Forget the mother-in-law. Sometimes the most difficult family member is the four-legged hairball who drinks out of the toilet. Managing an obnoxious animal can be difficult, but the real difficulty lies in dating someone whose priorities are out of order.
If you’re feeling like a powerless third wheel, there are ways to get your relationship in a better place. Below, we’ve outlined the most common problems that arise when dating a pet owner and how to approach them.
Problem: The dog sleeps in a bed—with both of you.
Solution: Tell your SO (significant other) that you’d like to keep the bed on hold for sleeping and other “special activities”. Between the pet hair and the lack of space, this request shouldn’t come as a surprise. Snag a dog bed and keep it in the corner of the bedroom to accommodate the new arrangement. If you’d prefer to keep the dog outside of the bedroom entirely, vets suggest putting the dog bed in a warm enclosed area away from heavy traffic areas (i.e., hallway, family room, home office, etc).
Problem: The dog is poorly trained, and your significant other isn’t doing anything about it.
Solution: Explain how the pet’s behavior makes you feel. For example, you could say, “Rover went crazy and tried to bite the mailman. It was really stressful, and I was worried about liability issues.” Then, pivot to the solution: “I think we need to enroll in some obedience classes. Here’s one that has rave reviews.” If your partner pushes back on the formal classes, suggest some in-house training that includes crating the dog after bad behavior.
Problem: You are allergic to your partner’s dog or cat.
Solution: This is tricky. Aside from suggesting some antihistamines, there isn’t much you can do. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, the best way to keep allergies at bay is to:
- Keep animals away from the bedroom
- Vacuum often with a HEPA filter
- Wash your hands after handling your pet
- Try to bathe your pet once a week or you can hire a doggy concierge to arrive to your home and clean the furry loved one in a mobile van in the driveway.
If cohabitation is in jeopardy because of your partner’s pet allergies, you have to figure out which relationship you value more: the one with your partner or the one with your pet.
Problem: You can’t go on vacation, because the pet “has anxiety” without his owner.
Solution: Before traveling, set up some time to interview pet sitters. Give your partner (and pet) some time to get comfortable with the idea of a new caretaker. Once you’ve picked the right pet sitter, you can leave for vacation worry free. If your SO is still hedging with the pet sitter, frame the situation from a cost perspective. One-way flights with a pet in tow can cost $100-150 or, as much as $1000 for a long stint in cargo. Hotel fees can also add up to $100 per night.
Problem: Your partner co-parents the pet with a crazy ex.
Solution: Establish some boundaries. Encourage your partner to come up with a set schedule for pet care and get it confirmed well in advance. Last minute changes or pet sitting requests can add unnecessary emotional reactivity.
The best way to approach any issue is to have a solution in mind. A new plan might not be the perfect answer, but it’s a start. For many people, the pet is family, and family is forever. If your partner isn’t prioritizing your needs over the pet, you will need to decide if you can handle being #2 in your partner’s life.