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    A Reluctant Spouse: When Only One Partner Wants to Adopt

    Dawn Davenport

    What to do when your spouse doesn't want to adopt and you do.

    Your ready to adopt, but your husband isn’t. What can you do?

    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, I have found that in the beginning almost always one partner is more interested in adoption than the other.

    Some spousal reluctance is usually a reality

    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.   Peter 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, Peter 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?

    You’ve reached an impasse.  You want to adopt but your partner doesn’t.  What do you do?  Keep talking.  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 How to Find a Therapist page.

    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 Adopt

    Image credit:  purplemattfish

    13/07/2010 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog, Infertility, Infertility Blog | 34 Comments

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    34 Responses to A Reluctant Spouse: When Only One Partner Wants to Adopt

    1. DinSC says:

      Thank you for this article. I feel as though I may be in the minority here as I am the DH wanting to adopt buy my DW does not.
      I grew up in a loving household that fostered kids and ultimately adopted two brothers once I had left for college (I am the youngest of three biological). They were a struggle for my parents but they love them all the same.
      We have two boys of our own and are considering a third. I am content with two where as DW wants three. If we’re to have three, I’d prefer to adopt.
      I’m sure I’m optimistic and naïve about the process, heartache, costs, etc. but I’m willing to try. DW main concern is more primal: will she be able to love a child that is not her own? There are other concerns as well.
      I will take you points and approach the topic with care and research.
      Thank you,

      • MJG says:

        Thank you for sharing. I am in the same boat; the DW does not to adopt, while I want to try. She too has similar fears about not being able to love someone that is not her own. Or can we afford it? I don’t know what to do.

        • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

          MJG, is she willing to talk with other parents who have adopted and might have had similar fears? Would she attend an adoptive parent gathering, if there is one near you?

    2. JSP says:

      Thank you so much for this.
      I have always wanted a big family, we are blessed to have four very easily conceived biological children. We both agreed for my DH to have a vesctomy. However after 3 years, I would love one or two more children. I would love to adopt a child now. As well as foster a teenager in 10 years until they age out of the system, to provide them a home to come home to. One huge problem, my DH says he is done, he only wanted 2 and I wanted 6. I’m praying for a change of his heart, or mine. Your article gave me a lot to think about and talk about. Thank you for sharing.

    3. K. A. L. says:

      Hi. Thanks so much for this article. It’s comforting to know I’m in good company. I was always the kid who strangle claimed they’d have 12 kids. Always wanted a huge family. Became a special education teacher, love caring for and helping kids achieve learning goals.Met my wonderful husband after I became a born again Christian. He is from a family of 9 siblings, from asia. He was excited to have a big family. Well, God knows something we dont. While we do trust Him to know best, I’ve had 10 miscarriages within a span of 14 years. Sigh. I thought, well, we’ll adopt. I was very surprised when my dear hubs told me we aren’t adopting. So, I’m still praying and trying, at 44 now, naturally, not with ivf or anything. Trying to grow into that state where I am God’s vessel, and let me serve Him, though my plan hasn’t turned out to be His plan. TRYING is the key word. A well meaning family member on hubby’s side told me, you know you’re not a woman until you have your own children. Even illogical statements like thus begin to chip away at my wonderment of what do I do now? Praise God I can just cast my cares to Him, as He refines me in the fire. Thanks for listening. Bless you all!

    4. Lois says:

      I’m so happy to hear your story because my dh is just like yours. He is not opposed to adoption and knows how important it is to me but he’s worried about handling a third child and being “too old” to keep up with another. I hope we have the happy ending that your family has. I really believe we will because I know how much my dh loves children and how big his heart is.

    5. Yogeshwari says:

      Thanks for the response Dawn. I saw it only now. I do hope something can work out ; the trouble is that I have become so scared of the whole episode that I’m torn between having and not having children. I have reached a confusing point in my life and I sometimes feel it’s best for us to not have kids. But there are times when I feel miserable and want to give it a shot. It’s shaken me completely and robbed me of whatever self confidence I had in myself. Though my husband does say, ” we should have kids for your sake” (he used to say this when we first went to the agency to sign documents), I can’t even bring myself to calling up the agency now. He says he’ll make an effort but there are times when he says fundamentally he doesn@t like kids, the previous experience has completely shattered me. No one from the agency calls and I don’t feel it’s the right time. I don’t think there can ever be , not for us, not when we are so confused.

      • Yogeshwari, I think you would really benefit from seeing a therapist to help you sort through all your competing emotions. Adoption is not easy and requires a lot of commitment from both partners. You might also benefit from listening to some of the Creating a Family show’s on deciding to live child free. You might find that a child free life has benefits that will work well with the two of you. I wish you peace in this journey.

    6. Yogeshwari says:

      Thanks for the writeup. It has been a year since we said no to adoption (we were offered twins) and though I tried very hard (despite my own fears) to convince everyone around me (especially my husband and mother in law), I realised after four months, I had reached a deadend. I waited two and a half years to get an answer and I was happy when I got a call for twins. But my husband was adamant on refusing and simply said no. He admitted he would try but I realised that we were having the worst relationship. Banging doors, blaming me for ruining his life and being so unfair everything was a disaster. I went all alone for the kids’ checkups (the night after i had a bervous breakdown), I went alone for getting everything ready ( yes I knew it wasn’t happening but I was in denial). Our relationship was in tatters then (a couple of months before the call came) and we had started getting just about okay. Then the call came for one year old twins and he freaked out. I was scared but knew I couldn’t afford to be weak because I had such a fight to put up. But eventually I gave up. I don’t know how but I decided to give this marriage a shot and today he does say we should get in touch with the centre. But I am so shaken with my past experience and will my age (38) that I wonder if it is worth it. That said, I cry and do go through immense depression. What should I do?? I suffer from the guilt of giving them up!

      • Yogeshwari, I am so sorry you are going through all of this. In the US, your age would not be a huge problem in any type of adoption-domestic infant, foster care, or international. But I wonder what type of adoption preparation you and your husband have received. I think every adoptive parent (and I mean both parents) needs to be well prepared for any type of adoption, but especially when adopting a child past infancy. That your husband became so frightened so quickly when offered 1 year old twins may be a sign that he needs more education. It also sounds like you and he could benefit from seeing a marriage counselor to support you both during the huge decision making time. Good luck.

    7. KatK says:

      Thank you for this. I’m in a serious committed relationship, seemingly headed toward marriage. Last night we had a “real talk” about what kind of family we want to have. Every since I was in high school, I have wanted to adopt. There are many reasons why, and it has been a passionate desire I’ve carried with me for the past 10 years. However, my bf seems completely against the idea of adoption. His main argument being he wants to “pass along his genes” something I’ve never really cared one way or the other about. From my perspective, I would love any child I adopt as much as a child I have biologically. Upon adoption they will be a true part of my family, my beloved, not some child I’m just helping to raise. It doesn’t seem he has that same perspective.

      Last night shook me up, because for the past couple years I’ve been convinced my bf is the man I want to marry – However I know I don’t want to marry someone who would never want to adopt. I felt like I was on the precipice of a break up. This article was extremely comforting and gives me hope for our future.

      • KatK, I’m glad it helped. Keep in mind that you “sprung” something on him that he has probably never thought about. Also, you will likely have the option of having bio kid(s) as well as adopted kid(s).

    8. 4granted says:

      One way to convince a spouse is with a compelling story of a positive adoption. Jennifer Grant’s new adoption memoir, “Love You More” is a great resource. As she tells the story of expanding their family from three kids to four by adopting a daughter from Guatemala, she addresses many of the issues surrounding adoption. But it’s skillfully woven in to a sweet, funny, tender story of what it means to be a family. I recommend it. Here’s the amazon link. http://amzn.to/oMmHGD

    9. Holly says:

      If you are interested to learn more about embryo adoption, there is a free online searchable donor database at http://www.dreamababy.com. There are available embryos right now at this clinic. They also have a blog at http://www.sweetfertility.com. Check it out!

    10. Rhonda says:

      Thaks for always talking about the stuff no one wants to talk about. This describes my life. I am so frustrated I could scream. I’ll try your approach first.

    11. Sara says:

      Yet another advantage to being a prospective single mom by choice. I have to deal with only my own reluctance.

    12. Brandy says:

      Thank you for this! Very helpful.


    13. Pamela S. J. says:

      Yep, the social worker who did our homestudy seemed to think it was unheard of that I was not as wild about the idea as my husband and that I had taken longer to get on board than he did. We’ve had our son now for 14 months and I couldn’t be more happy than if I had given birth to him. So, you are right. It is not the kiss of death for one spouse to be more hesitant than the other.

    14. TillIe says:

      I’m thankful my dh is on board with adoption if we have to go that route.

      Happy iclw…#31

    15. Kristi says:

      This is my situation to a T. I want to adopt so bad I wouldn’t do one more IF appointment if DH would give me the thumbs up to adopt. All I can do is trust in god’s calling for me and one day he will show me why I want to adopt.

    16. Erica says:

      Ahhh…the infertility ladder. Yes, I am ready for IVF yet my husband is not. I am nervous as we haven’t really had the adoption talk yet.

    17. April says:

      Thank you for this post. While my husband and I have not made a decision about if adoption is in our future or not, I am more willing at this point in time to consider it. Your article gives me ways to work with him and us as we look at this decision.

    18. Ashlee says:

      I worry about this all the time. I’m more on board for adoption than my husband is, if that is what we decide to do. But I worry that he’ll never get on board. It’s nice to read that I’m not the only one who feels like this.

      Happy ICLW

      Ashlee, #50

    19. Cyndi says:

      I feel less alone. Thanks. I will try to give him time.

    20. Rhonda says:

      I feel the pressure from my husband to just get on with it and adopt. I have sent him this blog. I want him to know that he shouldn’t be trying to pressure me to make this big of a decision. I feel better knowing I’m not alone here. I think your suggestions gives us a way to move forward while respecting both of our positions and our feelings. Thank you. I will go listen to the show on this topic.

    21. Chase says:

      Terrific work! Why is so little information available on when one parent is gungho and the other is scared stiffless. I appreciate the suggestions.

    22. Dana says:

      What a great post. So, do we need to work it all out and he has to be completely totally excited about the prospect of adoption before the home study. If so, we’ll never get there. He’s willing to move forward, but like you said, he’s not able to be all giddy about it…yet. I know he will be once it becomes more real. He thinks he will be too. I think you are right that we need to be around adoptive families. That’s going to be my next goal. Find an in person real life adoptive support group. Thank you for being with us on our infertility journey and now maybe on our adoption journey. Your show was and still is my lifeline. I noticed that DH has now downloaded a bunch of the adoption shows, so he’s getting on board.

    23. Mommy Lust says:

      I’m thankful for this post, especially right now. My DH is ready to move to adoption, but I simply am not ready. It’s funny reading this blog from the perspective of the reluctant spouse. I showed it to him and then we wathched the video. We had the best discussion we’ve ever had about adoption. He is going to get educated and then share without pressure what he learned. He has already downloaded most of all of your podcasts so it will take him a while–thank goodness. I especially liked the part about not putting pressure on me to be enthusiatic, which is something he would have done if you hadn’t mentioned that he shouldn’t. I don’t know where we will end up, but we feel closer and more understanding for each other and I am so thankful.

    24. Kirsten says:

      After finally receiving a pretty definitive infertility diagnosis, we began the transition from infertility to adoption. I moved along that path faster than my hubby (a.k.a. “Spock”). It’s very difficult for him to communicate in the affective domain. So, about once a week, I would simply ask him where was on a scale from 1-10 regarding his readiness to consider adoption. Giving me a number felt much easier and less threatening to him than telling me how he felt. And it helped me gauge his progress in some objective way without pestering him.

      As you suggested, I also tried to ask a “Would you be willing to…” question every couple of weeks, proposing small non-committal steps such as dinner w/friends who had adopted, an adoption information meeting, etc. It took him about 4 months to come around, much less time than I had feared. He just needed that time to process, grieve, imagine, etc.

      • Dawn Dawn says:

        Kristen, what a great idea to ask him to give a numerical rating on his adoption readiness. For some people this is how they best process information.

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