Third Alternatives to Children / No Children


I received a heartbreaking comment today.

One of my hearts greatest desires is to have a child one day. My husband is the only one that can give this to me. But he never wants to have any children… at all… ever! I have been waiting 7 years for him to change his mind.. with absolutely no change and no sign of hope for the future.

It’s not all that uncommon a situation. But how do you enjoy being married to someone denying you your greatest desire? What happens to a marriage stuck in deadlock like this for seven years? It’s not fair to him or to her.
This is where Third Alternatives can make a huge difference. It’s so hard to see that there could be any other alternatives besides have kids and don’t have kids. But this is true of almost all disagreements. We cannot see that there might be other alternatives. And we cannot see it because of the way we have framed the choices.
It is our words that get in the way. We say what we want instead of what we hope it will bring us. Our ability to find a Third Alternative depends on knowing what we hope it will bring us and what we fear it will bring us. And these are hidden in the words we use to describe what we want.
If we brought the woman whose greatest desire is to have a child an unruly twelve-year-old orphan to care for, would she feel fulfilled? Some would. Others definitely would not. “Have a child” means different things to them.
Some women would feel their desire met if they carried a child to term and got to care for it for a year before illness or accident ended its life. For others, this would be worse than having no children.
For some, adopting a child who is cared for by a nanny while they pursue a busy career qualifies. For others, having a child means natural childbirth and being an at-home mom who prepares three meals a day and stays actively involved in every aspect of the child’s life.
What about shared custody of a child? Some consider this parenting. Others consider it a miserable circumstance forced upon them by the courts. But being a nanny or a foster parent or a very involved aunt or Big Sister can turn out a lot like shared custody and meet some women’s “have a child” needs just fine.
So can working in a facility where you serve as several children’s parent for 8 hours a day and spend the other 16 with your spouse.
For those who do not want a child, there are also many variations in what would qualify. Some do not want the financial responsibility but might accept foster parenting or being a parent with a woman who makes plenty of money.
Some fear being a child’s role model. Trying out that role as an uncle or a Big Brother may reduce that fear. So might having an older father as a mentor, and there are plenty of dads who would love to be one.
Some do not like living with young children but would be fine with adopting an older child. Some do not ever want to see their wife pregnant but might consider a long-distance relationship for five months.
Some expect tasks they don’t care for, like diaper changing or playing catch or sitting through soccer games. Check around at your local college. There may be many young men or women who would be pleased to work for your family taking care of these tasks, perhaps even in exchange for home-cooked meals instead of the college meal plan.
Men may shy away from children out of a belief that their sex life will suffer or their freedom to travel will be diminished. Be creative in resolving them, even if it means an overnight sitter once a week.
One man I heard of avoiding having children out of fear of being responsible for raising them in the event of his wife’s death. Solving this one what-if scenario was the only obstacle to having children. It might require building stronger friendships or making more money before having them, but there is, indeed, a Third Alternative for such couples.
And one more. If your marriage is plagued by such a disagreement, it’s possible that having children raises the fear of child support obligations after a divorce. The disagreement itself fuels the fear of divorce. Put it to rest and lean into the marriage, and you might find yourselves in agreement about having children.
A Third Alternative gives each of you what you sought from your first alternative (or better). Finding one starts by offering to meet your spouse’s need if you can change the way of meeting it. This frees you to discuss the aspects of having a child or children you desire and the ones that frighten you.
Until you offer to do your best to provide these, you cannot have an honest discussion, because you will both still be working toward your initial alternative of children or no children. You will not see the Third Alternative until you know what each of you honestly wants.

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.


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  • Interesting post! It’s very true when two people get married and one wants one thing and the other wants something else especially having children that can definitely damage a marriage, if not at first but it would only be a matter of time. Before getting married these are things that we should know about our partners. There are way too many relationships that I see trying to change one another and waiting for their partners to change. Expect your partner for how they are and before getting married talk to your partner about their wants and needs. Sometimes in life we need to let go of someone even if we love them, if they want different things than you especially when it comes to having children it may not be a sigh to get married and stay in the relationship.

  • Thanks, Sonia. It definitely makes sense before marrying to simply part company if this is an unresolvable issue. I don’t know that I would give up a marriage over this issue. I know someone who did, years ago, and she’s got neither a husband nor a child as she approaches retirement age.

  • Hi Patty,
    I see your point! It depends on the situation if the person is happy within their marriage than giving up is not the solution because your partner doesn’t want kids, but if someone’s gets married for the sake of not being alone, then why stay in the relationship, especially knowing that you may regret not being a parent and giving up on one of your dreams… and possibly resenting their mate for the rest of their life. Sometimes is it’s better being with yourself than being with someone that you may resent. Then if the children don’t come then they weren’t suppose too.

  • People often think there is only one way to get what they want, but if they stop to analyze what the true, underlying desire is, they may indeed find that there is another way, or perhaps many ways. Patty, I am so impressed by your creative Third Alternative approach. You came up with many interesting ideas that wouldn’t have occurred to most of us, since we are accustomed to seeing most issues as either-or situations, rather than considering that there may be many possibilities in between.

  • Interesting, thought-provoking post. I’ve heard the term “third alternative” before but never understood what it meant until now. There is great wisdom in this approach.

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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