Food can be an emotion-laden topic for some of us. I believe that my husband equates food with love. More food equals more love. Food is not that important to me, however. Sure, I enjoy it, but not with the intensity that my husband does. It may have something to do with the fact that my husband grew up in a pretty poor family. Food meant abundance, and he and all of his siblings love to cook. (I wish I shared this love.)
What does this have to do with cats? Well, our black cat Rama loves to eat. You can guess where this is going.
Rama’s been through a lot in his life. He was almost feral when I adopted him, slim and panther-like. He still looks like a panther, but he weighs a solid 15 pounds (and feels like much, much more). Rama has also had cancerous sarcomas all his life and many surgeries. We think we may have gotten rid of the sarcomas now. Rama is a bouncy 11-year-old boy who adores me (usually on his own terms) and who will bound up the stairs when he decides that he must get in the bedroom and snuggle with us.
My husband and I disagree on how much Rama should eat.
My husband thinks Rama should get more than I feed him. I measure out 1/4 cup of dry food, once a day. For his other meal, he gets about that equivalent of wet food, with all his supplements mixed in. But my husband claims that the cats whine and get annoying whenever they aren’t getting fed. I believe that if we stuck to my schedule, the cats would learn to deal. Interestingly, I also think that Rama is a little more friendly and more apt to play (which is a good thing and good exercise!) when he is not overfed.
I’ve tried talking to my husband about this.
How to resolve this? I have my strong opinions about how much the cats should be fed. He has his strong opinions about food equaling love, and with Rama having been through so much, he says, “Why shouldn’t he have whatever he wants?”
I was curious what conflict resolution experts would have to say about this, and I got a number of varied responses, including these three tips:
1. Affirm relationship and understand the other point of view
Virginia Phillips, certified mediator and speaker on conflict resolution, as well as a cat lover and guardian, advises that resolving differences of opinion always starts with affirming the relationship and truly seeking to understand the other person’s point of view.
“Once assumptions and hurt feelings have been addressed, then and only then can a solution as a team of cat parents be determined and implemented together.”
2. Practice nonviolent communication
Zhana, a cat lover and expert on nonviolent communication (NVC), suggests avoiding emotive language in the discussion of this topic, such as “overfeeding” or “healthy.”
“Get away from some of the emotive language, and concentrate on being factual. In NVC, this is known as an “observation,” as opposed to an “interpretation” of what is going on.
Zhana points out that my husband and I are arguing about strategies and we need to get to the needs behind the strategies.
“One of the needs you have identified is health. It sounds like your husband’s needs are around affection. Once you have really, really connected with each other’s feelings and needs, you can begin to explore strategies that may meet both people’s needs (and the needs of the cats).”
I do know that this works. During some recent discussions about other issues, the discussion and resolution went much better if I consciously kept emotion, and loaded words, out of the conversation.
3. Negotiate what’s negotiable and not what isn’t
Nwasha Edu, a strategic intervention/relationship coach, compares caring for pets to taking care of children. He recommends “deciding on three non-negotiables. If hitting an animal, neglecting an animal, and putting it outside are an absolute ‘no,’ then everything else can be compromised on.” This provides clarity for working with what is then negotiable.
Edu outlined this creative process for working with the remaining negotiables. “You and your husband could come up with a list of ways to show love to your cat that doesn’t involve food, and pick those things from a jar randomly when you want to show love. You could also list ways to play or keep your cat active.”
Have any of these solutions given you some good ideas? How do you resolve pet-oriented conflicts in your household? Tell us in the comments.