Q: What's the best way to get my fiancee to get rid of her cats before we move in together? She's refused to drop them at a shelter or put them down. She got emotional. How can I get her to see reason?
Dr. Barton's Answer: Let's reason this through. You pursued this woman knowing her cats were part of her life. Did you reveal upfront that cats were a problem for you? If you had, would she have continued to date you? Now that you’re moving in, the cats are an inconvenient reality for you, and you want her to “get rid of” them. It's not so hard to understand why she’d get “emotional” and won’t “see reason” when you ask her to send her pets to their death. (I’m struck that you don’t mention the option of finding loving new homes for the cats, you just want them put down or dropped at a shelter, which is virtually the same thing as killing them.)
Here’s the problem: You can't reason her out of her cats without seriously harming your relationship. If you push the issue, you risk her seeing you as an insensitive, controlling brute (hey, her words, not mine). Even if she’s weak enough to eventually oblige you, you still will not win, because your marriage will begin with resentment toward you that will grow with each demand that she sees as unreasonable, and she’ll despise herself for giving in.
She sounds like an animal lover, so even if she discarded these cats, at some point, she would want another pet, and then, it’s round two of the same dilemma.
I understand that not all people value animals as pets, and that’s fine. The problem here is that you knowingly became engaged to someone who loves her pets. By trying to get rid of her cats, you are disrespecting who she is and was when you met. Not fair, not smart.
To begin your marriage on more solid footing, what if you attempt to work together to find a way to co-exist with her cats?
You could begin with identifying all the things you don't like about living with these cats. Smelly litter box? Peeing in the house? Fur everywhere? They jump on your lap? They sleep in bed with your fiancee? (Presumably you're not allergic, because you would have mentioned that, but there are often work-arounds even with allergies.) Start with those objections and negotiate with your fiancee BEFORE you move in. Can she move the litter box and promise to clean it more faithfully? If they pee on the carpet, can the carpet be professionally cleaned and will you both research ways to curb that behavior? Is she willing to vacuum the fur daily (to sweeten that compromise, you could offer to help)? Can you buy a good air cleaner to help with dander? Is she willing to train the cats to sleep in their own comfy bed (buy one if they don't have one). Etcetera.
Here’s a challenge: Is there anything you like about the cats? Are they affectionate? Beautiful? Cute? Do they do funny things? Do they welcome attention from you? Can you find the charm in the way your fiancee fusses over them? Try focusing on those things, while trying to negotiate the negatives. It will be so much easier on everyone if you can open your heart and make friends with the cats, instead of treating them as enemies. Your fiancee will love you all the more for loving her peeps, I promise you.
I want to be clear, I'm concerned about your desire to talk your fiancee out of creatures she loves. It would be wise to give this a long, hard look, Try to identify any other reasons you don’t want these cats, and why you didn’t say so in the beginning. Are you jealous of the attention your fiancee gives to the cats? Are there other things you dislike about your fiancee’s life that you want her to change? Do you often attempt to control her in other ways large and small?
To begin your marriage in a healthy place, the two of you would do well to get very honest with each other and grow up fast. I highly suggest pre-marital counseling where you can work together to understand yourselves and each other, and learn what it takes to make a marriage work. I wish you both the best.