Relying on focus group discussions and in-depth individual interviews with men and women in Jigawa and Kano states in northern Nigeria, we investigated barriers to spousal contraceptive communication. While attitudes toward spousal contraceptive communication were generally positive, there was very little evidence that respondents engaged in it. Poor spousal contraceptive communication in northern Nigeria is, in many ways, driven by the ample incentives that husbands and wives have to keep having children. For wives, having many children stabilises their marriage. It prevents husbands from marrying additional wives and sustains their attention and investments even if they ultimately do. For husbands, having many children helps them to keep their wives from objecting to their taking other wives and to mollify them by showing their continued commitment to that relationship should they take other wives. Our findings clearly challenge conventional population, family planning and reproductive health programmes that view high fertility as disempowering for women, and contraceptive use as capable of redressing gender inequality. New norms of gender relations are key to promoting contraceptive uptake and smaller families in northern Nigeria.