“It’s like practice for children!” Getting a pet with your partner is a big step—so big, in fact, that many couples joke it’s a test run to becoming parents. But even though we may think of pets as a type of parenthood light, we still often underestimate the effect that getting a pet can have on a relationship. Just like having children can’t actually fix a broken relationship (in fact, it will often bring any issue to the surface), getting a pet is not going to automatically bring you closer. Sure, getting an animal can be an incredible bonding experience, but you have to have a strong foundation to begin with.
If you and your partner are getting a pet—or even considering it—it’s really important that you understand the huge undertaking it can be and that your relationship is strong enough to take that on. In some ways, a pet can make you feel like a real little family—but you’d be amazed at how one tiny little creature can reveal every relationship crack and turn your world upside down if you’re not ready. Here’s what you need to consider.
1. Are You Both Naturally Responsible?
Taking care of a pet is a team effort—or at least it should be. If you’re getting ready to take on a pet, you want to make sure that both of you are ready for the challenge. This idea that one of you will magically transform from a someone who’s kind of irresponsible into a mature, fastidious pet owner just isn’t realistic. If you already have relationship tiffs because one of you never does the laundry or cleans up, then expect those to be exacerbated by getting a pet. Do your research, have a long talk about the responsibilities and how you’ll divvy them up, and make sure it seems realistic before you get a pet.
2. Are You Getting the Right Pet for Your Situation?
It may be that you’re both decidedly dog people or cat people, but you should also take your position into consideration when choosing to get a pet. Puppies are a ton of work; they need to be walked constantly and watched very closely in the first year or two—and some breeds are especially needy. Unless you hire a dog walker to be constantly on call, your whole life may start to revolve around getting home after work in time to take your dog for a walk. If that doesn’t sound doable, you may want to choose a more low-maintenance pet.
3. Is Your Communication Strong?
Just like any potential relationship pitfall, you want to make sure that your communication is strong. If you have any underlying tensions, there’s a good chance that getting a pet will bring them out. Make sure you’re ready to communicate about your needs—and your pet’s needs—and that you’re both ready to navigate this together. If you tell yourselves to expect the unexpected and know that it may be stressful, especially in the beginning, you’ll be in a much stronger position to take on the challenge.
4. Are You Financially Stable?
Pets are expensive—far more expensive than you might realize if you’ve never owned one as an adult. In fact, the average cost of owning a cat or dog is over $1,000 in just the first year. It’s not just the food, the medications, the potential dog walker you might have to hire—pet owners can be hit with huge expenses if your pet has an accident or even just eats something it shouldn’t. Pet insurance can help, but that can be expensive, and it doesn’t always cover the full cost of emergencies. If you’re both financially strapped, then getting a pet may make the problem worse. Make sure you’re in a strong position financially or, at the very least, can put aside the money you need for the newest member of your family.
5. Are You Ready to Take This On for Life?
They say that a puppy isn’t just for Christmas, it’s for life—and the same mentality should apply to your pet ownership. As much as you might want to get a pet to bring you and your partner closer together or as a test run for having children, it’s important to remember that this is a living, breathing being that is going to be affected by the choices you make. Above all, you have to be sure that you and your partner are ready to really make this commitment. Don’t think of this as a test run, think of it as an active choice. You may want to come up with a backup plan in case you and your partner don’t work out, but always make sure you’re considering your pet’s welfare for the long term.
Choosing to get a pet is a huge decision, one that can make you and your partner feel closer than ever. But if you’re choosing to expand your family with a pet, make sure that you’re ready—because a pet won’t erase your relationship problems. So start with a strong foundation, think about the consequences, and make a plan. If you go into it with thoughtfulness and a little planning, getting a pet can be an incredible addition to your family.