Man’s best friend causes family’s worst rift
Advice columnist Carolyn Hax on dealing with dog lovers who want their family member to take on responsibility for their pets.
I have two serious dog lovers in my life and feel imposed upon regularly by them both, and get veiled hostility from them when I resist.
My sister has a darling golden retriever and we share a house with a large yard. Although I mostly work from home, my work is demanding and often very stressful, and I like to decompress by going for fast-paced walks with my iPod. Sis often asks if I’ll take him when she sees me with my sneakers on.
I made it clear when she got him that I didn’t want a dog because it was a responsibility I couldn’t take on. She points out that my fiancé and I want to start a family, as if that’s the same thing. I’ve told her I’m willing to make major changes in my life for a child, but not for a dog, She gets so offended by this that she’ll give me the cold shoulder. I’ll help, but she resents that I’m not more willing.
Now fiancé has announced he wants to get a dog. He’s a lifelong dog owner but has been without a dog for a few years. I’ve said that, although I work from home, he needs to pretend I don’t in terms of caring for the dog, and that he should get it before we move in together so he can establish a rhythm of care before I get there. I can tell he resents my stance.
I am beginning to resent this. He has an easy job and has a lot of latitude throughout the day. I spent years building my company. My compromise is that I’m happy to share the expenses, happy to hire a dog sitter/walker, but just don’t want to take the work on myself.
How do I maintain a healthy boundary?
— In the Doghouse
DEAR IN THE DOGHOUSE:
People do not get to dump their responsibilities on you, or to complain when you refuse to serve as the cheerful dump-ee. There’s nothing wrong with your boundaries, at least with your sister. You just need to accept that people won’t always respect them, receive them warmly or allow you to set them without consequences.
But your work isn’t done here yet, especially if your sister is repeating a family pattern of saying one thing and silently (resentfully) expecting another. Does your fiancé also use guilt tactics to enforce the primacy of his needs? It’s possible you’re about to carry an unhealthy pattern into marriage.
Keep that in mind as you address compromise with your fiancé. Marriage is a different beast from a home shared with a sibling. You and your fiancé presumably share goals, plus an avowed duty to serve as the stewards of each other’s happiness. Just as he needs to come home to walk his own dog ungrudgingly, every day, as a gesture of love for you and respect for your needs, you need to have room in your plan to notice when he needs you to have his back, or take his dog out for a spin.
That, and your no-dog-care stance is only fair in theory. In practice: highly unrealistic.
You both need to come up with a fuller, more realistic compromise — one that centers not on care for the pet-to-be, but on caring for each other’s needs.
If you find that your fiancé is fixed on getting you to prioritize his needs, then please at least consider that you’ve re-created your family’s emotional comfort zone in this marriage-to-be — and not in a good way.