Conversations like these can be difficult for both parties. It is important to be as honest and clear about your feelings as you can, but also to be respectful of her feelings and choices, and to listen to what she has to say.
Some couples we speak to will describe an unplanned pregnancy as a positive turning point in their relationship, either as a way of re-evaluating and sometimes ending the relationship, or as something that helped bring them closer together.
Before you can have this discussion as a couple, it might help to take some time to try and clarify your own thoughts. How do you feel about the pregnancy? What are your thoughts on each of the options - abortion, adoption, and parenting - and why? Sometimes writing a pros and cons list for each option might help you to articulate what you are thinking, which will assist you to have an open conversation with the pregnant woman if she asks you for your opinion.
It might also be useful to ask the pregnant woman what she wants from these conversations with you. She might want you to be involved in making the decision, particularly if you are in a relationship with her. She might want to inform you of the decision she has made. If she is unsure what she might need from you in terms of this discussion, you might want to show her this page on our site to help her clarify this before the two of you sit down to talk it over.
She wants me to be involved in the decision making
This is big stuff for both of you to get your heads around. Give yourselves the gift of time if you can. This is a potentially life changing decision. It can be complex and multifaceted.
Women’s decision making about unplanned pregnancy varies widely. For some women it is clear and straightforward, for others there are many different issues to take into account. When trying to communicate with the woman involved, where your thinking is varied and complex, it can be helpful to make a list of the pros and cons.
Some men worry that offering an opinion one way or another may leave the woman feeling forced rather than free to choose. This comes from a place of true respect and care for the pregnant woman's decision, and it's admirable that you are aware of how your opinions may influence her choice. But sometimes women tell us that they do genuinely want to involve the man in their decision, and that his lack of commitment to any option is making their decision harder. For the woman, being “free to choose” sometimes feels a lot like being left with the responsibility for making the “right” choice without any information. So while your intentions are good, you may be making things more confusing or difficult for her.
The following process might help to provide the woman with some guidance while still allowing you to remain neutral:
- Encourage the woman to write up her own list of pros and cons and make two copies.
- On one of her copies, you (the man involved in the pregnancy) underline two or three things from both the pros and cons side of her lists that you think are important to consider. This way you are not adding to her thoughts but you are indicating which of her thoughts you feel more strongly about.
- You might also add one thing to each side of the list that she does not already have down there. By adding to both sides this can take account of your worry of unduly influencing her one way or the other.
- On her copy she can then prioritise the list, which factor is most important - rank order them or give each a weight of 1 to 5 for example.
- She can then look over what you have underlined. This can assist her to ask herself how this affects how she weights this factor in her decision making.
She wants to let me know what she's decided
Sometimes women will want to make the decision about what to do with an unplanned pregnancy independently, or without the man involved in the pregnancy. This can be very challenging for both parties, particularly if you have opposing views or if you're unclear about your rights and responsibilities in regards to the option she has chosen. If you're upset about this it can help to talk to a friend or relative, or a professional counsellor, Keeping in mind any privacy concerns she may have. Remember that it is, ultimately, her decision, and it is not right for you to try and coerce her to do what you would wish her to.
You might feel that if you could just explain your position one more time to her firmly, that this might change her mind. This can be counter-productive, as she may feel bombarded with information and overwhelmed. This may shut down her capacity for good decision-making due to stress and overload. Putting your thoughts in writing once may be more effective than giving them to her verbally, over and over.
We don't agree on what to do
When couples see things very differently and are finding it hard to talk things over the conversation can quickly turn to argument. Here are some steps that might help take the heat out of things enough to hear each other:
- Write your own pros and cons list making sure that you have at least two or three things on either side.
- Invite the pregnant woman to do the same.
- Suggest that you now swap and read each other’s lists. If things are really heated you might want to do that away from each other where you can vent to someone else, or cool down a bit before you talk some more.
- Seek clarification about anything on each other’s list that you do not understand.
- Identify and acknowledge the things in common on your lists (even if you have a different opinion about the best choice there may be shared concerns or considerations).
With a black and white decision like whether to end or proceed with a pregnancy, there is no way to compromise on the options. Either the pregnancy goes ahead or it ends. How you manage the consequences of the decision can be negotiated and compromised upon, and the pros and cons lists can be a starting point for working through these consequences. When couples don’t agree there can be worry that resentment will take hold in the relationship no matter what decision is made. These negotiations and compromises can help to limit resentment.
I just can't decide what I want her to do, and she says that is confusing her
Getting clear about a position on an unplanned pregnancy can be just as hard for the man involved as it is for the woman.
Sometimes identifying the factors and processes that are causing you to change your mind can be helpful. Is there a particular factor that is making you change your mind? For example, do you feel differently about the decision at a particular time of the day or week, or after you talk about it to a particular friend or family member? This may also help you to get clearer about whether it is your general change of heart that is confusing or whether the particular factors that change your mind are also issues in flux for the pregnant woman. If so this can point to areas for deeper consideration for you both.
Remember, there are no right or wrong decisions, but just the best decision that can be found at the time.
Many of our suggestions have included variations on pros and cons lists. These become important documents for moving forward. They are a snap shot of the wisdom that you had available to you at the time you made your decision. They also provide an agenda for planning, to guide you in reinforcing the positives of the decision, and managing the identified negatives of the decision.
Children by Choice can offer telephone counselling to individuals and face to face counselling for the pregnant person as a resource for your decision making processes. Contact us if you think this may help.