Should I tell my boyfriend that I do not want children?

As our relationship strengthens, I feel this needs to be addressed

PROBLEM: My boyfriend and I are both in our 20s and are together two years. We’re in a great place at the moment, and are very resilient and a caring couple. I’ve noticed an uptake in people asking us when we’re getting married and it’s starting to bother me. The question comes from both family, friends, and people who barely know us. While we do love each other very much, neither of us know if marriage is something we both believe in. (Our parents have happy marriages.)

The problem is, all the talk of marriage has made me think about children, and if I want them or not. I had a relatively happy childhood, but I don’t want children of my own. While he knows he doesn’t want them right now, he can’t say if he ever does. I don’t like leading him on with the hopes that he won’t want children, but I’m not willing to budge on this issue. It has never been an issue before, but as our relationship strengthens I feel it is something to be addressed. What are my options here?

ADVICE: There are a number of factors that help us in our decision making: knowledge, experience and timing are among the most important. You have experience of your relationship and it is a very good one but you are still young in terms of your knowledge of the world and what you want from it.

Timing is the factor that is not in place for you, ie the time is not yet ripe for you to make a decision either about marriage or having children. We often try to make decisions before we have enough information and we usually do this because of anxiety or worry. Our minds tend to travel to the future, assume what will happen and try to mitigate the consequences in the present. This is not smart and we would do better to have patience and hone our capacity for good judgment by dealing with what is in front of us today. If we can train ourselves to be patient and trust our capacity to make, and follow through on current decisions, we can trust that we will be good at knowing what is good for us in the future. The skill here is patience and having some faith in the two of you to choose the right option at the right time for you both.

The other factor here is your partner and his ability to make choices – he has a right to make decisions based on his own assessment of the situation and you are not leading him on as long as you are reasonably honest about your opinions. He sounds as though he is happy with your relationship but he also wants to postpone any discussion of marriage. This is a reasonable position for both of you to adopt and perhaps it is time to challenge your families and community about the hints and not-so-hidden suggestions they are making.

Your families clearly think you are a great combination but they need to hear that putting you under pressure to get married is not okay – this might be particularly relevant now as Valentine’s Day often raises expectations. You both need to take charge of the situation and lightly but firmly set the tone for you as a couple and announce that if you ever consider marriage, you will let everyone know but in the meantime they must back off.

If you two stay together long enough to tackle the issue of whether to have children or not, then it should be a joint decision and committed relationships require that both partners are involved in this. Being in a relationship always involves some sacrifice, eg you had to give up a lot of your single life to allow for a relationship to grow. This capacity for taking another into consideration usually makes us more rounded and more evolved and you have probably already developed skills in this area as your relationship is long standing.

At the moment you are clear that having a family is not on the agenda for you but this might change in the coming decade and you might leave some opening for this in your future.

That is not to suggest that as a 20+ year old you do not know your own mind but we all change and develop as our experience and knowledge of the world deepens with time. Keep your lines of communication open with your partner and allow both of you to agree whether to have children and not at the right time and as a joint decision.

Your job right now is to develop and expand your life and with a secure relationship (and a happy childhood) behind you, you should be able to take risks and push the boundaries of your capacity. Trust that in the future, you will have the knowledge and experience to choose what is good for you.