The Reluctant Spouse

When I hear adoption professionals say that you shouldn't consider adoption unless both partners are 100% on board, I wonder what planet they are living on. From my interviews with many adopting couples, I have found that in the beginning almost always one partner is more interested in adoption than the other.

I don't think this situation is unique to adoption, which may be why there are so many accidental pregnancies with married couples in this day of effective birth control. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, it is impossible to accidentally adopt so a spouse's reluctance must be fully considered.

There aren't easy answers on what to do when one spouse wants to adopt and the other does not. This decision will alter both of your lives forever. I faced a variation of this in my life. To make a complicated story less complicated, the whole idea of adopting seemed risky to my husband and he didn't feel the need to take the risk. I did.

I don't have any magic answers. What worked for us, may not work for you. We kept the lines of communication open, talking about it more than he wanted but less than I wanted. I asked his permission to share my research with him. I tried to understand his concerns more than I tried to convince him. After about a year, he became more comfortable with the time and financial commitment. He loved me enough and valued my happiness enough to take the risk. We compromised on what special needs or disabilities we were willing to consider. And we slowly moved forward. For what it's worth, our daughter has been the apple of his eye from the moment he first held her, and he says he has never regretted his decision for one minute.

It is very important to understand why your partner is hesitant to adopt. Don't assume you know. He or she could be thinking any of the following:
• Can I love a child that is not biologically related?
• Can we afford to adopt?
• Do I want to be a parent at all, especially if it's not going to happen the old fashioned way?
• Am I ready to stop infertility treatments and give up all hope of having a birth child?
• Will I feel like a failure if I can't biologically have a child?
• Am I too old to become a parent?
• Do I have the time or do I want to devote the time to being a parent?
• How will my parents or older children react?
• What type of medical or emotional problems may this child have?
• We already have birth children, why complicate things?

You've reached an impasse. You want to adopt but your partner doesn't. What do you do? Therapists and other parents suggest that you keep talking. Don't assume that if it isn't said, it isn't felt. If the reluctant partner feels that this is all you talk about, agree to a set time each week to talk about this subject. When he is speaking, really listen rather than planning your rebuttal. Seek to understand more than convince. As strange as this may seem, share your own fears about adopting. You know you have them. The relationship dynamics of some couples is to balance each other out. Yin and yang are great for philosophical discussions, but lousy for decision making if one partner is stuck at yin while the other is clinging to yang for dear life. Talk about what each of your hopes and dreams are from parenting in general.

Let him know that you want to start getting educated on adoption and ask his permission to share the information with him as you go along. Ask him to read specific (read: short) sections or pages on websites that address his concerns. Don't expect him to be as enthusiastic as you.

Join an online adoption support group for people considering adoption. Encourage your partner to participate as well. Talking with others who have similar concerns can be helpful. Introduce a thread on reluctant spouses. You'll be surprised at how many people have had this experience.

Take a break from infertility treatments for a set period of time, with the agreement that you can resume if you still want to once the break is over. Spend time enjoying your life as a couple. Remember why you married each other in the first place.

Attend an "in person" support group for adoptive families or an informational meeting at an adoption agency, with the promise that this does not mean a commitment to adopt. Spending time with families formed by adoption is amazingly helpful to normalize the process and to provide an opportunity to ask questions. If your spouse feels it is too soon to do this, agree to revisit this option at a set time in the future. Visit a therapist to help with communication, and if applicable, choose one that understands infertility issues. Ask your fertility doctor or infertility support group for recommendations or use the resources for finding a doctor or therapist listed on the infertility resource page of

As hard as it may be, give your partner time. Each of us has a different speed and style for processing grief and making decisions. If you are totally committed to him regardless of whether you ever become parents, tell him. If not, talk with a therapist before you issue an ultimatum.

Ultimately, you should not force (or coerce or guilt) your spouse into something as major as becoming a parent. It likely won't be effective since during the home study the social worker will delve into each of your reasons for wanting to adopt. And though it can be faked during the interview with the social worker, every child deserves to be truly wanted by both parents.

Dawn Davenport is the host of the internet radio show, Creating a Family: Talk about Infertility and Adoption. (Check out the show topics at the radio page of The Creating a Family website provides resources and education to those interested in infertility and adoption. She is an attorney, author (The Complete Book of International Adoption - Random House), and consultant for those weighing their infertility and adoption options. She's also a mom through birth and adoption.


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