Aside from just looking cute and cuddling you when your partner is too grumpy, pets can be excellent for your personal development as an individual–and as a couple. If you and your partner have a pet together or if you’re thinking about getting one, read on to explore a few of the ways having a pet can be awesome for your relationship.
Having a pet together makes you see your partner (and yourself) in a new light
When you get a pet, you and your partner are thrust into a new life situation that you may not have seen one another in before. Pet ownership demands a lot of very specific responsibilities and skillets, and it might lead you to see sides of your partner to which you hadn’t been privy before. For example, maybe your partner is not at all conscientious when it comes to cleaning-related tasks, but their love for your pet leads them to be very conscientious about things like feeding or walking the pet on time, cleaning up after them, or noticing when they need medical attention. You might come to respect and appreciate your partner even more through seeing them rise to the challenge of this new role.
For another thing, most people’s personalities change somewhat when they’re in a position in which they need to enforce strong rules and boundaries. With a pet, there are some things that must be forbidden–for safety reasons, health reasons, or convenience–and witnessing yourself as well as your partner respond to this need can be eye-opening.
Perhaps, for instance, you think you (or your partner) is good at being responsible by following the rules and making sure others do as well…but you might find it really difficult to enforce restrictions when this cute little being with gigantic eyes looks at you and makes this adorable noise and irresistible face (and whatever you feel when your pet does that, magnify that x10,000 and that’s how it’s going to feel if you have kids). So, if you can’t consistently enforce rules around getting your cat to stay off the table or your dog to stay off the bed, then maybe get rid of the table/bed. (Or, just work on that before having kids.)
Pets can bring you closer together
Taking care of another being (especially a small baby one which is mostly helpless) is going to bring you and your partner closer together. Taking care of someone together is a fantastic relationship-building activity. You can allocate tasks so that you share a similar level of responsibility or make an arrangement you feel is fair, and you can feel what it’s like to be supported in caring for another living being by your partner. And as you’re negotiating out who does which tasks, you have a stellar opportunity for flexing those communication muscles.
On a sadder note, all animals get sick someday. Although this can be heartbreaking, the nervous hours spent waiting in the vet to find out what’s happening–whether it’s a cold or something more dramatic–can quickly bring you closer together and make you feel emotionally attuned. So can the time spent caring for a sick pet together. Even if it’s something more dramatic than a simple virus and you have the thought ‘why on earth did we get this pet when something so bad can happen?’, it’s good to have someone like your partner with you who can console you and give you strength, and vice versa. This is undeniably the hardest and most painful part of having a pet and no one wishes for it, but it’s an inevitable part of life and facing grief together truly does bring people closer together. Learning how to do this together with a pet will also help you when you need to face similar situations when it’s a human in your life who’s struggling.
Pet ownership also gives couples new reasons and ways to spend time together. If you have a pet that needs to be walked, this can be a nice couple activity. Although you may often find yourself delegating this task to save time, sweet moments will be created when you both have a day off to play with the dog in the yard, or give your cat catnip together, or walk the pet turkey around the neighborhood and laugh at everyone’s reactions.
Pet ownership makes you work as a team
For starters, having a pet gives you a shared responsibility, which forces you to be a team. Doing so can also make your relationship more serious; getting a pet together introduces a third being into your dynamic, which kind of makes you a family (Litvak, 2022).
That said, it’s inevitable that at some point (let’s be honest, probably regularly), one or both of you will do something the other doesn’t like–with the pet or for the pet. Luckily for you, such situations can present an excellent opportunity to work on how you handle and communicate these kinds of differences as a team. The conflicts that arise when you have to care for a pet together will give you plenty of opportunities to practice overcoming conflict together, rather than as opponents.
Also, animals require space. They also sometimes require some adjustments be made to your living environment. For many couples, that means that taking the plunge and getting a pet together can be a good opportunity to renovate or make changes to the apartment together. A pet will have certain safety and lifestyle needs. A cat will scratch certain things, so some pieces of furniture should be replaced or protected. Food cannot be stored on the ground where animals can get into it or contaminate food storage space, and it needs to be stored securely. This gives you the opportunity to work together to make changes to your physical space together, improving your teamwork skills along the way and giving you something tangible to be proud of and about which to say “we did this–together”. Also, you’re halfway to babyproofing.
Pets and cohabitation
When you live together, you have to make compromises and learn to tolerate differences. The process of discovering and adapting to your respective pet-parenting styles can also help you learn to be more accepting of other differences in your living styles.
Maybe one of you is ok with leaving the cat litter untouched for two days. That might just be the same person who’s ok with leaving the dishes in the sink for two days–sound familiar? While it’s important for partners to be able to make adjustments for one another, it’s equally important to accept that there are always going to be some differences in style, and you might sometimes have to live with things that you personally would prefer to have done differently.
Most conflicts in relationships are unsolvable (Gottman, 2015), and many of these unsolvable conflicts often come from differences in approaches to everyday tasks such as order and cleanliness. Therefore, while you should try your best to meet one another in the middle, tolerance of differences is also key.
Having a pet can give you a new way to practice becoming more comfortable negotiating differences in pet parenting styles (including things like the timing and strictness with which pet-related chores are managed). This can help with becoming more adept at negotiating and accepting other differences in living styles, as well.
On the flip side, sometimes it’s also easier to shift your living habits not for your partner, whose wellbeing will not be that severely affected by your habits because they’re an independent adult, but for this little being that just really needs your support.
Pets help prime you for parenthood
If you’re thinking about having kids, committing to a pet first can help you discover parts of your parenting communication style as you raise a small being together. We often may think that our partner acts and sees needs the same way we do, but it turns out they often don’t–because they’re a completely different being.
Therefore, it can be helpful to realize that your partner has a different approach to raising another being than you do. And you may want to talk about that first, before you have a child (or a pet), in order to become aware of discrepancies such as “I want to take a mostly Laissez-faire approach to caring for another being, and my partner wants to go full authoritarian”. If that’s the case, you might try couple’s therapy in order to negotiate these differences or find another effective way to re-evaluate how you can work together and honor one another’s differing needs.
Also, pet parenting involves a substantial time commitment, and it’s important to see how much you and your partner can handle having a big chunk of time cut out of your free time, especially when the pet is really small. If it’s difficult even to find enough time to allocate to pet care, that’s something you’re going to have to figure out before you have kids, which require much more time than pets.
On a light but important note, having pets before having kids can help you desensitize your noses. Pets (especially baby ones) may be cute as a button, but dear lord can they produce some pungent scents! Especially when they’re sick. But you know what? After a few months, you’re not going to be so bothered or shocked by that anymore, and you’ll be well prepared for the multitude of not-so-savory smells that come with parenting an actual human later on.
All this said, it’s VERY important to keep in mind that you should get a pet in order to expand your family, not primarily in order to test your relationship or prepare you for having kids. Pets are family. If you’ve never cared for a pet on your own before, start with a mint plant, then work your way up to a more demanding houseplants or perhaps a vegetable garden. When you’re sure you can handle that, then think about getting a pet.
Pets can prepare you to care for aging parents
As hard as it is to think about, all of our parents are going to age and likely become less and less independent until they die–maybe you’ve already seen it happen. Learning to adjust your life to spend more time with a pet who needs you more and more, not to mention learning to handle the emotions that come up at such times, can help prepare you somewhat to care for aging parents–mentally, emotionally, and logistically.
Making new friends together
Having a pet allows the two of you the opportunity to expand your friend groups and perhaps build a friend group of which you’re both a part from the beginning (extra relevant if you tend to have mostly separate groups). Just as people with kids make friends with other parents, pet owners often find themselves bonding and creating community with other pet owners. This can happen when you take your dog to the dog park, when you strike up a conversation about the annoying things your crazy cat does, when you buy birdseed for your parakeet, or even when you join online communities related to pet ownership.
Benefits for emotional wellbeing
Having a pet can also provide a real boost to your emotional health. The simple act of taking care of someone is good for your psyche because it forces you to put someone else before yourself and develop love and compassion for another being. All of this can get you out of your own head, create some emotional distance from your own difficulties, and stir up some new thoughts and emotions. Therefore, caring for a pet can help in cultivating a healthy, generous, and altruistic state of mind. The loving energy that is ignited by this mindset can also be channeled into your relationship with your partner, recharging your relationship.
On a similar note, multiple studies indicate that pet ownership makes people healthier and less stressed. Both of these benefits have significant knock-on effects for romantic relationships (Litvak, 2022); partners who are healthier and less stressed are also likely to be more patient with one another, have more energy to put towards their relationship, and navigate disagreements with more grace.
Having a pet prompts you to make financial plans together
With pets come financial obligations. Pet ownership requires that you start talking about how you manage finances (if you haven’t already). You’ll need to discuss what the limits are for spending, for one thing. For example, do you go to a really expensive vet, or a cheaper but less well-reputed one? How much do you spend on toys for your pet? How much do you spend on food, and how much of a budget should you set aside for your pet’s unexpected needs?
Naturally, this can lead into a larger conversation about management of finances in your relationship and eventually your marriage, greasing the wheels for a conversation about your prenup. ‘The prenup talk’ can be scary for couples who are not used to talking about money and making financial decisions together. However, it’s absolutely imperative that you get comfortable having these kinds of discussions openly, honestly, and patiently, because finances are a huge part of marriage.
If you’re engaged or in a serious relationship and you’re nervous about having the prenup conversation, here’s how to bring up a prenup without upsetting your partner. If you have a pet together, you might also like to read up on pets and prenups.
Gottman, J. & Silver, N. 2015. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert. New York: Harmony Publishing.
Litvak, J (Professional Dog Trainer – Nomad Dog Training). 11 September, 2022. Personal Communication.
Nicole Sheehey is the Head of Legal Content at HelloPrenup, and an Illinois licensed attorney. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to prenuptial agreements. Nicole has Juris Doctor from John Marshall Law School. She has a deep understanding of the legal and financial implications of prenuptial agreements, and enjoys writing and collaborating with other attorneys on the nuances of the law. Nicole is passionate about helping couples locate the information they need when it comes to prenuptial agreements. You can reach Nicole here: [email protected]