A Reluctant Spouse: When Only One Partner Wants to Adopt
When I hear adoption professionals say that you shouldn’t consider adoption unless both partners are 100% on board, I wonder what planet they are living on. From my interviews with many adopting couples and from my personal experience, I have found that in the beginning almost always one partner is more interested in adoption than the other.
Some Reluctance is the Norm
Although I’m writing this about adoption, I’ve seen this situation repeat itself with donor egg and surrogacy. One partner is ready to move up the treatment ladder sooner than the other. Heck, let’s be honest, we all know couples who face this issue when they are thinking about becoming parents without the complications of infertility or adoption. Maybe that is why there are so many accidental pregnancies with married couples in this day of effective birth control. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, it is impossible to accidentally adopt so a spouse’s reluctance must be fully considered.
Easy answers elude me when one spouse wants to adopt and the other does not. My hubby and I had always planned on adopting, but we hadn’t necessarily planned on having four children. After our third child was born, I still felt a very strong pull to adopt. My husband did not. His resistance had nothing to do with adoption and everything to do with being the father of four. He wondered whether he had the time for another child, whether his work would suffer with more kids, or whether his guilt would increase over the time he devoted to work. Would this child have needs that demanded even more time and money? Wasn’t he too old to have another child? The whole idea of adopting seemed risky, and he didn’t feel the need to take the risk. I did.
Communication is Key
I don’t have any magic answers. What worked for us, may not work for you. We kept the lines of communication open; talking about it more than he wanted, but less than I wanted. I asked his permission to share my research with him. I tried to understand his concerns more than I tried to convince him. After about a year, he became more comfortable with the time and financial commitment. He loved me enough and valued my happiness enough to take the risk. We compromised on what special needs or disabilities we were willing to consider. And we slowly moved forward. For what it’s worth, our daughter has been the apple of his eye from the moment he first held her, and he says he has never regretted his decision for one minute.
The first step should be trying to understand why your partner is hesitant to adopt. Don’t assume you know. He or she could be thinking any of the following:
- Can I love a child that is not biologically related?
- Can we afford to adopt?
- Do I want to be a parent at all, especially if it’s not going to happen the “old fashioned way”?
- Am I ready to stop infertility treatments and give up all hope of having a birth child?
- Will I feel like a failure if I can’t biologically have a child?
- Am I too old to become a parent?
- Do I have the time or do I want to devote the time to being a parent?
- How will my parents or older children react?
- What type of medical or emotional problems may this child have?
- We already have birth children, why complicate things?
When You Can’t Agree
You’ve reached an impasse. You want to adopt but your partner doesn’t. What do you do?
Don’t assume that if it isn’t said, it isn’t felt. If the reluctant partner feels that this is all you talk about, agree to a set time each week to talk about this subject. Talk about what each of your hopes and dreams are from parenting in general. When he is speaking, really listen rather than planning your rebuttal. Seek to understand more than convince.
As strange as this may seem, share your own fears about adopting. You know you have them. The relationship dynamics of some couples is to balance each other out. Yin and yang are great for philosophical discussions, but lousy for decision making if one partner is stuck at yin while the other is clinging to yang for dear life.
Let him know that you want to start getting educated on adoption and ask his permission to share the information with him as you go along. Don’t expect him to be as enthusiastic as you.
Join an online adoption support group for people considering adoption. Encourage your partner to participate as well. Talking with others who have similar concerns can be helpful. Introduce a thread on reluctant spouses. You’ll be surprised at how many people have had this experience.
Take a break from infertility treatments for a set period of time, with the agreement that you can resume if you still want to once the break is over. Spend time enjoying your life as a couple. Remember why you married each other in the first place.
Attend an “in person” support group for adoptive families or an informational meeting at an adoption agency, with the promise that this does not mean a commitment to adopt. Spending time with families formed by adoption is amazingly helpful to normalize the process and to provide an opportunity to ask questions. If your spouse feels it is too soon to do this, agree to revisit this option at a set time in the future.
If you are feeling particularly stuck, visit a therapist to help with communication, and if applicable, choose one that understands infertility issues. It’s not always easy to find a counselor with this expertise, but we’ve provided some suggestions on our Coping with Infertility Grief page.
Give Him Time
As hard as it may be, give your partner time. Each of us has a different speed and style for processing grief and making decisions. If you are totally committed to him or her regardless of whether you ever become parents, say so. If not, talk with a therapist before you issue an ultimatum.
Ultimately, you should not try to force (or coerce or guilt) your spouse into something as major as becoming a parent. It likely won’t be effective since during the home study the social worker will delve into each of your reasons for wanting to adopt. And though it can be faked during the interview with the social worker, every child deserves to be truly wanted by both parents.
P.S. Check out our video on The Reluctant Spouse-What to do When Only One Wants to AdoptImage credit: Naomi
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