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I heard the first year of marriage is always tough. That made sense to me: You have two separate lives joining into one, and that will require some painstaking sacrifices and compromises. What’s more, both my husband, David, and I got married in our 30s. We’ve enjoyed more than 30 years of independence, and with that comes our own rigid habits and hard-to-break lifestyles. I just never expected that the one major conflict we’d have in our marriage would be over my cat.
I brought my cat home from an adoption center seven years ago when I was single. She was only 6 weeks old—a tiny, frail, jet-black kitten with a white, furry belly and soft, snowy-white paws. I must confess that I brought her home with selfish intentions: I was getting lonely living by myself in a little studio apartment in Los Angeles. So what’s the quickest, most convenient, least committal way to remedy that? A furry companion, of course. I named the cat Shalom, hoping she’d bring peace and wellness into my house.
Well, now she’s bringing conflict and disorder. While I adjusted well to life with David in our new house, Shalom has been having a harder time. The day I dragged her into a car and drove 45 minutes to our new house, she yowled the entire way, piteously and indignantly. After living most of her life in a space of 400 square feet, I brought her to a whole new world that was much noisier and larger than her tiny imagination even found permissible. The cat was traumatized!
And so, the problems began. From then on, Shalom eyed David with an evil look every time he passed by—oh, she knew. She knew he was the reason her entire world changed, that he was the reason she could no longer curl up next to me in bed at night. It didn’t help that David sometimes swung the vrooming vacuum brush her way while cleaning the house, chortling out loud when she leapt 6 feet into the air in fright. For Shalom, David was Public Enemy No. 1, and she made sure he knew it. Every time he drew close, she hissed and waved a paw at him like a threatening fist.
Her revenge? She started marking her territory. She peed on the couch. She peed on the rug. She peed on our bags. And she peed on our bed, making sure always to pee on David’s side. Twice she peed right on his pillow, and urine soaked all the way through the covers and deep into the mattress. We tried everything. We bought her an anti-anxiety collar. We sprayed the house with cat-calming spray. We paid her more attention, fed her treats. We made her a cat house outside, but she meowed all day and night until we finally let her back in.
It didn’t work. The second time she peed on David’s side of the bed, he howled. He had had a long, stressful day and was eagerly climbing into bed when he felt the telltale dampness on his skin and smelled the disgusting, sour funk of cat urine. Have you ever smelled cat urine before? If you have, you can imagine David’s facial expression as he stormed out of the bedroom, shook the stinky, stained bedsheets in front of me, and bellowed, “That’s it! I’ve had it with that cat!”
And that was when we went right back to the Garden of Eden as the first married couple, Adam and Eve: We blamed each other. He blamed me for bringing the most obnoxious cat ever into the house, and I blamed him for leaving the bedroom door open when we had agreed to keep it closed to keep Shalom out. And there was Shalom sitting with her tail curled neatly around her fluffy bottom, peering up at us, that cunning devil in the form of a cat.
“You need to do something about this cat!” David yelled.
“You need to stop terrorizing her with the vacuum!” I yelled back.
“She needs to be gone!” he shouted.
“She and I are a package—deal with it!” I shouted back.
Ah, marriage. There is no lack of things reminding us of the challenges of becoming one. Any seemingly minor thing can become an issue. I remember my mother telling me her first major conflict with my dad early in their marriage happened when he poked his head into the kitchen, fixed the chopsticks so they stood upright, and fussed with imaginary spots on the countertops. He drove her so crazy she eventually banished him from the kitchen. They had the biggest argument over the way they squeezed toothpaste: He liked to carefully press the toothpaste tube from the bottom up, while she just squeezed—and it drove him nuts.
I remember a friend telling me about a major fight that erupted his first year of marriage because his wife tried to trick him into eating mashed cauliflower when he was expecting mashed potatoes. Five years into the marriage, they’ve now compromised: They mash half potatoes, half cauliflower.
That night Shalom peed on our bed for the second time, we turned our back at each other but silently got down to work together, stripping off all the wet sheets, pressing paper towel after paper towel onto the stain to soak up as much urine as possible, and staying up late into the night to wash and dry the pillow, pillowcase, bedspread, and covers. Though we didn’t talk much, our tempers and irritation slowly melted away. As upset as we were over the whole situation, we were still in this together.
When I told a friend about what happened with Shalom, she sighed: “That’s true love, right there. After all that, he’s still willing to stick by you, peeing cat and all.”
She was right. My husband is not the most lovey-dovey romantic man in the world. We don’t cuddle like those giddy couples in movies; we don’t hold hands when we go on walks. But we demonstrate genuine love to each other by sticking by each other, no matter what.