There was a very interesting question posed to The Ethicist’s column in The New York Times Magazine. It’s not an uncommon scenario in a marriage. In fact, Creating a Family quite often hears some variation of this conversation from our followers or from our Facebook discussion group members regarding adoption, foster care and even donor egg and surrogacy situations.
Here’s the question:
My wife and are I childless. We can’t have children of our own, and in any case, I have never wanted children. Now we are in our 40s, and my wife is starting the process of adoption. She is very well aware that I do not want to adopt a child, but to keep the peace in our relationship, I go along, under protest. I drag out every task required of me (writing application essays, for instance) for as long as I can, hoping either to change my mind (not happening yet) or to change hers (not happening either). This is putting a big strain on our friendship, as I feel she is pushing something on me that I don’t want. I also understand that I take away something from her that she really longs for — to be a mother.
I know that I will not go through with the adoption, but I am not sure when to pull the plug. There is a high chance that our relationship will fail over this. She is still young enough to start a family with somebody else. I would rather be alone than be a miserable family man I never wanted to be.
Should I let her continue the process and stop it when we get closer, or should I do it now? Is it ethical to play along, in the hope that she will stop the process herself? Name Withheld
and The Ethicist’s answer, here:
You must know that what you’re doing is horribly manipulative and disrespectful. It’s a fine piece of folk wisdom that nobody really knows what’s going on in someone else’s marriage, but I would be seriously worried about the prospects of a relationship centered on an unreconciled difference this deep. You’ve already imagined her marrying someone else who wants to raise a child with her. To figure out if you have a real marriage, you would need to have an honest conversation, in which she decides whether her longing for a child is more important to her than a life with you, and in which you work out whether your feelings about fatherhood really mean that you can’t give her what she wants.
What do you think? What advice would you offer? We think The Ethicist is right on track: this couple has some serious conversations ahead of them before they even think of building a family. For another perspective on this very common but vital conversation, check out our blog post, A Reluctant Spouse: When Only One Partner Wants to Adopt.. We’d love for you to weigh in on that topic too.