The Litter Box as Litmus Test: Can This Marriage Be Scooped?

Cat and the Hypothetical Cradle

Steve Almond: There’s a real problem here, and it doesn’t have to do with the cat or the litter box. It’s the realization that you and your partner are not into shared goals and shared duty. You want the desire for a child and the care of that child to be shared, and you even have a clear idea about how you’d like those responsibilities divided: 50-50. Your partner is not onboard for that. That is what you found in the litter box.

Cheryl Strayed: Your husband’s attitude is stingy, mean and immature, Cat. Let’s start with the litter box. While there’s nothing wrong with dividing domestic tasks, reasonable adults who live together in a loving partnership generally behave as if they’re on the same team. They help each other out. They do this especially if they have a pet or a child together. If your husband still resents you for a brief stint on litter-box duty during an era when it made the most sense for him to do it, you’re in real trouble when it comes to having kids.

SA: Your letter makes clear that there’s a history of shifting rationale in your marriage — blaming, keeping score, manufacturing excuses and justifications for why you should be the one to clean up the poop and the mess. You think cats are messy? Wait till you meet babies.

CS: Isn’t that the truth! There’s also this, Cat: You’re considering having a baby with somebody who’s explicitly telling you that he’s not going to do his equal part as a parent. Implicitly, he’s telling you that he doesn’t care about your career aspirations or your wishes. He doesn’t have your back. What’s a marriage if it isn’t that? Over the course of most long-term romantic partnerships, there’s a natural ebb and flow of how home-front obligations are divided based on a number of shifting factors: jobs, school, travel, health, the needs of children, if a couple has them. It’s impossible to split every task down the middle, but it’s perfectly reasonable to expect to share the burden equitably with your spouse and to do so with a model of your choosing, whether it be in a double- or single-breadwinner household.

SA: You have to talk this over with him again, Cat. Avoiding this discussion — or reducing it to a dispute over cat poop — won’t do. There’s too much at stake. You want to have children with a man who wants them as much as you do. Your husband is telling you he doesn’t, and disregarding your desire when it comes…

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