Dear Dr. Romance:

I've been having some serious problems with my mother-in-law. I really think that to her, all I am good for is breeding! All my husband and I ever hear from her is, "When are you having kids?" I'm 26 and not ready. I am enjoying working right now, and want my husband and I to be more settled before we start having kids. What should we do?

Dear Reader:

Your mother-in-law, bless her, just wants to be a grandma. She misses having babies to dote over. That means she'll be great for babysitting; but, that's not a good reason for you to get pregnant. The decision is one you and your husband need to make jointly. Are your husband and you on the same page? Is it possible that he's saying to his mother that he wants children and you're dragging your feet? If your mother-in-law knows that you two are in synch about when to have children, she may not stop bugging you completely, but she'll probably do it less. Here's your plan. Have a strategy session with your husband on how to handle Mother.

If you are having a squabble about whether or not to have children, it's probably not as difficult as you think to arrive at a workable solution. To do this, you need to have a listening session. "Guidelines for Being Understood by Your Partner" will help you talk about sensitive subjects, take the time to talk about the problem in a caring fashion, and make sure you and your partner understand each other when the topic is difficult.

Guidelines for being better understood

1. Seek first to understand. If you are reluctant to disagree, you and your husband may not really understand each other about when you want to have children. If you know your partner's frame of reference, the way he or she understands the problem, or the inner issues your mate has, you can speak to him/her in language that will make sure you are understood. The common reaction to a problem is to insist on explaining your own point of view over and over, to convince your partner your opinion is the right one. Instead of listening to  each other, you wind up talking louder and louder in a futile attempt to be heard until you're yelling. No one is listening. If, instead, you focus on hearing and listening until you understand what your partner is saying, and then you repeat your partner's thoughts in your own words, both of you will relax and the problem will be a lot less scary. So, stop and think whether you want to be right or you want to solve the problem. Trying to be right will not get you where you want to go. 

2. Pay attention to how your words are landing. In the previous step, when you repeat back what your partner said, you're doing active listening: letting your partner know that you heard what was said. The other side of this is what I call "attentive speaking": that is, paying attention to how your partner is reacting to what you're saying. As you're talking, watch your partner's face, eyes, and body language to see how what you're saying is being received. If your companion's response looks off the mark for what you said, (for example, you're trying to be helpful and your sweetheart looks upset or hurt) check out what he/she is hearing. Maybe what you tried to communicate was misheard, misunderstood, or misconstrued. If you stop when you see evidence that you aren't getting through, and ask a question (Do you agree? What do you think?) You'll get a lot farther with your communication.

3. Focus on the solution: Rather than describe, argue or complain about the problem over and over, switch your focus to find a solution that will work for both of you. Only focus on the problem long enough to understand; then move to what will fix it. If this has been a problem for a while, you've probably both describe it to each other many times. It's always easier to repeat your litany of woe and sound like a whiner or a nag, than it is to stop and think about possible solutions. But keep in mind that complaining will cause your partner to stop listening to you. Also, focusing too long on the problem will cause both of you to feel blamed and criticized. Instead, as soon as you understand both sides of the problem (which only takes a few minutes if you're really listening) say, "OK, I get that we have different ideas about when to have kids. What do you think will fix it?"

4. Separate emotion from solution. When discussing an issue as important as when to have a child, it's natural for one or both of you to be emotional. It's common to have hurt feelings, to be afraid the problem can't be solved, to get angry or frustrated. However, when either or both of you is upset, irrational or reactive, you aren't communicating. You cannot think clearly when you are upset and flooded with "fight or flight" hormones. Remember, the minute you get upset, you've lost your ability to find a solution. Take a break and try again in a few minutes, when both of you have calmed down. 

5. Don't beat dead horses. If you've been over the same discussion several times, and you're stuck with no forward movement, try a different approach. If you cannot come up with a different approach on your own, consider getting some help. Don't just keep having dead-end arguments. If you do that, you'll develop a habit pattern that will be difficult to break. If you and your partner cannot find a solution or come to an agreement within a few days, consider going to your clergy person or a professional counselor for help. A trained professional is not emotionally involved in the situation and can be objective, which means he or she can think clearly and help you develop more solutions. An objective third party can work wonders, and the quicker you go, the easier (and cheaper) it will be to reach a solution. 

6. Be nice: Grandma's adage, "You get more flies with honey than with vinegar" is very useful when you want to be heard. If you keep in mind that the person you are talking to is not your enemy, but your life partner, you'll communicate more gently and with more care. Guard against competing or being right. The point of your discussion is to create understanding that goes both ways. When you interact with these guidelines in mind, you'll find out what's really behind your partner's feelings and reactions, and when you know that, it's easier than you think to come up with a plan, and then communicate it to your mother -in-law. 

Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Relationship  will give you more help in discussing these issues and standing united in front of family members.

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Author's Bio: 

Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 30 years experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction; The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again; Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, The Commuter Marriage, and her newest, Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences. She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog, and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email newsletter.