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My long-term boyfriend doesn’t want children but I’m realising I do – what now?

Ask Roe: My feelings have changed and I cannot imagine a future without marriage and kids

Dear Roe,

I have been with my long-term boyfriend for five years, and we’re both in our mid/late 20s. We don’t live together, but spend the majority of nights in either my apartment or his. When we started dating, he said he didn’t want marriage or children. I was fine with that and felt similarly.

However, my feelings have changed in recent months and I cannot imagine a future where I don’t get married or have children. I have conveyed this to my boyfriend but he seems resolute in his decision. This is particularly difficult as I love and care for him deeply, and this is the first serious relationship that either of us have been in.

While I don’t wish to marry or become a mother for at least another five or six years, part of me worries that this difference will eventually result in us resenting one another. He never plans for the future, whereas I am often thinking about five years from now and where I’ll be in my life.


The seeming impossibility of a mutually fulfilling future together is hampering my ability to enjoy what I have and where I am right now. I am torn between trying to live for today, and ending this relationship to pursue what I think my future self desires.

Not being aligned on the issue of marriage and children can be incredibly difficult for couples, and for many it does become a deal-breaker. As you rightly note, when couples stay together even though one person wants a child and the other doesn’t, resentment can build no matter what decision they make. Of course, some people change their mind throughout a relationship but this cannot and should not be counted on. When people tell you what they want, you have to believe them.

In some circumstances, I do believe couples can stay together for a period of time, enjoying their time together, continuing to grow and evolve within their relationship before breaking up. This can work for people who aren’t under time pressure, who are clear on the limitations of their relationship, but who still want to enjoy some experiences together. Under these circumstances, some couples can find it helpful to acknowledge that there is a deal-breaker issue on the table, agree to stay together for a few months or a year, then revisit the conversation and if they are still at an impasse, end the relationship with love and respect and gratitude.

You are in your 20s, you love your boyfriend and you have been together a long time, so you may believe that this path of staying together for a while may work for you, but I don’t believe it is what’s best for you. I think you need to end this relationship – and I think you know that, too. That’s why you’re feeling torn and conflicted and stuck. You know in your heart what is right for you, but you’re trying to fight and suppress and silence that truth for the sake of your boyfriend, for the sake of your relationship. But in the same way that your boyfriend shouldn’t force himself to have children just for you, wanting children and wanting to be a mother isn’t a desire you can or should silence for a man. This isn’t an issue of compromise, but of betraying your deepest desires. And the hard truth is that a relationship that causes you to betray yourself on such a fundamental level is never going to be the right relationship.

The reason you need to break up with your boyfriend isn’t just because you want to be a mother in five or six years – though this is, of course, important. You need to have time to end and grieve this relationship, to heal, to have the opportunity to meet new people, to possibly stumble, to have enough time that you can wait for the right person. This could easily take a few years, and you deserve not to feel rushed through that journey. But this isn’t just about future timelines, and where you want to be in five or six years. It’s also about who you want to be now, and this relationship is stifling your present self, too.

Nothing I am about to write is a judgment about your boyfriend as a person – him not wanting children or marriage is a completely valid choice that I support, and I absolutely respect him for being clear, honest and resolute about what he wants. But his desires for the future and his way of living in the present – both not planning for the future, and also not addressing this issue and acknowledging your desires and conflict – is affecting you now. It’s preventing you from living today in the way you want – with honesty, communication and a shared vision of the future in your relationship; and with a sense of security, self-respect and an excitement about the future in your own mind. You want to be able to experience life with joy and a sense of momentum, possibility and purpose that, for you, comes with keeping a clear vision of your future in your mind, and moving towards that. Your inner compass has given you a direction, and you want to be bold and move towards it.

Right now, your compass is pointing you in the direction you want to go, and you’re using all your energy to turn away from it, to stay where you are, to not look towards your future. This isn’t how you are meant to live, it’s not how you are built

Right now, your compass is pointing you in the direction you want to go, and you’re using all your energy to turn away from it, to stay where you are, to not look towards your future. This isn’t how you are meant to live, it’s not how you are built. And that’s the other reason you need to leave this relationship, so that you can respect who you are right now, and live in a way that respects your nature, your desires, your needs and your ability to grow into that woman you can picture in five years. You can’t grow in a relationship with someone who doesn’t want to go where you’re going. You can’t grow in a relationship with someone who would happily let you shrink and stay stagnant when every fibre of your being is yearning to move forward. You can’t grow in a relationship where you’re betraying both your present and your future for someone else’s dream.

Leaving will be painful and difficult and scary. Leaving a long-term, loving relationship always is. But the safety of this relationship is not worth the danger of losing yourself, both now and in the future.

John A Shedd wrote, “A ship in the harbour is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.” Don’t stay still and stuck and stagnant. It’s time to be brave and move towards your future. You can do this. It’s what you were built for.