The young couple wandered into the local PetSmart, where an animal rescue organization was sponsoring adoptions. The eager volunteer approached and asked if they were looking for a cat. The woman chuckled. “He wants a cat,” she said, “and I want a dog.”
The volunteer knew better than to get in the middle of that. In fact, theirs was a common dilemma, which many couples resolve by adopting one–or more–of each.
Pets can be an important part of life and, consequently, of marriage. In fact, a study from the University of Buffalo claims that couples who own a cat or dog have closer relationships, are more satisfied in marriage and respond better to stress than couples who do not. Another study found that petting an animal, or even just watching fish in an aquarium, resulted in lowered blood pressure.
Pets can help to reduce stress between spouses, especially when they are going through a difficult time. A pet’s companionship and affection creates a calming effect in a marriage. Plus, the pet can be a source of entertainment and increased fun in the home.
Pet ownership can also cause marital discord. In one poll, 60% of married couples said that pets had created problems in their marriages.
Fortunately, potential problems can often be avoided or minimized if they are acknowledged and addressed up front. Here are a few tips for bringing furry friends into a marriage:
- “Can we get a dog–please??” If one spouse is absolutely opposed to a pet, it’s probably not a good idea, nor is it fair to the animal, to push the issue. In many cases, however, a spouse is ambivalent. Perhaps he/she has never had a pet and has certain stereotypes in mind: Cats are sneaky; dogs are vicious. If the spouse can keep an open mind, the pet will often endear itself to the skeptic.
- “It’s your turn to walk Fido” (at 6:00 a.m.). Anyone who has cleaned up hairballs or scooped out a litter box knows that pets come with a downside. Just as spouses divvy up household chores, they also need to discuss responsibility for pet-related tasks. And if you’re the one who promised to take care of the pet (see #1 above) be prepared to keep your promise.
- At least Fluffy doesn’t need a college fund. Pet care can be a major item in a couple’s budget. Expenses include food, shots, veterinary bills, cat litter, grooming supplies, toys and travel crates. Pet health care has become more advanced, and more costly. Couples need to decide if their budget can accommodate the expense. As the pet ages, they may also need to set limits on how much they can spend on medical treatment.
- “It’s me or the cat.” What’s cozier than a furry feline stretched out next to you on a cold winter’s night? Nothing–unless that sleeping cat is literally coming between you and your spouse. Not all spouses want to share their bed with a four-legged creature. People can feel strongly about this issue, so it needs to be discussed before allowing a pet in the bedroom.
- “He pays more attention to the dog than to me!” Even if said half in jest, that’s not a good sign in a marriage. Pets demand a great deal of time and attention: they need to be fed, exercised, groomed and cleaned up after. It’s easy for one spouse to feel neglected or jealous when the other spends time with the pet.
- “Sorry, honey, we’ve replaced you with Buster.” Pets can be a blessing at one stage of the marital journey and a burden at another. Pet ownership may constrain the young couple who wants the freedom to travel at a moment’s notice. When they become more settled, a pet can make a wonderful addition to the family. An older couple who no longer feels up to caring for pets may decide not to replace them when they die. On the other hand, when the adult child who is allergic to animals moves out, the couple can finally adopt the dog or cat they always wanted.
Do pets belong in a marriage? Certainly the 141 million owned cats and dogs in the U.S. would say so. Just make sure that you and your spouse agree on the ground rules before making the commitment to pet ownership.
Sheila and her husband share their home with resident cat Dolly Madison and a varying number of fosters.