DEAR AMY: My husband of almost 40 years would like to (somehow) father a child.
During our first year of marriage, I had a hysterectomy, and so early on we realized I couldn't give birth to a child.
At various points throughout our marriage (mainly in our younger years), we talked about possible surrogacy, but he always dropped the matter.
Now that we are in our 60s, he is still perplexed and ambivalent, but I (on the other hand) feel we are too old to start looking into options again.
I would like to put to rest our conflicting dilemma, but almost feel it could be futile to try, because it's unresolvable.
I realize this is a difficult and sensitive issue, but I need some feedback to help at least put my mind at peace when he continues with his heartfelt frustration. — MRS. PERPLEXED
DEAR MRS.: Your husband (and you) might be genuinely perplexed by the persistence of his impulse over the last 40 years to father a child. Of course, many women also wrestle with this desire, but their biology makes giving birth to a child less possible as time passes, and so they have to reckon with the physiological limitations of childbearing, and the reality that it won't happen in later years.
Your husband may also have to accept this reality. But he could in fact father a child, and you two should discuss this seriously. Would he be interested in being a sperm donor for another woman, and would you consider some sort of shared parenting arrangement? If the answer for you is a firm "no," then say so. But talk about it.
His thoughts regarding fathering a child might be increasing in power and frequency as he ages and faces the reality of his mortality. Children can seem like a hedge against death.
Having a child might be unlikely — or unreasonable — but you should still discuss it. Does he feel cheated? Does he resent you for something you didn't ask for and cannot control (your long-ago hysterectomy)? And do you resent him for periodically reminding you of it?
A marriage counselor could help to guide you through this challenging conversation, giving you the tools to discuss this topic without retreating into well-worn positions.
I recommend the book, "Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most," (2010, Penguin Books). The authors of this helpful book are all members of the Harvard Negotiation Project, bringing their negotiating and communication skills into the personal arena.
DEAR AMY: I am a mental health professional.
People in my social circle are aware of what I do for a living.
Too often when I'm at a social gathering, someone pulls me aside to talk about a personal issue. That person is hijacking my social time to obtain counseling.
I'm sure this happens with other professions, but whereas a lawyer or doctor can say, "Why don't you come see me at the office," mental health practitioners are not allowed to have dual relationships (our friends or acquaintances cannot be also our clients).
What's a polite and clear way to set a boundary and explain that this is my social time, and I don't want to be burdened with someone's issue? — BURDENED COUNSELOR
DEAR BURDENED: Presumably, you entered this profession (at least in part) to help people. Remember that as you wrestle with this. You are burdened in this way because people trust you.
One way to help people who approach you outside the office is to respond with compassion, and offer a resource in lieu of an extended conversation. Then you should establish a boundary. For instance:
SHE: I'm so worried about Chad. I think he's depressed.
YOU: I'm so sorry to hear that. I can't help with this, but I can give you or him a referral if you want. Here's my card.
SHE: But what can I do if he won't get help?
YOU: Let's not talk about this right now, but call or email me on Monday and I'll give you a referral. Will you do that?
DEAR AMY: "Afraid of the Past" was fearful of running into an abusive ex. You said some of her options were: "escape, avoidance, confrontation." You also suggested that she practice various scenarios.
Amy, this is exactly what I did! Practicing helped me to prepare for the eventual encounter. I chose "avoidance," but next time I might make a different choice. Anyway, I feel more empowered. — NO LONGER AFRAID
DEAR NO LONGER AFRAID: This is great! Good for you.
You can email Amy Dickinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.