Thinking about Expanding the Family? How to think through this life-altering decision.


The pressure of the “next step” in your relationship can be daunting, especially when that next step is a conversation about whether or not to have children. The desire to have children is not as commonplace as it once was. Research shows a decline in the birth rate overall, and more couples are choosing not to have kids, or having them later on in life. Perhaps the initial desire to postpone parenthood is financially related, but apprehension can also stem from the potential that this addition will strain a romantic relationship.


The noise can be incredibly overwhelming to sift through, and makes it difficult to locate your own feelings amidst the clatter. We can feel pressure consciously through opinions from family, peers, and by biological confines; as well as unconsciously by way of social constructs. Even as society moves away from a “typical” lifestyle, parenthood remains the social default, something couples may feel pressured to choose because the path is culturally expected. Your partner might be going through a parallel experience, but maybe neither of you have felt comfortable enough to share this process with the other. Maybe you are both undecided? Maybe one of you wants multiple children, or no children? Maybe you are just not ready, but know children are somewhere in the future?


Weighing these big decisions in a relationship can be challenging. What do you do when you are at this point, and how do you reach out to one another?


First, self-exploration…

Prior to approaching your partner, I believe self-exploration will be helpful to assess your own feelings and clarity about expanding your family. The importance of this step is that when you are ready to open up, you will be able to approach your partner from an authentic place. To gain a deeper understanding of how to engage your inner-voice, and break through personal defenses does require commitment and courage. This is getting in contact with your desires, fears, and possible hesitations. Personal therapy and mindfulness practices can be great approaches to help guide you. 


Then we can start the conversation

One of the many useful frameworks when having this conversation is to use Rosenberg’s four steps of Nonviolent Communication (NVC). Using this method is an invitation to speak from your authentic self without needing to defend yourself. NVC also gives partners the opportunity to engage in compassionate receiving, learning how to remain grounded and open, so the other feels validation. Let’s take a closer look at the steps.


Step 1: Observations without evaluations

            Think about this step as a way to open up the conversation, and explore the thoughts that each of you have about expanding the family. You are not going to come away with any definitive answers, but more that you desire to unfold the topic through your own observations, without introducing any judgment or evaluation.



Step 2: Feelings – Distinguishing feelings from thoughts

            We tend to think about our feelings by way of our thoughts, and that can be distracting for partners to connect with. This is the time for you to express your feelings that surfaced when you did self-exploration, focusing on words that describe your inner experience rather than words that describe your interpretations, thoughts, and assessments. How are you feeling about starting a family? Get deeper and share these words. Allowing your vulnerable side to be present often helps soften and deepen the contact.   


Step 3: Needs– Acknowledgement of our needs

            Now that you have shared your feelings, you can go an additional step and speak to your needs that are behind these feelings. These are our deepest and most important requirements. They can be as simple as a need for shelter or food, and as complex as desiring a sense of community. In relation to this conversation, your need could be that you want to be a parent. Another need could be to have equality in the partnership prior to making any decisions. If we don’t value our needs than our partners will not be able to respond to them.


Step 4: Requests – Being clear about what you want

            You have had a chance to open up the dialogue, share your feelings, and speak to your needs, now we are at the place of making a request. Knowing your objective before you request will be important. In this situation, you can request a response to what you have shared, such as a reflection. You can even ask for check-ins about this topic every week. When we are able to express a clear request, we raise the likelihood that the person listening to us will experience choice in their response. This choice will make a request very different from a demand, and your partner will be more available to the idea.


Keep in mind that your partner could be going through their own process, and this discussion will go back and forth as someone initiating, while the other receives. Opening up a conversation like this will be an evolving process; for very few couples, is this a one-time exchange. Be willing to engage in dialogue, and focus on exploring and listening versus testing and judging.


Deepening the connection

Learning how to work through difficult conversations can be life-altering for your relationship. Couples counseling is a space that allows you to learn how to engage in new ways of communication, such as NVC. Within the space, couples develop tools to shift from places of crisis to places of positive management. As you continue this journey with your partner, remember this: when we are able to build connection through challenging conversations, we then have greater latitude for creativity and exploration to get deeper, and can build loving and lasting relationships. 

Smitha Gandra, MFT intern is a therapist at the SF Marriage and Couples Center.  She offers sliding scale therapy to individuals and couples. 

Smitha Gandra, MFT intern is a therapist at the SF Marriage and Couples Center.  She offers sliding scale therapy to individuals and couples.