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Article by Nicholas Velotta

Lots of things can test a relationship’s strength: becoming exclusive, moving in together, negotiating finances. But nothing quite compares to the trials of raising a dog together.

I take this stuff, perhaps, too seriously. (Tack up to the fact I research relationships all day.) My boyfriend, on the other hand, not so much. He always wanted a dog; from day one he talked about getting a little fur ball, “I’m thirty now, it’s time,” he would say.

I was apprehensive: What if he loved the puppy more than me? Could I change my free-floating lifestyle to one of routine? Would we crack under the stress of training breaking, medical bills, and obedience training? And if we broke up, who takes the dog?

It took me three years of dog induced anxiety to feel comfortable—no, excited about getting a puppy together, and soon thereafter we welcomed our dog, MJ, into our home. I would love to say MJ fit right in, that suddenly our relationship just felt complete. Instead, I must be honest: MJ almost derailed us…permanently.

Don’t get me wrong, MJ was and is an incredible addition to our family, but she was also a long fuse, setting off a chain of explosions in our relationship as we whittled away at each other’s patience. To make matters worse, all the self-help articles online were all for single people who were trying to date while raising a new dog, not for couples trying to housebreak a dog without breaking themselves.

So, being a relationship researcher and going through the process myself, I figured I would give my two cents on what it’s like to raise a dog with a partner for any couples out there thinking about adopting a pup of their own.

PRO: UNCONDITIONAL LOVE

The most obvious reason to get a dog is the amount of love and joy it can bring into your life. Even cooler, the bond you and your dog share is completely different from that which you share with your partner. You’ll gain a third form of emotional support: unconditional love and companionship.

CON: LESS FREEDOM

This was the hardest one for me. Remember, a dog is entirely dependent on you for everything: from arranging playtimes, to frequent bathroom trips, to feeding times, to sleep schedules, to vet visits…it can be exhausting at first. Over time, you and your partner will find a manageable rhythm, but you’ll never get the level of spontaneity and freedom you may have loved prior.

PRO: GROWING TOGETHER

Training a dog (even a well-behaved one) will strain your patience and empathy. But if you and your partner stay on the same team—meaning you don’t play the blame game or take out your stress out on each other—the respect and connection you feel for each other will grow, as will your overall maturity.

CON: COMMUNICATION BREAKDOWNS

Anytime couples enter a stressful, novel experience there’s a chance that wires will be crossed. Be sure to have a lot of check-in’s before and after you get a dog. Remember, the best way to avoid miscommunication is to err on the side of overcommunication (for all you silent types out there). That being said, communication breakdowns are unavoidable sometimes, so don’t get catastrophic when they happen. Just try to accept the stressful situations as part of pet parenthood and try to get back to a good space as soon as tempers level out.

PRO: RECIPROCAL HAPPINESS

There are a couple basic paths you can take when a puppy isn’t learning your commands: (1) a path of pessimism and frustration, or (2) a path of optimism and endurance. Choosing the latter path will always work better than deciding to go Mommie Dearest on your dog (or your partner, for that matter). The kinder you are to the pup, the more loving he/she will be in return, and on, and on. It’s what I call “reciprocal happiness”: happiness that comes back to you the more you give it.

CON: FINANCIAL BURDEN

Dogs cost a lot of money. If not immediately, they will eventually. Talk with your partner about how you want to approach dog-related expenses (such as pet insurance, food, or obedience training). Also, puppies destroy things indiscriminately (read: your shit is going to be ruined). Be prepared to absorb the expenses caused by a teething pup!

Nicholas Velotta is a sex and relationship researcher and writer located out of the University of Washington in Seattle.

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