Many pet lovers have been involved in an argument with a significant other regarding pets either brought into the relationship/marriage by one party, or acquired as a couple. Just like children, pets require you to expend time, money, attention, and emotional energy, and just like children, their needs can create strife in relationships. Sometimes arguments over pets hint at a deeper issue that is unresolvable or requires counseling to resolve. At other times, a mutual commitment to respect and compromise can resolve these issues before they become significant enough to threaten the success of the relationship.
Common Pet-Related Conflicts
Here are some common conflicts in relationships, related to pets:
- Our pets must have the best of everything/ We need to save money by buying inexpensive things for the pets
- We should spay and neuter our pets/ Our pets deserve to have babies
- We must train our pets solely through positive reinforcement/ Punishment is necessary when training pets
- Any medical expenditure is justified because our pet is special and loved/ We can just get another pet
- Pets should live indoors/ Animals belong outdoors
- Our pets’ needs come before our own/ Humans come first at all times
- We should adopt a pet/ We should purchase a purebred pet
I could go on, but the common thread here is that there is a core difference of values regarding pet ownership and care. This leads to both partners demanding that the other one change a value important to them, which of course increases conflict and strife. People’s values differ due to their upbringing, life experience, and to some extent, hereditary and biological traits; one argument won’t change an opinion deeply important to a person, nor will a series of arguments.
Resolving Pet-Related Conflicts
The first step in resolving any conflict involving a basic difference in values is to make a conscious choice to accept and respect your spouse’s values, and to let go of the expectation that they will change over time. Often when one person makes and demonstrates this commitment, the other will learn by example. If that doesn’t happen, couple’s counseling may be in order to teach both partners to make good, respectful choices that take one another’s values into consideration.
Once both partners are committed to mutual respect and acceptance, it’s less difficult to find ways to compromise. Starting sentences with positive language like, “I respect your feelings about…” or “I understand you feel very strongly about….” helps facilitate calm discussion. Both partners must be prepared to sometimes give ground in order to have a more harmonious relationship. Once the issue is approached from a starting point where the problem, not the other person, is the enemy, and the spouses involved are on the same team attacking the problem rather than one another, sometimes simple solutions become obvious. For example, a conflict over letting a cat outside could be resolved by agreeing to work together to screen in a porch so Kitty can go outdoors without encountering cars and predators.