In a romantic pickle? Get your questions answered by clinical psychologist Dr. Lian Bloch, in a feature we're calling Love, Lenny.
Q: I'm a 24-year-old woman who is in a relationship with a 29-year-old woman. She is getting stressed out about the age difference because she feels that she has to start thinking about having children soon and doesn't feel that I should have to worry about that yet. Also, my partner has only ever been in relationships with men and has never had to think about the alternatives to having kids, whereas I've had time to think about this. This is putting a strain on our relationship, as we are very much in love but have to think realistically as well. I feel like I should let her go so that in the long run her life will be easier, but I don't want to do that because I love her so much. I don't know what I should do. I would be so grateful for your help.
A. The good news is that you're dealing with this major decision in a mature, caring way. "It sounds like you're both concerned about stressing out the other with the impending decision about whether and how to have children. On the one hand, this signifies mutual respect and conscientiousness — awesome!" says Dr. Bloch. The bad news is there's no easy fix here. "Having children is a huge life decision that puts almost all couples through the wringer."
Many people find raising children to be deeply satisfying. But don't forget that having kids can be a prolonged bummer — an 18-year bummer. "Research suggests that having children marks a precipitous decline in relationship satisfaction, which shows signs of rejuvenation once parents become empty nesters," Dr. Bloch notes.
That said, the first thing to do is to assess the strength of your relationship independent of whether you want to have kids in the near term. If you decide that your relationship is solid enough to even entertain the convo, start by breaking down this huge decision into bite-sized chunks, so you don't choke on its enormity. Here's what the good doctor advises:
**You and your partner may want to start with a pro-con discussion and list-making pertaining to whether you want to have children together. Weigh the heavy hitters like career, finances, and childcare, but also seemingly mundane considerations like the impact on your social lives and free time — although for many people, this is an emotional and instinctive decision rather than a "logical one," and that's OK too!
**If you decide subsequently that you are interested in having children, then pursue resources to be informed about options. For example, if you would consider medically assisted reproduction, you may find it useful to read together The New Essential Guide to Lesbian Conception, Pregnancy, and Birth, by Stephanie Brill.
As to whether you should "let her go" so that her life will be "easier," you can't predict the future. Even if you're in a heterosexual relationship, making a baby isn't always just a matter of penis-in-vagina and then voilà! A healthy infant! Your current partner might need to use assisted reproductive technologies even if she were with a man, and families are made in all sorts of ways. It's 2015, dammit. If your relationship is a great one, don't cut it off because you're afraid the physical act of having kids might not be simple.
If you want your questions answered by Dr. Bloch, email firstname.lastname@example.org and put "Relationships" in the subject line.