Negotiation

This past Sunday we went to couples counseling. Finances were on the docket that day and once again, even though we said almost all the same things we always say, I heard something different. Later that night I brought up a fear with Mi.Vida that I’d been feeling for a while but had never shared – a fear that we want such fundamentally different things in our lives as to be incompatible as a couple. Lately I’ve been wondering if us trying to build a family together was all a huge mistake.

As you can imagine it didn’t go over well. Mi.Vida was understandably shocked and hurt. I felt horrible. But in the aftermath I noticed something shifted and after suddenly our situation didn’t seem so hopeless. For the first time in a long time I no longer believed our differences would be the death of our relationship. I realized that we didn’t want such different things, not really, we just wanted them in different ways and on different time tables.

Last night I wrote Mi.Vida this letter.

I’ve been thinking about what to say to you since our conversation on Sunday. I’ve wanted to talk but I’ve sensed it hasn’t been the right time. Not because you weren’t ready or interested, but because it was late and I knew you were tired. I’ve realized recently that I tend to push things on you when it works for me, when I want to talk about them, even though I can see you aren’t really in the mood. I want to stop doing that. I need to start respecting you and your feelings more. I need to be more patient and open minded. Things can wait. We can always talk later.

And if we become ships passing in the night, I can always write you an email, like I’m doing now. 😉

I know I dropped kind of a big bomb on you the other day. And I dropped it in a pretty shit-tastic way. I’ve been thinking about that stuff for a while, being scared of what it might mean. In the past months, as we’ve both struggled with the prospective future, I’ve noticed how different our ideal situations are. There have been times, so many times, when I’ve wished that we wanted the same thing. Sometimes I feel we have to negotiate everything because none of our major desires in life are in line. Sometimes I wish that we were a united front, boldly pushing our way to the same destination. Instead I feel like we want to go to two completely distinct places and we’re always arguing about how best to get there, except we can’t come to an agreement because we’re facing different directions.

Sometimes I just wish that when I said, “I really want another baby,” I knew you’d say, “yeah, I really want one too.”

But you’re never going to say that. And for the first time in maybe forever, I’m okay with that.

For a while I thought maybe the fact that you’d never say that meant this was all a big mistake. For a while I worried that we shouldn’t have tried to make this work, that the constant negotiation would get the better of us, that we’d eventually have to give up and go our separate ways. It was so horrible to feel that way. I’ve never felt so lost or despondent or hopeless than when I felt that way. And I’m sorry if thinking that way feels like a betrayal. I can understand if it does. Maybe it was a betrayal of some sort, but I hope you believe me when I say that it wasn’t meant as that. I was just trying to figure things out.

In counseling S has told us repeatedly that when negotiation takes place, neither party is truly happy with the outcome. I suppose it makes sense, if one of us is happy with how things are it means that person didn’t have to give anything up. I think that so far, I haven’t really been negotiating, at least not about the things that matter. As you’ve said, there are certain things I’ve determined are “off the table”. That is not good negotiating. That is not negotiating at all. It’s not fair for me to take things off the table, especially when those things are causing us all of our problems.

Two years ago, when you weren’t quite ready to start having kids, you jumped in with both feet because it was what I wanted. You gave me what I needed to be happy. Now it is my turn to concede. Now it is my turn give you what you need to be happy. That is only fair.

I love you so much. In the end that should be all that matters, right? I won’t lie, there are times that I wish, really wish, we wanted the same things, if only because it would make things so much easier. But then they’d probably be a lot more boring too. And I recognize that if I got everything I wanted we’d probably be in an even bigger mess than we’re already in. I know that I need your leveled patience and calm to counteract my wild and untethered wants. I know you need my drive and determination to get your placated butt into gear. I know we work well together and make life interesting while we do it. I know this, for the first time in a long time, I really believe this to be true.

There was a time when I worried that our divergent desires would be our demise. Now I see that needn’t be the case. We love each other enough that we can make it work. It’s true it will require continual sacrifice from both of us, but together we can do this. And my life might look really different from what I’d always planned, but maybe that’s okay. Different doesn’t have to mean worse. In fact sometimes, different can be so much better.

I love you.

Now I would be lying if I said I felt this way, 100%, if I claimed this shift has brought me to a place where I’m okay with waiting, possibly indefinitely, to have another baby.  I want to feel that way, I think I should feel that way, but it’s going to be hard. It’s going to be really hard to not pursue the dream of my family that I always held in my mind. It’s going to be hard to erase my vision of three kids in a little house with a dog. I wanted those things or a reason, and I still want them for a reason. And there is a part of me that feels lost with out that dream for the future. There is a part of me that feels I have suffered a loss in letting it go.

What I have to remember is there isn’t just loss there, where my old dreams used to live. Something else will be there, something that I might not recognize yet but that could be just as wonderful as what I’d hoped for. Maybe even better. And while I can’t know yet if the new dreams I’m working for bring me as much joy as I hoped the old dreams would, I have to have faith that they will. I have to see what I have and not look past it to what I lack.

Nothing really has changed but the way I see it has. Or at least, the way I think I can see it has. Before our difference were mired in hopeless and despair. Now they are bathed in tentative hope. I haven’t made this shift yet, not totally, but I’m on my way to it. Just seeing it this way, even for a moment, is such a big step for me. A positive step.  There will be steps backwards. There will flashes of anger and resentment. There will be disappointment and frustration. But there will also be moments of optimism and peace and eventually, acceptance.

Do you see eye to eye with your partner on the big issues (like family building or where to live)? If not, how do you achieve compromise?

(A couple of comments and emails to me suggest that people think I’ve given up on building my family ever. That is not the case. I am letting go of the dream of having three kids and I’m also realizing that we will not be having a second child anytime soon. That is the compromise I am making.)

12 responses

  1. That’s a great email – so honest, and what you say probably applies to a lot of us. My husband & I often disagree about money. I want financial security: being thrifty and saving. I don’t care if I don’t earn a lot of money or have nice things, as long as some of my money goes into the bank. He wants lots of money and stuff. It’s gotten a lot easier now that he’s earning more money and I see us paying off debts (we can meet my saving goal, if not the thrifty goal).

    When we got married, K and I knew we were very different, but we had this utopian ideal that we’d gain each other’s best qualities over time. Instead, it often seems we’ve only picked up each other’s bad habits. I think at a certain point, we just got tired of having the same arguments over & over again and started to compromise. Plus our financial situation got so extreme that what we wanted became less theoretical and became just about paying the bills.

    Giving up on the thought of a second child, though – that seems like a hard thing to do. I hope that through communicating and maybe agreeing to wait at least, you can find a way to both be comfortable with making that happen.

    • I never realized it before but I think I thought this too: “we had this utopian ideal that we’d gain each other’s best qualities over time. ” I think I thought he would have a baby and just fall in love with fatherhood. And while he has fallen utterly in love with our daughter, he hasn’t fallen so hard for fatherhood and parenthood in general. And fair enough, it’s f*cking hard. I also thought I would fall in love with his proud-to-be-struggling-urban-working class way of looking at the world but it’s just not how I grew up or who I am. Maybe I can still change. Maybe he can too, but I think it’s more like you said, we’re just getting sick of the arguments and trying to find a way to make peace. Not what I expected at all.

  2. When I first met Tim, he told me he didn’t want any more children. We broke up for about a minute when I told him that was a deal-breaker, I needed to have (my own) kids. The idea grew on him and eventually he wanted them as much as I did. However, because of this, I knew I’d be lucky to just get one since he barely even wanted that many (HA! this was before all of this crap happened and I knew there’d be more to me just being happy with one). So I had to change my forever idea of wanting to have two children, and it wasn’t easy. I guess by going through what I have, it’s forced me to be okay with only one, and now maybe none. But it took time. I’m not saying I want you to give up on your dream of having 3 children, but I do know that dreams change over time…either because of circumstances and compromises, but also because of a shifting of perspective. That being said, I hope you get your dream, E…that’s all I ever want for any of us.

    I’m so glad you guys are doing what you are, it seems to be really positive for you. It’s inspiring.

    • Mi.Vida and I also broke up for a minute (it was more like 4 hours) over his inability to commit to having kids with me. It was rough. That is when we started our first stint of counseling. After four weeks he decided he would do it with me, but I don’t know if he ever really wanted it. To this day, as much as he loves Isa, he doesn’t really want it. Not like I do. It hurts for some reason, but I try not to take it personally.

  3. You know, this seems like a deep sort of wisdom here. I know from life experience that things I didn’t really want to do or planned (like moving to London away from all my family or giving up the suburban dream and living in the city) gave me deep happiness. I don’t want to say give up on your dreams, either, because they are your dreams. But sometimes, I think, our un-dreams can give us great satisfaction.

    • You know, I think there is some deep wisdom here too, which is why I’m having such a hard time with it! We’ll see if I can really follow through with all this loft talk. We shall see.

  4. This is one of those instances, I think, where the loss and abundance go hand in hand. What an honest, brave email to Mi.Vida. I know this isn’t the end of your journey through negotiation, but you’re working very hard at it, and I know that some fruit will come of the labor of love.

  5. This is very difficult terrain. I can remember some similar moments for G and I as well. The funny thing about our situation is that G always wanted kids and I was always torn. At some point, I realized that I would regret not having them but G didn’t feel ready yet. I had this panicked feeling that things would not necessarily go smoothly and that the road could be long (premonition?) and therefore we needed to start NOW. However, I wanted to start NOW with both of us on board and happy about the decision.

    That was an incredibly difficult time for us. Things did change eventually and then, of course, the SHIT hit the fan but the funny thing is that after g arrived, I was sold off the idea of ever having another child (apparently I can’t stick to a plan to save my life) but G loved fatherhood so much that he then felt ready for at least 1 or 2 more. However, when the tables were turned, he understood and let go of his desires and that was that. I don’t know if this says something about fundamental differences between men and women regarding these things or what but I sympathize with your struggle and I think that the sentiments in this email show that you are genuinely trying to meet him on this one.

    • Thanks for sharing this with me. It helps to know that other people have gone through it, have made it to the other side and are still together. I keep telling myself that at some point the big issues will be resolved and things will (hopefully) be better. It might seem like a long ways off, but we’ll get there.

  6. Catching up finally. Seeing that things are hard…relationships take so much work sometimes. I don’t have any good advice, but sending much love. L and I are ships passing in the night a lot if times. But we are working on that.

  7. It’s amazing and I think I tweeted to you something similar about not really knowing how I came across your blog – but here I am and the first 2 posts I see are a lot like my life right now in the fact that I feel like my husband and I run in different directions. We are not looking on the horizon of more children, but where my life personally and career is going to go. Unfortunately I feel that I’m the one that is being pushed on. But, this post is showing me that I’m not alone, and though I might feel that my marriage is bound for failure because we aren’t looking for the same things in life and in our future, there can and will be a light in the tunnel some day.

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