What Pets Can Teach Us About Marriage

I love it when others confirm something that I already thought to be true. In this case, it’s the idea that people are often much nicer to their pets than they are to their romantic partners. PsychCentral explains how people account for their unconditional pet-love:

People often describe pets as undemanding and giving unconditional love, when the reality is that pets require a lot of time and attention, special foods and care. They throw up on rugs, pee in the house and steal food from countertops. Yet we accept their flaws because we love them so much.

The article describes 6 ways we are more emotionally generous to our pets:

1) How we greet them – in a positive, animated, affectionate way. As opposed to barely looking up from your Blackberry when he comes home.

2) Our expectations of them – minimal to reasonable. Your expectations of your boyfriend: perfection/connection/mindreading/mindblowing sex or bust.

You yell… when your dog chews your shoe and are petting him an hour later. Yet you might go to bed mad because of something stupid that your husband said…

3) How we hold grudges against them – you yell for a moment when your dog chews your shoe and are petting him an hour later. Yet you might go to bed mad because of something stupid that your husband said about your new haircut.

4) Assuming the best – you know your cat didn’t have bad intentions when waking you up at 5am, but you assume that your boyfriend was trying to disrespect you when he smiled at the checkout girl. Maybe he was just being polite.

5) Acceptance – the dog licks your friend’s face when she arrives, you say, “That’s just the dog”. Your boyfriend likes playing video games and you want to decapitate him. Actually, “that’s just your boyfriend.”

Few pets live with the the implication that things are just not working out. Not so with partners.

6) For Better or For Worse – People love and care for pets of every size, shape and disposition. “She’s not exactly a watch dog; she’s loving but easily frightened.” “He insists on sleeping on the bed – we have given in.” Few pets live with the the implication that things are just not working out. Not so with partners. It’s hard to feel a consistent emotional connection when you always feel like you can be tossed out for the latest infraction.

It’s easy to say that you treat your romantic partners worse because you have more emotionally invested in them, because they’re free-thinking human beings who should know how to be more considerate, because the relationship has more of a give and take. All duly noted.

That doesn’t excuse the overall picture here. You are quite likely more considerate, patient, emotionally giving, and sane with co-workers, friends and pets than you are with your romantic partners. Something about love brings out the impatient, demanding side, apparently.

As a guy who grew up with pets (I’m lobbying with my wife to get a dog bigger than a terrier), I have to say that just about the ONLY clients I’ve ever STRUGGLED to help were women who were more in love with animals than they were with men. Not just “crazy cat ladies”. Dog women – the ones with 4 or 5 of ’em – would much rather hang with their dogs than go on a date.

Dog women – the ones with 4 or 5 of ’em – would much rather hang with their dogs than go on a date.

And it makes sense, especially when your ideal relationship consists of a furry friend who doesn’t talk back, and is excited to see you every day because you’re the one who provides, food, water, shelter and affection. Comparatively, men can only lose.

Then again, a dog will never pay the rent, raise your kids, drive you to the doctor, cook you a meal, give you an orgasm, or have any private jokes with you.

If you want one of those creatures in your life, you should probably learn to treat men like dogs…

You know what I mean.

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  1. 1

    I see what the spirit of this blog is, but I would say the majority of women do not do this.  I’m guessing that all the letters and posts are a good albeit very small sample of the dating population, it appears most women embrace their partners with open arms and open hearts. 

  2. 3

    Well I will say the last guy I went out with was nicer to his cats than he was to me.

  3. 4
    Christine in the UK

    I disagree with your article. I find I am too forgiving and understanding with men. For example, if my boyfriend doesn’t call I make excuses for his lack of consideration for me. I do treat them with compassion, just like I would a pet I loved. I just don’t get the same back from them.

  4. 5
    KAREN C.

    Hello Evan:  (:

    You are absolutely correct in your statements.    I don’t usually respond to any of your blogs but I have to this time.   I  do treat my dog exactly as you stated.   However, if someone I am dating does something wrong, I right away cross him off my list.   In other words, I am totally unforgiving.   

    Howerver, from now on, I shall remember your words and overlook some of the mistakes that are made by the men I date.   I have let some really good guys go because they committed a booboo.      Oh my God, I am learning so much from you and your blogs.   

    Please don’t give up on us.    Also stay married to your beautiful and very understanding wife.    You two are a gift from Heaven.

    Thank you so much again!!!      I will now call that really nice guy who keeps calling me!!

    Love You!!

    Karen  C.

  5. 6
    Evan Marc Katz

    @Christine and Starthrower – you treat men really well and aren’t treated well in return? Perfect. Break up and find a better man. They do exist. Everywhere. In equal numbers to women.

  6. 7

    People are more affectionate with their pets, because their pets can’t speak to them, their pets can’t call them on their BS and people have no expectations for their pets.
    In other words, with a pet, a person controls 100% of the relationship.

  7. 8


    I normally love what you say, but I’m seriously going to have to disagree with you on this one- just based on what I’ve seen. you’ve ALWAYS treated men like beloved pets? And you’ve seen ALL women do the same ALL the time? Sorry, if I find that hard to believe- maybe I’m just a bit jaded.

    Also- I would venture to extend this article beyond marriage to just how you deal with roomates, family, friends, etc. Lots of time kids come home from school, and parents barely acknowledge them, or vice versa. I think it’s hard to not have expectations/carry baggage with anyone you deal with. The most emotionally evolved people try to be mindful of this as much as possible and deal with it the best they can. The day every single person does this is the true day we’ll have paradise on earth.

  8. 9

    @ Evan,

    I can’t speak for Christine, but after taking one too many verbal whoopings, I decided I had enough and did get out of that situation.

    @ Steve,

    That is hilarious!!!

    @ Sayanta,

    I see your point….maybe in the circles I travel in it’s true but since I haven’t seen what you’ve seen.

  9. 10
    Christine in the UK


    Thanks for replying. I wasn’t expecting that.
    I did sadly have to stop seeing my boyfriend and it still hurts now.  I got fed up of not getting anything back and being such a low priority in his life. I did see sense in the end thank goodness. Plus my friend said that I was settling for too little, when I wanted a loving committed partner.

  10. 11

    I have to agree, as usual, with Evan (& Steve).  I have a dog and am much more forgiving of her transgressions than I am of most people.  & @Starthrower,  like Sayatana I tend to like what you have to say, but I too seriously disagree with you on your 1st post.  Personally I’ve known too many women who deliver ultimatums in some form or fashion to their men.  Love is very conditional in their world view.  Professionally, as a counselor, I’ve see the same.  That’s not to say that there aren’t women who don’t embrace their partners with open arms and open hearts.  I’ve see that too.  I just don’t see it as frequently. 

  11. 12

    Steve, #7-

    lol- but if the cat’s a bad scratcher, and the dog’s got a biting streak, the power play shifts, right?

  12. 13

    I know someone who has several beloved pets, including dogs. I have never known anyone who loves and cares for animals with such passion as she does. I think that some people have an unexplainable connection with their pets that cannot be explained in such simple terms.
    While it is true that she has often joked, with a rather serious tone, how her pets mean more to her than any man ever would, I can understand and appreciate her experience. The unconditional love and unbreakable bond between her and her pets goes both ways which sadly, is something she has never been blessed to experience with any male that has been a part of her life.
    Some people love their pets more and treat them differently than they would a significant other because of this. Maybe the wife that doesn’t look up from the Blackberry when the husband comes in is yearning to know her husband’s loving touch. Maybe the husband who grumbles about the way his wife cooks his eggs is yearning for her to support his, albeit low paying, but passionate career. IMHO, relationships where both partners truly, unconditionally love and accept each other for all the days of their lives are scarce.
    While it is true that one can make the general observation that some people treat their pets better than they do their spouse, it’s also true that sadly, some people treat everyone else in their life, i.e. co-workers, friends, the mailman, etc. better than they do their spouse. This is something that everyone can learn from; not just the pet lovers.

  13. 14

    Until both sexes learn to love wholeheartedly and without fear (and I’m talking to myself as much as anyone) then this is what we’re going to have.  Somebody is going to have to blink first, otherwise it’s just one big staring contest.

  14. 15


    You’re right- I do think people fail to treat family members with the respect and courtesy they do others: probably because they take them for granted, right?

  15. 16

    I’m hoping you will write a column about men who are insecure because of womens’ relationships with our pets!  It’s so true.  I had this fantastic dog that I had an energetic connection and good communication with and this man, whom I’d only been seeing about six weeks, had a huge tantrum about the dog!  Seriously?  I’m not one of those women who fawns over or baby talks to my pets, feeds them off my plate or anything weird like that.  I’m pretty matter-of-fact with them, though they do sleep on the bed.  Hey, dude!  I’ve had the dog seven years, and I’ve known you for less than two months.  Chill.  It really raises and eyebrow when a man is a wuss in this area.

  16. 17
    Evan Marc Katz

    “Dog that I had an energetic connection and good communication with”? “They do sleep on the bed”?

    Sorry, Moon, but “energetic connection, good communication and sleeping in the bed” is for the boyfriend first, and the dog second. What’s truly eyebrow raising is how you don’t see this.

    Your dog will understand if it has to sleep on the floor. Your man, on the other hand, will not.

    If you think that because the dog was there first, it gets precedents over the man you’re dating, you shouldn’t be too surprised when men don’t want to stick around.

  17. 18

    I am not a dog enthusiast. Since I am not a dog lover, whenever I see a photo of a man and his loving dog or learn of his devotion, I move on. I am not interested in living with a dog.
    However, I can understand Moon’s feelings, especially in an early-on dating situation where little trust had been established, unlike with her dog. There’s no direct statement she considered him to be her boyfriend, or that she expected him to sleep on the floor. Many owners allow their pet to sleep at the foot of their bed without contention. The guy was expecting her to change her lifestyle for him. One could also make the argument that she expected him to change.
    I think dog lovers (or cat lovers) need to find someone who understands and has similar ideas and connections with their pets. I have known men who love their dog like the brother they never had, to the point of choosing their dog over their girlfriend.
    A good place to start is by visiting a dog park.

  18. 19

    Connect, perhaps.  But there are very few animals with which one can communicate at anything but a very basic level.

  19. 20
    Karl R

    Moon said: (#16)
    “this man, whom I’d only been seeing about six weeks, had a huge tantrum about the dog!”

    You haven’t provided enough information for me to accurately assess whether that man was reasonable or unreasonable. But I can tell you how my girlfriend handled the situation.

    We had been dating for 7 days when I first visited her house. She has owned her dog for 3 years. When I met her dog she said, “He has some dominance issues. If he ever growls or snaps at you, put him in an alpha rollover.”

    That immediately let me know where I stood relative to the dog, and to what extent I could make the dog understand where he stood relative to me. Furthermore, I displaced the dog in the bed. I felt comfortable training the dog this, because I knew I had my girlfriend’s implicit support. For the last 9 months, the dog has spent the night on a pad beside the bed.

    When I was discussing this blog post with my girlfriend, she said, “People always come ahead of pets in my house.”  This not only applies to her dog, but also to her parrots … one of whom she has owned for 26 years.

    If the man (or woman) feels insecure just because you’re taking care of your daily responsibilities to your pet, then he is in the wrong. Beyond that, if you find it more important to spend time with your pet than your boyfriend (or girlfriend), he has every right to seek out a relationship where he is treated better than the animals.

  20. 21

    Well, I had to put the dog down ten years ago, so he’s hardly a problem now.  It took about two years for the dog and I to have that bond.  No new guy who’s just popped up with no real history with me should pass judgment on anything, or you, for that matter.  No, the men aren’t sleeping on the floor, Evan: duh.  Anyway, most of the men I dated LOVED my dog; it was this one anomaly, and it was really quite childish and silly.
    PS  YOU try keeping dogs off the bed; not possible.  Even my one friend who took dog camping could not keep him out of his sleeping bag.  Just that kind of dog.

  21. 22

    There are 2 books I think are essential readings for anybody, male and female. The first one is Wild at Heart, about the masculine heart, and the other is Love and Respect, which anyone thinking about having a relationship with the opposite sex should read. In that book we learn that without the love she deeply needs and craves, she will tend to respond in disrespectful ways. Without the respect he needs and deeply craves, he will respond in unloving ways. It’s called the “crazy cycle”. I’ve seen couples in this for decades, literally. Relationships are about  getting needs met. If needs are not getting met, crazy cycle time! The thing to do is to try to get in the “energizing cycle”. Cool book. Foundational.

  22. 23

    Oh, and no need to make the assumption that the man didn’t, “stick around.”  Summer romance, six years younger than me and a conservative, rabid in his support for the NRA (post Columbine.)  I was moving and it was a good time to part ways.

  23. 24

    Hah, this is exactly how I felt when ditched by my emotionally unavailable ‘beloved’: like a dog thrown out on a highway (yes, there are lots of people who abuse their own dogs). Funny thing, I had foreseen it in one of our power struggle conversations (normal to budging relationships, but ours was almost 3 years at that point). Funny too, the guy never had a pet (allergies), and his ‘strong position’ on plants (that he would pick himself, bring home, and enjoy) was to not water them more often than once per week. They would live for about couple of months that way. Lessons from learning about the person in relation to pets (and other objects of care, including your furniture that can, but need not to(!) become his leg-rest): there is nothing neon flashy wrong with people who love life. Just run away from those who need to control their environment so much that their dog goes out once per day, or their plant gets water once per week!

  24. 25

    When one of us comes home, the other person ALWAYS gets up off the couch and gives the other person a long hug.

    And, moon, that’s why you put your dog in a crate at night.  Our dog sleeps in a crate in our bedroom because I refuse to have her in the bed.  Our cats get shut out of the bedroom when we are sleeping or having sex, though if we are just napping or reading on the bed they are allowed to jump up and cuddle with us.

  25. 26

    I will say that I am glad that my boyfriend doesn’t do the crazy manic dance for me that he does for our dog, though!  If he greeted me by jumping around and squealing my name in a high-pitched voice I would be quite taken aback 🙂

  26. 27
    Orna Walters

    I love this post!  I find that we are for the most part very forgiving of our pets and more so than our intimate partners.  Forgiveness is a KEY ingredient in any successful partnership – whether it is human to human or human to pet.  I feel compelled to share that I did have my husband sign “adoption” paperwork for our cat on our wedding day.  She (the cat) also took his last name.

  27. 28

    similar comparison also with pets and babies!

  28. 29
    Orna Walters

    In addition to Paul’s comment above about needs and wants etc.  I agree that its important to have our needs met – however, I’ve found that many people blur the line between a need vs. a want.  It is vital that we know what our non-negotiable needs are and to never ever sacrifice them.  If we do sacrifice them then we become resentful and its very difficult for a relationship to recover from that place.

  29. 30

    Well…pets are loyal to death do you part. They don’t decide one day they just aren’t that into you, and they don’t cheat. Same can’t always be said for people.

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