Silja has precise plans of how she wants to live her life – down to the smallest detail. Your boyfriend is more of a drifter. Do they even fit together when it comes to family planning?

Dear Ms Peirano,

I am 31 years old and work in the public service, in a year I will be a civil servant for life. I’m very structured. For a long time I saw that as a strength of mine, but I think it has something of a control compulsion. I keep an extremely detailed calendar, know next month’s costs by heart, plan everything extremely far ahead at work. In short: I (only) feel good when everything (in the long term) is planned.

I became an orphan very early (father died unexpectedly). During puberty, I quickly got involved in relationships, which then always went well for a few years. To be honest, I’ve never been single in the last 15 years. What I mean by that is that when things aren’t going so well with one partner, another one is already at the door.

For two years I have had a life partner with whom things are going well. We have the same job, we sing in the church choir together, we both play volleyball. However, my boyfriend was extremely euphoric at the beginning of the relationship and also wanted to have a child immediately (due to the strong infatuation). At the time I put on the brakes and said that I first wanted to get married and would want to wait with a child until I was a civil servant for life. My boyfriend is divorced, is very reluctant to get married and has a daughter who is almost grown up, but unfortunately she has not taken a good path. We see her extremely rarely and she only calls when she needs money, for example because she lost her apprenticeship.

I put pressure on him for a long time about getting married because security is very important to me. But he’s very self-confident and sensitive to pressure, so we had a fight about it. I then let the topic rest, which was difficult for me.

For a few weeks my boyfriend has been saying that he is no longer sure if he wants children, partly because of the daughter (what if another child would develop like this). On the other hand, because he thinks that after much deliberation, he believes that the current independence is nice after all.

I find this change of heart strange and have told him (very tearfully) that I don’t want to give up a family and that he shouldn’t put me off. In general, my friend is unstructured and doesn’t plan much ahead. I’d like at least a clear view on issues like marriage and children.

I can’t handle this back and forth at all. Even though it’s almost a year before I want to start planning a family, I worry every day about what’s going to happen. I think I’m too obsessive about planning for the future. I would prefer to speak to him about it every day and demand a clear decision. However, I know that my partner is very sensitive to pressure and would rather withdraw. Nevertheless, the train of thought keeps going on for me. On the other hand, I really ask myself whether a child’s question isn’t an insoluble conflict. And whether I should set an ultimatum at some point, as a kind of self-protection. The possible consequences of this are already scaring me.

I hope you can give me a tip on how I don’t want to plan my life so desperately or how I can learn to let everything come my way.


Silja T.

Dear Silja T,

I put myself in your shoes while reading your letter and I got quite nervous and could hardly breathe. I felt like I had to move, but I was aimless and, in my imagination, I was running in circles. Do you feel the same?

You write that as a child you unexpectedly lost your father. I can imagine that after an event like this, the world shakes and you no longer know who you can rely on. Have you ever worked through this event for yourself? If not, I would heartily recommend that you do so, in the context of psychotherapy.

I always think it’s important to ask what percentage of current problems I feel have something to do with the current trigger and what percentage are old issues. For example: My boss yells at me and threatens that my job is at risk. I’ve been paralyzed for weeks and have severe stomach problems. Ultimately, however, this situation only repeats the scenario that my mother repeatedly threatened to leave me and leave me in unstable circumstances. In that case, the situation with the boss might be 10-20 percent off the iceberg (just the tip), the remaining 80-90 percent would be the mother’s behavior. It helps when I know who my fears are really about!

Childhood experiences ensure that we form mental and emotional patterns. They’ve learned the pattern: If I don’t take care of everything myself and secure everything, then things will go wrong and I’ll be abandoned.

If you feel that a high percentage has to do with the loss of your father and your learned patterns, then your current partner doesn’t play as much of a role in your fears and need for control. It will certainly help to recognize this and to work on the problem where it comes from: at the roots, namely in your life story.

Among therapists they say: Compulsions prevent worse things from happening. I can imagine that the compulsions you have are intended to prevent fear of being alone and being abandoned, as well as fears about the future. On the other hand, the constraints also cost you a lot. Can you live quite well in the moment and accept things as they are? Can you be exuberant and sometimes a little crazy? Feel free? Are you in touch with your heart’s desires, or does your life feel like one big to-do list? Do you have confidence in the future?

I can imagine that your partner is noticing a lot of your stress right now and is therefore reluctant to commit himself more firmly to you with marriage, children and all the trimmings. Because he’s apparently the one who doesn’t plan like that and where things can sometimes go wrong. You take on the (perhaps thankless) role of providing structure and support to his life and yours. And he can therefore live out the role of the freedom-loving person who does not commit himself all the more.

I think there will be a lot of trouble in your relationship if you continue to pressure your boyfriend into commitments he doesn’t want to make. How would you benefit from having children he doesn’t really stand behind? In your experience, how do stories like this end? In my experience, the fathers who didn’t want the children eventually leave, and sometimes they don’t take care of the children either.

From my point of view it would be important that you deal with your childhood issues with the help of therapy and try to relax. It is important that you consciously look at the quality of the relationship and think about it with an open mind: does it suit us and this relationship to have a child now? Your partner seems to doubt this, and the more pressure you put on them, the less comfortable they will feel – and the more they will refrain from children and marriage. It’s about adopting a different attitude. Not to say: I want children soon and you have to want that too, otherwise I’ll leave. So my clear tip: Don’t address it in this way again! Instead, ask: How do we both imagine our life together, now and in the future? What is included and what is not? And what does the thought of children or marriage do to you? Communication based on an exchange at eye level makes people happiest in the long run.

I can imagine that all of this now seems unreachable and might even cause you to panic. Maybe you think: If I let go now and stop planning, everything can go wrong and end in chaos! Then I won’t have any children and will soon be without a partner.

That’s correct. But if you try to force things, you will also face the consequences, both from your partner and from the children-to-be. Experience has shown that they have a mind of their own, and nowadays you can’t achieve much with pressure. It will probably be a long road and it will take courage to let go.

My wish is that you can slow down and allow yourself to take life a little further. That would also be a great gift to yourself: you wouldn’t have to work so hard and work through plans.

Best regards

Julia Peirano