Carolyn Hax is away. The following appeared in 2005.

Dear Carolyn: Before my husband and I married, we discussed kids, and, although he admitted he'd never had an overwhelming desire to have any, he knew how much it meant to me and agreed that one would be OK. Except that every time it comes up, he gets panicky and finds a reason to put it off.

I'm 34, he's 40, so it's a somewhat limited window. He's convinced that once we have a baby, our lives will end. We will be impoverished, never travel again, etc. We are OK financially, and have lots of family nearby to help out.

Our friends with kids don't help. They love to complain that they never have sex anymore, they are always broke, they never get any sleep. Why don't people ever talk about the wonderful stuff? If it's so awful, why do most of them have more than one kid?

And what can I do to reassure my poor husband that it will all be OK?

Carolyn says: They have more than one kid because they were too tired, broke and frustrated to feel like playing with the first kid.

Or, they had wonderful reasons you haven't really heard because you're caught up in the negative things. Drawing them out is the perfect antidote to hearing too many scary stories about having a child.

It doesn't help, though, when your problem is that you married one. Your husband doesn't know who he is and what he wants or, worse, knows but doesn't have the guts to act on it. Neither looks flattering on a 40-year-old.

Anyone with a spouse, friends and four decades on Earth knows what it means to have kids. Debating it now is just stalling, and stalling breaks his other promise to you, the tacit one, the one he made when you wed: to treat your happiness as the equal to his own.

Let him stall without clear protest and you break this same promise to him, since no doubt you will grow to resent him.

So: Kindly, lovingly, firmly demand that he honor this tacit promise by being honest with you. If he doesn't want any kids — if he just lied to keep you, or meant it but since changed his mind — he needs to admit that, now. The longer he hides, the narrower your options. No fair.

And if he really does want a child, then he needs to realize the stars won't align and you won't remain 34. The window isn't "somewhat limited," it shuts, maybe not tomorrow, but whenever it wants to, not when you say it does. Plan, budget, plunge.

On the fence

Dear Carolyn: Do you think deadlines for marriage issues are ever appropriate? Basically, my girlfriend can't decide if my not believing in her god is a deal-breaker. But this has been going on for three years. It seems like at some point "failure to reach a conclusion" is a conclusion.

Carolyn says: Well said. But before you go, there's no harm in asking one more time whether she has made up her mind. That is, unless the conclusion you reach by her failure to reach a conclusion is that you don't want to marry someone who's unable to reach big conclusions. Then, I guess, you just go.

E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.