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. 61

    Re:#56 Helen;

    And adding:
    If one feels their partner loves the pet more than him/her why are they still there?

    This whole comparison thing  is silly.

  2. 62

    Helen (#56), whatever…maybe its me. I just like to “boil” over things for a while.

    And yes, I agree that any further comparison is silly (#61).  

  3. 63
    Sugar Daddy Dater

    The post is great. I do think that sometimes animals are smarter than people. People are too weak to admit mistakes, people are too harsh to say things in a pleasing way and people are too reckless when it comes to love and relationships.

  4. 64

    @ annete 59
    You got it completely wrong. I expect my family to forgive the  their family more than they forgive their colleagues!!! Not more than I forgive them!!!
    I already forgive them for lots of things. When i love someone i forgive their mistakes a lot more.  I do that less for other people because they haven’t done for me what my family has done or what my friends or boy friend has done. So if my family is the most supportive I’ll forgive more of their mistakes and be more loving and helping to them than i am to someone else.

  5. 65

    @64, I did understand what you said.

    But that doesn’t really change what I said either. If you expect your family to forgive you and each other more, then that implies you are expecting to make more mistakes with each other.

    I have this problem with my sister. She does and say’s some horrible things to family that she would never say to friends, but when you call her on it, she completely brushes it off  saying that everyone should be more forgiving of her, because after all we are family. Doesn’t seem to cross her mind that being our family, she should be more considerate toward our feelings.

    That’s why Evan’s comment resonates so well with me. That we should focus on being more loving, rather than focus on how other’s should be loving us.

  6. 66

    @ #65
    Maybe you family is being too forgiving of your sister, since she apparently isn’t learning anything. Perhaps stronger measures are called for… such as not tolerating her behavior and refusing to be around her if she won’t clean up her act. 

  7. 67


    I forgive her, but I also don’t stick around. I go do something else until she calms herself down. Doesn’t change anything though.

  8. 68

    well i don’t have a pet, but this article help me to how to love my boy friend who just cant stop loving me every single minute of the day

  9. 69

    I may be pretty young, but I have learned a lot of life lessons a lot earlier than most people and one thing I’ve learned is:
    People suck.
    They will never fail to disappoint.

  10. 70


    What are you expecting?

  11. 71

    @ annete #65
    But i do treat my family better than my classmates and friends…!!! Forgiving people and making mistakes are two different actions!!! What are you trying to say?? That i make mistakes deliberately so that i can be forgiven??? I expect what i give!!!! I forgive my family and friends for a lot more than most people I know do! I do a lot more for my sister than she does for me. And i try to do as much for my parents as I can!!!
    Let me tell you.. When i know i have hurt someone i apologize without fail. But when i say they should forgive me i mean on small things like forgetting to do something asked me to do. And treating me as well as i treat them.. And as well as they treat their friends.

  12. 72

    Great post, Evan.  I think we should treat all people the way that dog lovers treat their pets.
    But as someone else alluded to above, not everyone treats their pets the same.  When you wrote, “Few pets live with the the implication that things are just not working out,” I just had to stop.  I volunteer with the SPCA and there are SO many dogs that get turned in for the most ridiculous reasons.  It no longer looked like a puppy.  It got too big.  It didn’t get big enough.  It barked too much.  It wasn’t a good guard dog.  You changed your furniture and their fur no longer blended in.
    So not only should people treat everyone with love, forgiveness, and loyalty, but people should also look at how their partner treats their pets.  When their pets have seizures, or make a mistake by peeing on the rug or chewing a shoe, or when they wake them up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.  The person who is understanding about these things and keeps caring for the dog is likely to be understanding about humans having various issues too.  So if you’re looking for someone to drive you to your chemo sessions, find a good dog lover.

  13. 73

    @shalini 71.

    I dont’ know you so my comments weren’t a personal attack on your individual character. More a general comment about what you were saying.

    And it sounds like from your description of yourself you are making the effort to be the most lovable person you can. That’s is great.

    But there are some people who expect everyone to be loving to THEM, without making the effort themselves. 

    As I explained in my post about my sister, sometimes people can expect forgivness from family, because they dont’ want to make the effort. Since they know friends can walk away, they try harder with friends. But since family is “supposed” to stick around and forgive, they try less.

    Just like evans comments that we want the man in our lives to treat us well and as though we matter, but we ourselves treat our animals better than the man. This is hypocracy.

    So when an individual say’s, we should be more forgiving of family, I am alway’s wary.  Does that mean, that we make more effort FOR our family, or does it mean some-one thinks they have the right to treat their family badly because family alway’s should forgive.

    Not sure if that makes sense but I can’t seem to explain it any other way.

  14. 74
    Jack @ I Love Your Accent

    I know a few people who treat their cats better than any human being they come into contact with.

  15. 75

    TO A-L #72, points well made. And thank you for volunteering at the SPCA. I own two felines; one of which came from the SPCA. He is the most loving and affectionate cat I have ever owned; to the point of feeling so content and happy, he will actually drool. Yep. I had to look that one up on the internet. 🙂 It seems to be his natural disposition. The SPCA gave him great care until I found him.

    1. 76.1

      #76–so her husband said she had to choose between Johnny the house crocodile and him–and she chose Johnny! That’s gotta hurt…

  16. 77

    If you have a pet, you should not even consider having a relationship with someone who is not a pet owner.  He or she will never be able to understand your connection with the animal.
    Once a bond is established with your dog, cat or bird, it cannot be severed.  Your pet will always be glad to see you, love you and provide a great deal of affection.
    A man or woman who is lukewarm about animals will never be able to understand how you feel and often will be jealous of this pure and loving relationship.
    Compatibility is attitudes and values is very important and those of us who love our pets are not going to change.  There are a number of dating services online geared specifically to pet lovers.

  17. 78

    This post struck a chord and made me wince when I thought of how my ex petted his cats every time they walked past, called them to come and hop on the couch with him, cuddled them, let them sleep on his bed most of the time and let them have the run of his house, where he didn’t really do that with me and never invited me to move in. When I commented on it he told me I was ridiculous for being jealous of cats.

    I’m better off without him overall, he was often cool, distant and selfish. 

  18. 79
    Lynn (the other one!)

    Late to this party, as usual, reading the archives 😀

    I’ve been dating someone exclusively for a couple of months. He’s a good man. I mean, a really good man. I fully credit Evan for being able to know the qualities to look for. 

    The one thing that’s raised its head is that he has a ‘thing’ about pet hair. Almost a phobia. I have cats and a dog. He’s got a small mostly non-shedding dog who’s a whiny little fart, something I find annoying but y’know what? I like his man, so I can live with the whining. The guy is a package deal. He spoils his dog and mine too.

    I adore him and I feel lucky in many ways.

    But the pet hair phobia, which he’s well aware of and traces to his childhood, is becoming problematic.  Last night he asked me how attached I am to my pets. “Too much hair”.

    I’ll hasten to say that my place is hardly immaculate but it’s also hardly covered in fur except occasionally when I’ve been ridiculously busy there are some fur bunnies tumbling on the floor. I vacuum regularly, brush them, wash pet bedding, steam clean, etc. But he goes looking for hair and freaks when (not if) he finds even one.  I’m aware he broke up with someone a couple of years ago and he says the fur from her FOUR long-haired dogs was an issue, with drifts of it all over her house at all times. 

    A couple of things: to me, it sounds like pet hair isn’t really the issue. Like maybe it’s a cover for something else.  Kind of like how fighting over whether to flatten or roll the toothpaste tube isn’t really the issue.

    Two months in, to me, is too soon to be asking if I’d be willing to give up my pets. He’s not willing to give up his little dog nor would I ask him to. Ironically, the dog is overdue for grooming and is puffing off big drifts of hair right now. I don’t like the double standard.

    He’s ok with his dog sleeping with us (I am too, actually) but not my dog. Again, the double standard. “My dog’s older and he’ll probably die soon” – his explanation for why the double standard.

    When he stays at my place, we shut the bedroom door and the cats are locked out. No problem.  I’d cheerfully boot the dogs too but he says his will pitch a fit all night if we do. Mine will if his dog is with us but she isn’t, in her house. At his place, not a problem.

    And then last night, after coming by and surprising me with a visit and dinner after I’d just finished up a very long tiring work stint, which was really sweet,  he declined to stay with me because of the pet hair thing.  

    Today I said to him, very gently, that I’m feeling sad. Like this could be really problematic. I feel like I can’t win right now but I’d like to find something that would work for both of us. He seemed open, and asked if I’d like to talk about this more when we get together on Saturday. Yes, I would. I was getting teary, which I think startled him. I’m not blaming him. I’m on a mission to be emotionally honest and just own it instead of covering it up and pretending it’s ok. 

    It occurs to me as I write this that it could be a good test. If he turns out to be a “my way or the highway” kinda guy, best to know it now.  But I reserve the right to grieve, if so!


  19. 80

    What about treating pets better than children?  If the pet escapes, he gets coaxed back to the yard and then it’s all kisses and hugs.  “Good doggy, good boy!”  If the child is late, slow, or doesn’t feed the pets, she gets reprimanded, sent to her room, and punished.  “No video games for a month!”  I love my kid and tho I don’t want to spoil her, I don’t understand why she always seems to get it for stupid accidents or just being a clumsy kid with two left feet…  But a dog can absolutely do no wrong.  Ever.  He only gets affection and petted on the head and “good doggy” after he pees on the carpet or eats a pair of shoes.  Weirdly, my kid doesn’t seem to care, or even notice, but this sort of thing makes me really hate the dog.  

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