March 24, 2023

While there can surely be compromise on the decision to get married and where to live, the decision to have children is pretty binary and would be life-altering
Dear Roe,
My partner and I have been together for three years. Like any couple, we have had our ups and downs, but on the whole I would describe our partnership as being full of love, trust and care for the other. It is clear that we both want to be together in the long term. We have recently had discussions about our shared future; whether to get married, where to live, whether to have children. We are not on the same page about any of those questions. While there can surely be compromise on the decision to get married and where to live, the decision to have children is pretty binary and would be life-altering.
We fear that whichever we land on could lead to resentment from one towards the other. My partner has been travelling recently and it’s given me space to reflect on these things. I am truly torn on whether to end it all or not. I don’t want to force my partner into a lifestyle they don’t want and I know they feel the same way. It feels like we are happy being together for now but that there are irreconcilable differences in terms of wants for the future that could ruin that happiness. Are we doing a disservice to ourselves by staying together when it doesn’t seem like we have a compatible future, or foolish to contemplate throwing our relationship away?
Here is what I think is the key sentence in your letter, and the important bit that I think is missing: “We are happy being together for now but that there are irreconcilable differences in terms of wants for the future that could ruin that happiness… if we stay together for longer than makes sense to us.”
Not all relationships last forever. Not all relationships are destined for marriage and children. And I agree that if one of you wants children and the other doesn’t, in the long run it will become necessary to end your romantic relationship. It isn’t fair or right to make someone who doesn’t want children have them, nor to ask someone who desperately wants children to give up that idea.
(I will mention here that there is the possibility of having a non-monogamous relationship with each other and other serious partners who are open to children, but that’s a big lifestyle decision and, as you haven’t mentioned non-monogamy, I won’t dwell on it.)
But none of this means that your relationship necessarily has to end today. You don’t mention how old you are, and of course age can play a huge factor in the ease of getting pregnant and planning, so this may be something to consider. But if you feel that you have some time before you need to make any huge decisions, take it. However — and here’s the key part — you do need to have a serious, open and transparent conversation about the nature of your relationship, now and in the future.
My husband wants to have sex for at least an hour every time – it’s putting me off ]
‘I’m easy-going, intelligent and apparently good looking – so why am I single?’ ]
‘It’s not even about sex – I miss the intimacy of sleeping next to my boyfriend now that we’re in separate rooms’ ]
You say that you have opposing ideas about marriage, children and where to live, so you have obviously had conversations about the future — but how have these conversations ended? Have you acknowledged that these are irreconcilable issues, or have you tried to kick the conversation down the road, hoping that one of you will change your mind? Essentially, are you openly acknowledging the reality of this situation or are both of you hiding in some denial?
I understand wanting to avoid the conversation. You’ve been together a long time, you love each other, and facing such a conversation means acknowledging the potential end of your relationship, which is never easy. But avoiding the conversation isn’t going to help you, particularly when you’ve already opened Pandora’s box, so to speak. It’s obviously already causing you some anxiety and stress and will continue to do so. Will you be able to stay committed and present in this relationship now that you already suspect you mightn’t stay together forever? Or will you possibly start to start emotionally withdraw, or feel confused or upset if you mention long-term plans, or even plans for the next year or two?
The unspoken may cause a wedge and resentment that could build and detract from your time together and lead to an even more difficult ending. So it’s important for you to acknowledge what these issues mean for your future together so that you can start talking about what you want or need from your relationship right now. That could mean starting to discuss breaking up — or it could mean discussing what you want from your time together now.
Some people may tell you to break up immediately, and if there are serious time constraints at play or if emotionally that’s what’s right for you, then you should do so. But I do think that we can be too end-goal-focused about relationships, prioritising the idea that relationships need to be forever, overlooking how relationships can be good for us now, or for a period of time, and that we can value this deeply. This relationship has been good for you, and is full of love and care. It could continue to be right for you for some time.
If you were to stay with your partner for another six months or even a year, how could this time best be spent? What experiences would you want to have? What lessons would you want to learn? What ways could your bond help each other grow and challenge yourselves? If you were to truly value and embrace any and all time you have left together, what would that look like? You can stay for some time, if staying makes sense and feels right for you — but be sure you are indeed staying because it feels right, not just because you’re scared of leaving. Be honest with yourselves about what is genuinely good for both of you.
And whether you decide to end your romantic relationship now or later, how can you do it in a way that respects and honours what you have shared, instead of treating it like a failed experiment? I hate that, even flippantly, you equate ending a relationship with “throwing it away” — these are not the same thing. You can end a relationship thoughtfully, gratefully and appreciate it always. Ending a relationship doesn’t have to come with the sense of a “sunk cost” or time wasted. We can acknowledge how much a relationship and a partner have helped us grow, learn and — as you have learned — helped us to crystallise our idea of what we want from ourselves, a partner, a future life.
This relationship has taught you invaluable lessons, lessons that will help you shape the future you want. This future may not be together. But your present is. So start embracing it. Embrace honesty and compassion and mutual respect and be brave enough to have some difficult conversations about your present and your future. Respect the beauty and wonder of both of them. Don’t sacrifice your future for the present, but don’t devalue the present just because it can’t last forever. The best of luck.
Read more Roe McDermott ]


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