Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Monday, May 10, 2010

When You and Your Partner Are at Different Readiness Levels

In the beginning of our relationship, Matt was the little race car in the lead. He was the first one to suggest we move in together. He was ready to get engaged before I was.

Two years after our wedding, my little car is pulling ahead. I'm the one who's ready to start trying to have a baby. I was actually ready to start trying last year because my work schedule was optimal. I was working from home as an independent educational consultant for schools working to close the achievement gap.

However, Matt wasn't ready yet (understandably so). At that point, we decided to wait until the end of this school year (since I went back into the classroom to teach 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade).

But now that the end of the school year is upon us, Matt reports that he isn't so ready. When I asked him to quantify his readiness level (I'm nerdy like that), he gave it 4 on a scale of 10.

Whoa. Time to slow this little race car of mine down. There's no way I want to jump out of that plane without my tandem partner attached (sorry for the mixed metaphors).

It got me thinking about the nature of partnership and the delicate dance of compromise. There are infinite life decisions that require nearly-matched readiness levels: moving in together, engagement, marriage, buying a home, taking a year off to travel, splurging on an SLR camera.

What do you do inside a partnership when you and your partner are at different readiness levels? (I'm not asking that simply as a rhetorical question...).

I'll take a stab at answering it because I'm the only one here at the moment, but it's something I'm really wondering.

My first response is to talk about it. Like really talk about it. Like ask each other deep questions that get to the root of what the other person is thinking (not just take a breath while you wait for the other person to stop talking so you can jump in to make more of your own points).

But then there comes a point where too much talking can suffocate the person who isn't ready. Then the talking starts to feel like pressure. And too much pressure makes a person want to pop.

There's also the value of turning outward from the relationship and talking to other people. Like beloved family members. And best friends. And sage colleagues. And therapists.

And then there's the slow-down approach where the impatient partner slows the heck down and basks in the present moment.

Matt and I are trying all these approaches as we navigate our different readiness levels.

Some words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated!

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E. said...

I'm a big fan of the "talking" approach. I always tried to wait at least 2 weeks between the big long conversations that made me upset when I was waiting to get engaged.

We were all set to buy a house this year, and then I freaked out because I couldn't handle the responsibility and commitment, even though we've been talking about buying a house for three years. Mark was really understanding and hasn't mentioned it all.

I think understanding why your partner is so much further behind is key to patience.

Sarah said...

In something as big as a baby, and the other life-changing things you mentioned (okay, maybe not the SLR:P), after discussing the whole thing throughly, the slow car wins out. I would hesitate pushing someone to have a baby- you can't force someone to be ready for it. I think that the slow-down approach might be appropriate, with a timeline on when to have the discussion again-- within three months, six month, etc.

Sara E. Cotner said...

@ Sarah: I totally agree that the slow car wins out. I've told Matt that I am not interested in pressuring him into such a huge life commitment before he's ready. Right now, he's in the process of talking to other people (primarily people who have young children) about what their readiness levels were before making the decision to have children. Hopefully it will give him some clarity. As always, thanks for sharing your perspectives!

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

wow! this post really struck me. I know exactly how it feels to be way way ahead, in the little car ready to jump out a plane :-).
Even though I know my partner is deeply deeply in love with me, (and I really feel loved) I am still the one wanting so badly to move forward in our lives, and it can be such a sensitive subject (thankfully my partner is very level headed, because im always the one thinking things like that might cause resentment between us).

And you are so right about talking about it... talking just enough, but not talking so much that you are out of breath and your partner is out of patience.

You have to remember that things change so quickly... how he feels now might drastically change in the span of just one year, or just months even. Let him know that its important to you, and that you will try your best to be patient for him.

As you are the more ready one you are probably reading away learning all you can about it. Perhaps get a book or two and ask him to read them.. or as men are visual creatures show him images.. as he learns more he may feel more prepared and less anxious about the responsibility. (but my thoughts are just based on what i would try, of course you know matt better than anyone)

But are men ever ready for babies? I have to ask, I know that sounds really generalizing and bad towards the male of the species.. but are they? :-|
Why dont you also talk to some of your male friends that have children, so you can get a more male perspective on what matt is feeling at this point.

Please do an update for this post!

Megilon said...

I think talking is a huge thing regarding all decisions. I'm also a Pro/Con list maker too (I know a tad geeky but it works for me and my house)

I agree that the slow car sets the pace in these decisions but the question I would have for Matt is this..."are you really not ready or are you just anxious about the whatifs and the unknown of it all?" I know for me sometimes it is more the fact that I can't account for all the unknowns and I don't like that. But I'm ready to move forward.

I think him talking to parents is a good idea but each situation is different so...

A counselor or pastor might be another option because they would be neutral where friends and family are not.

Lyssabeth's Wedding Officiants said...

In our relationship, I tend to be the one ready to jump and my husband tends to be the one who says, "Hey, let's hold our horses, here!" (I thought I'd throw in yet another metaphor.)

Certainly communication is key, as you've all stated. One thing to bear in mind is that sometimes the "not ready" member of the team simply needs time to adjust to the idea (and maybe not as much time as the "let's do it" partner fears.) I've found that talking about it puts all that out on the table and can help give a clear focus to what could otherwise be a horrible jumble of human emotions.

Oftentimes, I find that my husband hasn't stopped to think through the WHY of why he's not ready and when we discuss it, it gives him an opportunity to reflect and share--and often resolve--his objections. For example, his reluctance to move in with me stemmed from his dislike of a potential lengthy commute to his job, which was much closer to his apartment than to my home. Once I suggested that he transfer from his company's Boulder, CO office to the Denver office, the problem was solved and we became official cohabitators.

Matt might need to simply voice his fears/resistance and get Sarah's input on them. Oftentimes new information comes to the table in these discussion.

It also helps if the Let's Do It partner reassures the Hold your Horses partner that this is a wish that he or she is not taking lightly, has put much thought into and respects the place that the other partner is in. Judgment is the kiss of death when two people are on a different timeline. It's not right or wrong. It just is. Mutual empathy goes a long way in these types of situations.

Telling the Let's Do It partner to be patient is easier said than done. If you really, really REALLY want (a baby, to get married, to move in together, etc) it can be pretty frustrating to put the brakes on while waiting for old slowpoke to come to his or her senses! Speaking as the Let's Do It partner, it helps me if my partner gives me a time frame for discussion. So, Jeremy might say after we've talked about something, "I promise to think about your concerns and the points you've made and respond to them by Wednesday evening. This takes the heat off to discuss the issue to the point of frenzy (where we all admit nothing is gained!)

I also agree that the Hold Your Horses partner's preferences have to be the pace-setter in these types of decisions. However, I think because of that, the Hold Your Horses partner also owes it to his or her other half to seriously make an effort to close the comfort gap between the two. This is best done by exploring and tackling the fears that undermine the reluctance.

Princess Christy said...

My current BF and I were in VERY different places 5 years ago. I was looking ahead to marriage, and he was still enjoying the college party scene. It actually led to the end of our relationship. When my engagement ended, I started seeing BF again.... before we made things official as a couple though, we had "the talk." I told him I'm done playing games... if things are working right, I see us ending this part of our journey in marriage. We are finally in the same place - it just took years and talk to get there!

~Milena~ said...

Like several others, I'm the little car ahead as well. I push for everything, but the slow car wins. I don't respond well to this. The problem is with my slow car is that if I push, he pushes back and the thing that I'm pushing for goes further away. So talking is a double-edged sword. And I understand how you feel.

Why is Matt's readiness at a 4/10? Is it a financial thing? Is it that he's scared? Is it that he doesn't want to give up alone time with you? Are there things he wants to accomplish first? All of those different things have a different answer. If it's an emotional unreadiness, sometimes you just have to dive in. If it's a practical unreadiness, that's another story. But very rarely is anyone fully prepared/ready for a baby.

Married In Chicago said...

interesting post. one thing that might be worth discussing is what is meant by "readiness". Is being ready the same thing as wanting? To me - they sound different. You could really, really want something (like a child), but not feel like you are ready. I say - focus on the "wanting", because there will always be reasons why people aren't "ready". But, if the wanting is high - you guys will find a way to work it out.

Stephanova said...

One of my dearest friends and her husband are going through exactly this issue, except that in their case it is she that isn't quite ready and her husband is ready to go. (I just wanted to put in a little shout-out for the ladies that aren't ready for babies--it isn't always the guys that are dragging their feet.)

Some of the reasons why a woman wouldn't be ready yet for a baby are fairly gender specific because of the bodily experience of being pregnant, nurse feeding and stress about keeping a job during that time. But, other fears are more universal: she's also not quite ready to share their life with another little person yet, (she finds it hard enough to find the time her introverted self needs to recharge after a long day), she wants to be a really good parent and so she wants to read-up on how to do that, she kind of wants to prepare for the next 18 years before she even gets pregnant (which we talked about as being not very attainable-- parents have to roll with it, right?), she doesn't have any really great parent role-models who kept their vibrancy and excitement in life after having a kid and so she' looking for some now. She's worried about financials and child care and quite a bit more.

Talking about some of these worries helped her realize which ones she could work to make better (like reading some parenting books and finding good role-models), and which ones were just irrational fears of the unknown. She also realized a lot of things that she's actually looking forward to.

I guess that's just a long way of saying that I think talking about and really listening to the fears of the other person and how, jointly, you can alleviate some of those fears is important. But, I think it is also important to not over-plan this. Being ready to be a parent is a process, and as with anything that you have to be prepared for mentally, sometimes it just takes time to sift though the worries to come out into a place where excitement overcomes them.

FM said...

People have such good ideas that I will be keeping in mind in my readiness conversations with my partner! In my experience, it was also helpful for us to confirm what we ultimately wanted and talk backwards through what sort of steps would be required to get there. For example, my frustration about timing with my husband has often stemmed from the big picture timing for events that my husband also very much wants. When I walked my husband (before he was my husband) backwards through that timing, he finally understood why I wanted all those steps to start happening by certain times and he then became more ready to be ready (if that makes sense) because we wanted the same end result. More concretely - we both want me to have a decent chance of being pregnant with a second child by the time I'm 35, and working backward from that 2nd pregnancy gave us hopeful timing for a 1st pregnancy, then for a wedding, then engagement factoring in the time that we would most likely want to have (or need to have for "trying" time) in between each thing.

Another thing that has helped both of us a lot at times when we weren't sure we were ready for something was to talk to other people we respect about how they felt before they dove in - you often find that no one feels COMPLETELY ready for much of anything big and important even if it's something they think they really want eventually, and that is comforting. Not that plenty of times you really just aren't ready even if you want it someday, but I think it helps to get the perspective of what other people feel. Often it seems like there is an ideal feeling of confidence in big decisions, but I think it's rare to meet that idealized feeling.

"T-Bone" Lee said...

I think talking is the first step. I think you're absolutely right that the person who is ready needs to listen...*really* listen to the other and understand where the fears and uncertainty come from. Then vice versa.

Just because you are ready and he isn't doesn't mean he gets his way and you have to slow your needs down completely. Marriage is about compromise and understanding the other persons needs while trying to match them with your own. I think you make your 'case" and explain why you are ready and what it all means to you......

.....and then you back off. Leave it alone. Let it sit with both of you. If one of you isn't ready for something huge (marriage, kids, house etc) then it needs to sit for a while without being touched, discussed or obsessed over. Sometimes space, time and understanding are all it takes for someone to get ready. :)

Anonymous said...

I've been the "slow car" at times in our relationship, and the one hanging back with the pace car when he's being the "slow car."

My FH has been married before, so some of the things I was hesitant about (figuring out how to make his home 'ours' or deciding when to combine our incomes) were really simple for him. But he was patient and let me work things out in my own head. He's also much more logical and "numbers focused" so he balances out my emotional/creative brain. :)

We talk about things, he asks questions, I ask questions, and then I go away and think on things for a bit. Some decisions take longer than others for me to make.

I feel very fortunate, though, that we're on the same page when it comes to conceiving. We've wanted to be parents since a few months after I moved in with him, and because of my age we started trying right away. It hasn't been an easy process (still no success), but fingers crossed.

CCL said...

It sounds like Sara and Matt have established strong communication skills over the course of their relationship -- which will go a long way to help them talk about their feelings and desires now that they are facing a disagreement.

With such a large decision -- some sort of constant communication would be helpful so both of you have are taking each other's temperature and don't feel like the rug is ever pulled out from under you by the other.

With that said, at some level one of you is going to have compromise. If Sara compromises by holding off on starting a family, is there some sort of compromise that Matt can give so that Sara doesn't feel like she is the only sacrificing?

Anonymous said...

As a teacher, I love the readiness level metaphor. Right now you are on a "challenge" level and he is at "readiness." What you need is for you both to be on grade level before moving ahead.

Do you like how I continued to beat the dead horse?


A-L, said...

I'd say you've been given lots of good advice here. I also think that it's important to not dwell on the matter that you want to move forward with (easier said than done, I know). So focus on your gardening, or community groups, or blogs, or whatever it is that will draw your attention away from your child-rearing dreams.

Like FM my fiance and I have sort of used a backwards planning approach. We want to do certain renovations to the house, so we had to figure out how long it would take to save the money for that. And there's still some wanderlust in me that I need to satisfy, so we need to save for that. But we want to have kids before that 35 marker...and so we've sort of figured out a children timeline. I'll admit I'm more of the slow horse here than my fiance, but I agree that both sets of people need to be ready before taking on such a monumental undertaking. Good luck with everything!

Maggie said...

I've been struggling with this a bit, only with the decision to move/change our careers. I'm unemployed and therefore have nothing to lose, really, by making a big move or trying to start over... and he's working a job he only sort of likes.

I keep getting antsy and wanting to up and move somewhere, whereas he feels we should wait until we have employment. I'm a little worried this will never happen and we'll be stuck in this city for longer than either of us wants... but at the same time, I've tried to imagine how I would feel if he "gave in" and quit his job/moved without being ready. Yeah, not so good. Because more than moving out of this city, I want us both to feel happy and secure. I'm still trying to figure out how the "slower" person can compromise to help the "let's do it now!" person not feel like they're stuck waiting, though.

Anonymous said...

I think it's fairly normal to be on diff BABY BOOK pages (speaking from experience). He should keep in mind the avg couple takes 6 months to get pregnant, while the majority take a year, and god forbid you have infertility issues like my hubby and I, you could be looking at a very long process. And u should know that being fixated on baby worries during intimacy is AWFUL. don't really have any solutions for. just try to be understanding of each other's opinions/issues/etc.

Marina said...

A previous commenter mentioned setting a specific time frame, which works really well for my husband's communication style. He's a deep thinker; once he actually dives into something he is 100% in, so he needs the space to make sure he's ready for that full commitment before diving in. We actually discovered how well the time frame thing worked for us during wedding planning. I would tell him when I needed a certain decision or certain task, NOT NAG HIM during that period, and then either the thing would be done or I'd do it myself and he wasn't allowed to complain about it.

Obviously that exact scenario doesn't work for things like babyplanning, which is our current step. But he asked for one year after the wedding before we had The Baby Conversation (the when conversation, not the if conversation, of course) and I think I've been super good about not nagging him about it. It's ended up being more like 10 months than 12, due to logistical reasons like health insurance and employment changes, but... it's worked out really well. He was able to correctly identify how long he needed to think about it without pressure, now he's 100% committed to the timeline we've worked out together, and I have a timeline so I can control my baby urges easier. :) In your terms, he didn't set a deadline for when he would be 10 ready, but he set a deadline for when he'd be 10 ready to talk about when he'd be 10 ready. Oh boy, I hope that made sense. ;)

For the two of us, at least, the "slow car always sets the speed" method just doesn't work. A better metaphor for me would be... slow hiker sets the speed. One person may be a slower hiker than the other, but the faster hiker can do a lot to help the slower hiker along--take some of the weight, give a lift over the boulders, provide encouragement. It's gotta be a team effort.

FM said...

I love the hiker analogy.

Jenn said...

My partner and I recently had a readiness issue in planning our commitment ceremony. She is not out to parts of her family and they live locally. Taking steps to make our fall 2011 ceremony a reality was really scaring her, because it puts her on a deadline to risk their rejection.

Unfortunately, my first reaction was to feel angry and lied to that she had proposed and started making plans when she wasn't ready, rather than to listen to what was happening in her world.

We talked through it and she's taking steps to come out, but she's terrified. Meanwhile, I'm simply ecstatic at our preparations and am trying to remember her emotions are more complicated and it's not a reflection of her excitement about us and our commitment to each other.

Meg said...

Ok, this is a scary thing to say, but I'm going to throw it out there. Having been the slow car from time to time, sometimes what said slow car needs to hear is "It's ok if you're never ready. I'll still love you and we'll be ok. We'll figure it out somehow." Oddly, that's sometimes what frees up the slow car to *be* ready. Because if you feel super under the gun, "If I don't get ready soon our relationship is going to fall apart" (even if that's a totally illogical somewhat subconscious thinking), it can be hard for you to clear the emotional space to actually get ready. I think that's because, to figure out if you're ready for something, you have to really ask yourself, "Do I want to do this thing? Do I want to do it now? Do I want to do it ever?" And if you feel like there is only one acceptable answer, it's hard to ask yourself that question without freaking out.

So, I know that is a scary thing to say/ hear, but I thought I'd throw it out there, since it hadn't been said yet.

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