Carolyn Hax: How to tell your partner you don’t want kids after all?

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Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I have decided for sure that I don’t want a kid and will probably be looking into permanent birth control. I need to tell my partner.

We’ve been together for several years with the working assumption that kids are in the future. They are probably going to be shattered by this news and it might (50 percent chance) change the terms of our relationship. Thus I am dreading it and have spent several days stuck on how and when to bring it up.

For something like this, what’s best? Ripping off the Band-Aid, or a carefully planned speech, or some other way of softening the blow?

Dreading It: Rip the Band-Aid. Minimize the opening remarks, too: “There’s no good way to say this, so I’ll just say it.” Or similar. The one bit of careful planning you both deserve is the timing. Say it soon, yes, but when your partner won’t be rushing off to something else. “So, ah, good luck with your big presentation!!” is not how you want to wrap up this little talk.

Also prepare for it to involve several conversations — and to field some anger gracefully, since it’s a big deal. Let them know you’re available for that. Something like, “I don’t blame you for being angry. I would be, too. Please know I didn’t deceive you — my thinking just changed over time. I’m here to talk as things make sense to you.”

Assuming all that is true, of course. If you did mislead them, then own that and apologize, even knowing it’ll probably cost you the relationship. Short answer, bring this up the only defensible way: with integrity.

Dear Carolyn: I’m unhappy with the life I’m living. Nothing big or bad, just typical family structure and lifestyle stuff. How do I know if I’m really unhappy with the life I’m living and should therefore pursue what I think I want — which is totally doable, outcome obviously not guaranteed — or if instead I FEEL unhappy with the life I’m living but am actually just generally unhappy, depressed, anxious, whatever?

I’ve seen many people who genuinely think X will make them happy, and when they get X, they find themselves still unhappy. But also, sometimes people really want something different in their lives and not having it causes unhappiness! Are there ways to spot the difference?

— Clues for the Clueless?

Clues for the Clueless?: There’s a huge part you left out here: How much you would have to blow up to pursue X. If you can try X without upheaval, then go for it. Even if it’s not the be-all, it’s still an interesting opportunity, a chance to grow, a phase in a life full of phases. Some lives have a long story arc, and others are episodic. Both can be great lives. If it would be disruptive — ending a relationship, parting with a lot of money or security, disrupting the lives of children — then you’ll need to take a more measured approach: incremental improvements, research, changes at the margins, a class in the new field, etc. Absent those ripple effects, though, your question is a self-knowledge one. What has made you happy before (and unhappy)? How have you changed inside? How has your environment changed? How have you, maybe unwittingly, compromised over the years on things that were important to you?

And how much do you trust yourself to be okay no matter what you do, regardless of how it will turn out?

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