DEAR CAROLYN: My sister has a darling golden retriever and we share a house with a large yard. I mostly work from home, and I like to decompress by going for fast-paced walks. Sis often asks if I’ll take him along. I love the dog, but he’s a sniffer, doesn’t like a fast-paced walk, and frankly, the walk is for me, not him.
I made it clear when she got him that I didn’t want a dog because it was a responsibility I couldn’t take on at this point. She points out that my fiancé and I want to start a family soon. I’ve told her I’m willing to make major changes in my life for a child, but not for a dog, and she gets so offended by this that she’ll give me the cold shoulder for a while.
Now fiancé has announced he wants to get a dog. He’s a lifelong dog owner but has been without a dog for a few years. I’ve said that, although I work from home, he needs to pretend I don’t in terms of caring for the dog, and that he should get it before we move in together so he can establish a rhythm of care before I get there. He says it’s no problem, as he can come home at lunch and walk the dog, but I can tell he resents my stance on this.
I am beginning to resent his. He has a pretty easy job and has a lot of latitude throughout the day. I have employees who rely on me and projects that are often time-sensitive. My compromise is that I’m happy to share the expenses, happy to hire a dog sitter/walker, but just don’t want to take the work on myself.
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How do I maintain a healthy boundary here when it’s so clear that two of the people I love most think I’m a jerk?
In The Doghouse
DEAR DOGHOUSE: People do not get to dump their responsibilities on you, or to complain when you refuse to serve as the cheerful dump-ee. There’s nothing wrong with your boundaries, at least with your sister.
But your work isn’t done here yet, especially if your sister is repeating a family pattern of saying one thing and silently (resentfully) expecting another. Does your fiancé also use guilt tactics to enforce the primacy of his needs? It’s possible you’re poised to carry an unhealthy family pattern over to a marriage.
You and your fiancé presumably share goals, plus an avowed duty to serve as the stewards of each other’s happiness. Just as he needs to come home to walk his own dog ungrudgingly, every day, as a gesture of love for you and respect for your needs, you need to have room in your plan to notice when he needs you to have his back, or take his dog out for a spin. Ungrudgingly, just out of love for him and knowledge of what he needs.
That, and your no-dog-care stance is only fair in theory. In practice: highly unrealistic.