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Child-Free Couples: Thriving Without Kids

Relationship experts and couples who chose not to have kids reveal the secrets of a successful child-free marriage.

Making the Choice to Remain Child-Free

In an ideal world, both partners would be in agreement on the issue of having -- or not having -- children. Some couples, like McKay and Gomez, discussed the possibility at length early in their relationship and agreed not to delve into parenthood.

"We discussed the pros and cons of having kids and came to the conclusion that there are too many reasons not to have them, and not enough good reasons to have them," Walters adds.

But sometimes the issue must be negotiated.

Atlantans Duane and Robin Marcus married young -- at age 20 -- and have been married for 34 years. Duane says he never felt "capable of being a father." His position was resolute.

But 12 years into their marriage Robin's biological clock started ticking. "I was never a strong believer in having kids -- I was about 75% sure I didn't want them," she tells WebMD. "It was more a body urge."

Still, she wrestled for three years with conflicted feelings, trying to decide if motherhood or marriage was more pressing. Both admit it was a tough time. Robin expressed anger and frustration with Duane's unwavering position.  But, she says, "We worked through it; we kept discussing it. I think we grew together and made the right decision."

"Having a child is an extremely challenging commitment," Duane adds. "You can't talk somebody into doing it."

Lori Buckley, PsyD, a certified sex therapist in Pasadena, Calif., agrees that bullying a partner is a bad strategy. "It would be great if couples sat down and had important discussions about what they want from their relationship and made conscious choices.  But most don't," she tells WebMD. "What determines the staying power of a relationship is not about whether or not to have a child. It's about other components like being supportive of one another, being loving and kind, being good companions."

Buckley says it's important for each partner to share his or her views on having children. It's also helpful to assuage a partner's fears. "People will come up with their own reasons for [the desire to remain childless] -- like 'he doesn't love me,' or 'she doesn't want the baby to have my nose,' or 'he's planning to leave me.' Most are baseless."

"We rarely make such big choices in life without some ambiguity," she adds. "To have a really serious, emotionally charged, solution-oriented conversation, a lot of couples would benefit from a third party."

Buckley says once you've given your reasons, you don't need to defend your position or give a rebuttal. If couples aren't on the same page and can't resolve the issue, heart-wrenching breakups can occur. But that's better than bringing an unwanted child into the relationship.

"I think statistics show a slightly higher rate of couples with kids staying together," she says. "But a lot of couples come into my office and the only reason they are working on the relationship is because of the children."

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