sly.” She stops using birth control or begins fertility treatments without telling her husband. I understand how tempting it is to simply avoid the conflict and take control of the situation. However, such a breach of trust will be very difficult to recover from and it will backfire in the long run. The same can be true of one person stubbornly refusing to make the decision. A “non-decision” is still a decision. Putting off the choice to pursue having children is a choice in itself. Don’t short-cut the process. However many conversations you need to have, keep working toward agreement.
Remember Whose Life You Are Really Talking About
We all have dreams. Family planning conversations tap into those deeply held ideas of what we thought our lives would look like. Maybe you’ve always pictured yourself as a mom of four kids. You never even considered you might be childless. Your husband, on the other hand, always pictured himself as a successful businessman. He sees your fertility quest as an interruption to his financial goals and career progress.
The bottom line is neither of these dreams is wrong, but they expose our selfishness. Letting go of what we think our lives should look like is extremely difficult. As Christians, our call is not to live out our dreams, but to lay down our lives and live for the plans and purposes of Christ. Paul put it this way: “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
That’s an easy verse to memorize but a difficult one to live out—particularly when it means putting such a deep desire at the feet of Christ. God cares about the desires of your heart, but he also wants you to commit your ways to him and trust in him (Psalm 37:5). There is a time for you to stop arguing and simply to ask, “Lord, what do you want for us and for our family?”
Trusting God with something so personal and emotional can feel like a day-by-day, minute-by-minute decision. Maybe well-meaning friends pat you on the back and spout clichés about God opening and closing wombs. This doesn’t help your aching heart and confused mind. The pouring out her heart to the Lord through her infertility is a touching reminder that God wants to walk with you through the ups and downs. He hears your cries and sees every secret choice you make to put your trust in him.
Above All, Love Each Other Deeply
What makes a healthy family? Is it a certain number of children? Do they have to be your biological offspring? The most important quality of a family is how they love. Jesus said this about his spiritual family, the church. He told us to always be unified by the sacrificial love he demonstrated.
In the quest to solve the questions around planning your family, don’t destroy the foundation of your family. You and your husband can tackle anything as long as you are united by love through Christ. Beware of getting so focused on a desired outcome that you sabotage the most critical element of your future together. As Paul urged us, “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:12–14).