This is part of my online book on Healthy Boundaries Made Simple.
One reader asked:
How do I convince my wife to get a dog? I really want one, and I just don’t see what the problem is.
Well, gentle reader, I have some bad news: You don’t convince her.
Your wife doesn’t want a fluffy ball of joy. You probably need to accept this and move on.
This probably sounds incredibly unfair, and you probably think I’m a heartless booger (which I am!). I can’t offer you any killer negotiation tactics to help you strong-arm her and get your way.
Instead, I’ll share four perspectives to ease your disappointment.
1. Understanding yourself
Why do you want a dog? Like, deep down, what are your reasons?
Four common motivations:
1) You want to feel loved. No matter what happens during the day, a dog will be delighted to see you. They provide emotional support.
2) You want to love someone. Some folks have no idea how to properly love and take care of the emotional needs of others. But caring for a dog is straightforward.
3) You want a loyal friend with few demands. Dogs don’t argue and or handle disappointment with passive-aggression.
4) You want exercise. Having a dog will force you to walk it every day.
A poofy pooch is a fantastic way to meet these needs. But what other avenues can you pursue to meet these needs? Talk to your wife or a trusted friend about how they solved them. You might be surprised by what they reveal.
Maybe you had a dog as a kid (or were denied one!), and you feel like adulting is incomplete without a dog by your side. All of us are trying to relive aspects of our childhood.
This will be hard to hear, but you may need to let go of that perfect life you’ve imagined. Adulthood strolls in with the freedom to stay out all night and eat cheese puffs for breakfast, but it demands trade-offs. Part of growing up is letting go of that idealized version of life and embracing what life really is.
2. Understanding your wife
In a healthy marriage, each partner will go to great lengths to make the other person happy. If your wife says No to a dog, she must have an excellent reason.
Here are nine common reasons why she may not want a cute ball of fur in her life:
- She dislikes dogs. They smell, shed, and slobber. They make messes, chew shoes, and annoy neighbors.
- Dogs require a lot of work, e.g., feeding, walking, picking up poop, and cleaning up accidents. She worries this work will fall on her shoulders.
- She’s allergic and doesn’t want to spend her days hopped up on allergy meds.
- Dogs cost a lot of money, e.g., food, toys, and trips to the vet.
- She’s scared of dogs. Cynophobia is real.
- Dogs have short lives, and she doesn’t want to become attached.
- She worries about interactions with the pets you already have.
- Dogs need a lot of space.
- She has ethical concerns about dog breeding.
Which of the above applies to your wife? I guarantee at least one does. Most likely, more than one applies.
You should ask the love of your life about her reasons. Just know, she may resist telling you at first because it will feel like a ploy to persuade her or wear her down. Don’t do that. Just listen to her.
Hearing her reasoning will help quell your frustration.
3. Marriage as an infinite game
Finite games have winners, losers, and an end. Think sports, elections, and watermelon seed spitting contests. Contrast that with infinite games, which are the opposite. They have no end, and the whole point of the game is to keep it going.
Marriage is an infinite game. The goal is to keep it going, to keep it alive. This means compromising on a variety of issues, like getting a furry angel.
In fact, every significant decision you and your wife make needs to have a Yes from both of you, or it’s an automatic No. Put another way, either of you can veto any major decision. This ensures that every major decision is something you can both live with. This ensures the infinite game continues.
4. Your wife has courage
It’s easy, and even enjoyable, to say No to an enemy. But no one wants to tell the love of their life, “No, we can’t get that thing you really, really want.” It’s distressing.
Brené Brown’s mantra is “choose discomfort over resentment.” And your wife is doing this. She feels uneasy telling you she doesn’t want a dog because she wants to do things that bring you joy. But saying No is better than resenting you for years to come.
Your wife has courage.
Next time you want to tell your partner all the reasons why getting a dog would be so amazing, just pause. Ask yourself:
- What needs are you trying to meet? How else can you meet them?
- Why doesn’t she want a dog?
- Is getting a dog more important than maintaining a happy marriage?
Decide what game you want to play. Is it a finite one, where you win, and your lovey loses? Or is it an infinite one, where the hunger to get your way takes a step back and makes room for something bigger, better, and brighter?
Thanks to Thomas Weigel, Steve Shepherd, Todd Ericksen, Alex Hareland, and Diane Callahan for reading drafts of this.