Many adoption professionals advise hopeful parents to only proceed with an adoption process when both partners are 100% on the same page. That’s excellent advice, but in our experience, it is not the norm – at least not at the start of a couple’s exploration of adoption. In the beginning, it’s far more common for one partner to be more interested in adoption than the other. What do you do when you want to adopt, but your partner is reluctant?

Accept that Some Reluctance is Normal

Although we are speaking primarily about adoption, it might be helpful for you to know that there are reluctant partners or spouses in fertility treatment and surrogacy too. It’s not uncommon for one partner to be ready to move up the treatment ladder sooner than the other.

Couples not facing fertility issues or considering adoption struggle with one partner feeling reluctant when the other is ready to charge full steam ahead. Maybe that indecision is why there are so many unexpected pregnancies with couples, even though we live in a day of effective birth control. 

Building a family – however you do it – is a huge decision you should not make lightly. Some partners take longer to process the ideas and potential outcomes than others. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), it is impossible to adopt accidentally, so a reluctant partner’s perspective should be fully considered.

There are No Easy Answers

There are many factors that each family should consider when looking into adoption to build a family. Framing your partner’s reluctance as questions you can work through together will be helpful. We have a few recommendations to help you put their reluctance into question form and work toward answers that help you move forward together.

Communication is Key

There are no magic answers to the many questions a reluctant spouse might pose when you are talking about adoption. What works for one couple might not work for you. However, what will work is prioritizing your open, honest communication to start the process of seeking answers together.

Say less.

It’s natural to be excited about your ideas for adoption. However, be sure you are not overwhelming your partner with your thoughts and reasons to proceed. For example, try talking about it more than they want to but less than you would like.

Offer resources.

Often, the partner who is “all in” is also the one who has done the bulk of the research. If that is you, ask permission to share what you’ve learned. Offer to share resources if they prefer to do their research.

Seek Understanding

While listening to your partner’s concerns or hesitations, try to understand their concerns more than you try to convince them. Your first step should be understanding why your partner is hesitant to adopt. Don’t assume you know. They 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?
  • Would I feel like a failure if I didn’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?

These questions all represent valid concerns. When you are willing to respect and value each other’s process, you can address them together before moving forward.

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When Your Partner is Still Reluctant

Sometimes, even after you’ve communicated honestly and sought understanding of your partner’s concerns, you still need help to get on the same page. You still want to adopt. Your partner still does not. What do you do now?

1. Keep talking.

Please don’t assume they aren’t feeling their way through the issues if they don’t speak about them. Trust that even if your partner isn’t talking about it as often as you are, they are still processing.

Don’t just talk about adoption.

If your reluctant partner feels that adoption is all you talk about, set a time each week to discuss it to avoid overwhelming them. Try also talking about your hopes and dreams for parenting in general. What kind of dad or mom do you see yourselves being? What was great about your childhood experience? What would you change?

Listen more than you speak.

When your partner opens up to you, intentionally listen without planning a response or persuasion. Again, seek understanding – not points from which to mount a defense.

Admit your concerns and fears.

As strange as this may seem, share your fears about adopting. You know you have them. The relationship dynamics of many couples is to balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses. What you may feel apprehension over might be your partner’s natural strength. They need to hear that you are aware of your vulnerabilities and willing to share them to find solutions.

2. Learn more.

Let your partner know that you want to learn more about adoption issues. Ask permission to share the information you gather. Invite them to events that might help them learn with you. However, don’t expect them to be as enthusiastic about the education process as you are.

Learn from others.

Consider resources where you can learn from others living the adoptive family life. Join an online group like the Creating a Family Facebook group to learn from many voices in the adoption constellation. Encourage your partner to join – even if they observe and don’t participate. Engaging with others with similar concerns can be helpful, so introduce a thread on reluctant spouses. You’ll be surprised at how many people have had this experience.

Gather more information.

Attend an “in-person” support group for adoptive families. Look for an informational meeting at an adoption agency in your community. Acknowledge that going to these meetings does not signal a commitment to adopt. Instead, it’s another way to gather information to make an informed decision. It’s helpful to spend time with families formed by adoption. Seeing how they function helps normalize your perceptions of the process and provides an opportunity to ask questions. If your partner is still deciding whether to take this step, agree to revisit the conversation on a date you set together.

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3. Take a break.

If you are considering transitioning from infertility treatment to adoption, take a break from treatment for a set period. Use the break to enjoy your life as a couple. Remember why you chose each other in the first place.

At the end of the break, evaluate your next steps. Should you return to treatment? Transition to adoption? Continue the break? Are there other options that feel right for you right now?

4. Bring in Help.

Many couples find it beneficial to seek a neutral third party to help them work through differences like this. Suppose you and your partner are feeling stuck. A therapist, counselor, or clergyperson can help you listen and communicate with each other. Ask for specific exercises to help you understand each other more clearly.

Finding a therapist who understands infertility issues will be beneficial if you come to the adoption option from an infertility journey.

5. Give Your Reluctant Partner Time

As hard as it may be, giving your partner time to process their reluctance is critical. Each of us has a different speed and style for processing concerns, fears, and grief. Making decisions without the benefit of fully processing – individually and together – can set you up for mismatched expectations and disappointment in your relationship and parenting.

If you are committed to a healthy partnership and each other, regardless of whether you ever become parents, say so. Assure them of your commitment to working through these issues together. If your partner’s reluctance is ultimately a deal-breaker for your commitment to the relationship, please seek a therapist to help you work through the problems you are facing.

What is Best for the Child

It would be best if you did not try to force or coerce your partner into a life choice as significant as becoming a parent. Guilting them into going along with your plans can backfire for you all. Additionally, coercing them into pursuing adoption will likely be ineffective once the home study interviews begin. It’s the job of a social worker to delve into your reasons for wanting to adopt, how you communicate, and how you problem-solve together.

While you might be able to fake some of these differences during the home study, adoption is about choosing what is best for the child you bring home. Every child deserves to be genuinely wanted by both parents.

Did you have a reluctant partner in the adoption journey? How did you handle the process? Tell us in the comments!

Image Credits: Timur Weber; cottonbro studio; Pavel Danilyuk