For the aquarist unencumbered by family, partner, spouse etc. … life, at least in terms of aquarium purchasing, is limited to only one thing – the size of the pay cheque. The house, the tanks, the utility bills, the numbers of salt buckets required etc… They are all within this lucky person’s control, if the cash is there. This singleton can march into any dealer’s shop and walk away with whatever purchases they want, to dwell in whatever cavernous house-filling aquarium their imagination and wallet has the capacity to deal with.
This isn’t the norm though, and many of us aquarists keen to further our interests and empty our bank balances, need to cajole, negotiate with, occasionally bribe and eventually find accommodation and hopefully harmony with our significant others. What follows is my tongue-in-cheek guide to aquatic harmony, inspired by one of my favourite sayings: “Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way.” I always thought it was Churchill, but it was Italian diplomat and author Daniele Vare who made this observation. A man who preferred more direct methods to dealing with problems, namely Joe Stalin had another take on the subject: “Sincere diplomacy is no more possible than dry water or wooden iron.”
I think we should aim towards Vare as inspiration or if we are feeling especially selfish, Sam Clements: “The principle of give and take is the principle of diplomacy-give one and take ten.”
Spouse, partner, lover?
For those of us blessed with people to share our lives with, we must temper our purchases, aspirations and amount of time we plan to do anything other than pander to our aquatic charges. I’ll say right-off-the-bat that I am very lucky, Mrs Aspinall is a wonderful and supportive person who loves our aquaria, she has little interest in sumps, flow rates, venturis, calcium reactors, Balling regimen and so forth, but what goes in the tanks – in terms of fish and corals – she takes a great interest in and often provides names for. We have a Dwarf Angel named Morris, for inexplicable (at least to me) reasons.
Not all aquarists are this fortunate; admittedly if I had my way I’d knock down walls, after all who needs a dining room anyway? But all in all I am a lucky fellow. This is not always the case, some people are sceptical, doubtful and not at all well-disposed to the idea of a ‘chunk of ocean’ arriving in their house.
I should start by saying that I’m going to use the word ‘partner’ in this piece; yeah, most of the aquarists I know are male and most of the people you see working at, shopping in and handing over cash at the LFS are equally blessed with a Y chromosome, but this isn’t always the case and I don’t want to offend anyone, so if you don’t like ‘partner’ please mentally insert spouse, live-in-lover, wife, husband, polygamous horde, girlfriend, boyfriend, flatmates or whatever you feel comfortable with.
Getting what you want
Securing your partner’s support for a new tank or a larger replacement of an existing system can require as much planning and strategy as your average fish room. What follows are some basic techniques to help you on your way to aquatic nirvana.
1: The caring parent approach
No one likes to see children being used and exploited, however if you have decided to produce progeny its worth getting some payback, before they entirely bleed you dry and you can justify your actions by telling yourself “it’ll be for their own good anyway.”
This morally dubious, but highly successful technique is based on one perfected by many people who were children of the 1980s, when the home computer became the birthday present of choice for a whole generation: “but it will help me with my school work” and similar plaintive cries were heard across the land – even though you knew you were just going to play Asteroids and Chucky Egg for hours a day, games that somehow came on audio tapes – explain that to today’s youngsters.
Anyhow I digress, the thing is, this approach paid off when we were kids and can work again, and even better it has the ring of truth about it and for some people, I’m looking at you Mr Gates, it certainly worked.
What you need to do is link the care, maintenance and overall husbandry of a complicated ecosystem to the current academic successes (or failures – it depends on your tactics), of your offspring. If you have a budding biologist, this is a no-brainer, a chemist, well look at the water testing. A student with an aptitude for the creative arts may be inspired by trhe colours, shapes, sounds and textures of an aquarium and a future business studies graduate will certainly be impressed by the cash that changes hands. Should your future Nobel Prize winner be struggling a little, then a fish tank is ideal to help them on their way to academic prowess.
In essence this technique is a clear winner, but you must remember not to ‘over egg the pudding’ – your partner will ‘smell a rat’ if you seem too keen, let’s face it, if you don’t express a certain amount of ‘wanting one for yourself’ then you will fail – your partner knows you better than you think and any hint of insincerity and your plans are scuppered.
The other brilliant thing about this technique is that any child with an interest in science is going to benefit from helping you look after the family aquarium, though you may have to do the heavy lifting.
- Plan ahead – start off with a small system to ‘see how you go’, before constantly remarking on how well little Sam is doing in their science grades.
- Do you research, investigate forthcoming topics in the curriculum and adjust your plans accordingly
- Take child(ren) to visit fellow reefers and talk at length about how much the children got out of it, especially if they then start linking it to school science projects – if necessary do the work for them!
- Have children
2: The ‘I could be a lot worse’ approach with reference to disliked spouse of partner’s friend/work colleague.
What you really need for this angle is someone in mind, who drinks a lot, stays out late or is generally obnoxious to their other half, that your other half has identified as morally deficient based on what he or she hears from their friend. You know the person that you hear things like “well you’ll never believe what that SOB has done again…” Obviously if you suspect you are that person, you may want to consider another tactic.
Once you have your target selfish person in mind you can try to drop in occasional reference to their inconsiderate and boorish behaviour and how they are remiss in tending to the kids, their spouse, the garden or even their personal hygiene – use whatever you’ve got! And generally allow your partner to come to their own realisation that you are kind, considerate, loving and above all deeply selfless individual. Once this has been achieved you can start on the mental manipulation.
“Im so grateful you let me enjoy my hobby hon”, is a good phrase to drop into conversation when your partner is recounting a tale of bad behaviour from your ‘target’. “They spent all day at the game and then did nothing all weekend, but drink beer”, your scornful partner will recount. At this point you casually mention that you’ve cleaned the house and how your only outlet is your hobby”. Your partner will link your good behaviour with your hobby. You will need to hook up with your ‘target’ to replenish their beer supply and buy them more tickets – they were so grateful for the last ones.
- Again take your partner to meet another happy reefing couple and ‘seed’ the conversation towards how caring, attentive and nurturing aquarists are.
- You may want to cultivate friendships with ‘targets’ long in advance and help them in their downward spiral.
3: The you get something/I get something approach with a sliding scale of ‘bribery’
This is perhaps the most honest, upfront and least mortally questionable tactic and perhaps ought to be number one on the list, but it may incur more cost and thus loss of ready cash for corals and equipment.
I can identify two main approaches here; the “you know darling, I know you don’t want an aquarium but perhaps if you get something you want…you know that new car/extension/diamond ring/child/holiday etc…” Or try waiting – you may be more successful. If you wait until your loved one is expressing their sincere desire for something you may well will find yourself in a happy position. Not only can you grant their wishes, but all you would like in exchange is that new tank and you’ll be happy to compromise on the size (you initially suggested eight feet, even though you know you only want a six footer). What a kind individual you are.
- Plan ahead to allow your partner room to ‘explore’ their own thoughts of purchases, experiences or home improvements. Should you end up passing the car show room (you determined which route you’d take by the way), casually drop into the conversation that “hey look they’ve got that funky little Mini you like.” or “that truck sure is big” and then allow them to have a look-see with the appropriate amount of grumpiness. Oh what a curmudgeon you are, but is that a hint of a compromise your partner has detected?
- Just cut to the chase – ask your partner what it will take and have your cheque book ready.
4: The ‘Jeez you mean you don’t want 500 litres of saltwater in your house, but why?’ leading to the ‘Well, I just bought it and their shipping it over next week and I can’t take it back!’ approach.
Secretly you’ve been planning your bespoke system for months and if you go for this technique then prepare for the s***storm of approbation that will be heading your way. And to be honest, you probably deserve it, you will need to hang your head in shame for quite some time and will need to work very hard to recover your previously good standing in your partner’s eyes.
Obviously, your partner may not mind you suddenly emptying the joint account without discussing it, but if it is your own money that you’ve worked hard for then you might find the future looks a little rosier. If you’ve bought your new system on credit then prepare to sleep outdoors.
I have to say I don’t recommend this method, but some desperate folks rely on it and if it features in your future plans you cna mitigate things with some pre planning. I recommend, ensuring you can afford your purchases, being especially considerate for months previously – if this is not your first selfish purchase then discuss sofa surfing with friends, just in case.
Clearly you need to pretend innocence that you are actually, truly surprised your partner doesn’t think your 100 gallon, energy-hungry reef isn’t to your partner’s liking. If this sort of thing is out of character then your partner may be more surprised and annoyed than if it is another example of your crass, yet consistent lack of consideration.
This technique can best be summed up as your last resort and any changes in your relationship status on Facebook are your own responsibility.
- Make sure your parents/friends or colleagues are pre warned – you may need to move out for a while.
- Make sure you don’t buy an off-the-shelf aquarium that you could return to the store – or if you are really cunning, buy one you can take back and then compromise with a pre-loved system you’ve bought substantially cheaper from one of your reefing buddies.
5: The whiney ‘please, please, please’ to wear down the partner approach
Ok, this won’t be your finest hour and you may well end up losing a lot of self-respect, but it may be worth it. Maybe, like a kid at Christmas time, your partner equates just how long you whinge and moan and plaintively beg as an indication of your seriousness and potential commitment. If you need to deploy this tactic then ‘suck it up’ and go for it.
Thing is – do you want to be that person?
- Prepare the ground well in advance by being consistently self-less and allowing your partner to get their own way. You can cynically exploit this later and ‘cash in’ your ‘credit.’
- After six months of regular whining and begging with nothing forthcoming, try another technique or family, whichever is more achievable?
Top tips for increasing harmony and spousal support for your plans
These tips apply to any of us, whether we have our dream system or not.
- Let your partner choose your fish – you may need to co-ordinate this with LFS owner to ensure the fish youreally want are available and the ones you don’t want are met with a lot of “well, mmm…you could have that, but it’s got really bad toilet habits” or whatever you think necessary. A plain old, “well…honey that is a cute fish, but it will eat all the other fish,” usually suffices and is frequently true.
- Be self sufficient – get your own sets of scourers, sponges, Tupperware, measuring scoops, spoons, towels and so forth, rather than raiding the kitchen for equipment that then never remerges from your cabinet or fish room and if it does is generally distrusted by hygiene conscious partners. You cna of course take this to the next level: “if I only I had my own fishroom, then I wouldn’t keep needing to use the kitchen sink.” Maybe a few well-planned salt soakings of the kitchen or bathroom may well be called for?
- When planning your new system, build a mock up of your hoped-for new tank using cardboard boxes with really pretty pictures stuck onto it – eliciting help from kids who will be definitely supportive, could be very useful. Secure a supply of candy.
- Use cash at your LFS not your plastic. This is vital in order to keep those extravagant purchases under wraps. Personally I advocate honesty in all things and can’t countenance ‘domestic fraud’. However, we’ve all considered it on occasion whether we’ve actually done it or not.
- Be especially supportive of your spouse’s interests for many weeks before mentioning the subject. To be honest if you’re a halfway decent individual you should be doing this anyway. It costs nothing and it will pay off.
- Visit a reefing friend, but only if their partner is a fan of the hobby. Ignoring this simple advice will leave you facing near insurmountable problems. Visiting a family with ‘aquarium issues’ will not help your cause.
In reality and in just about every case the best way to get what you want with your partner, spouse, live in lover, wife, husband, polygamous horde or whatever is to be loving, caring, faithful, supportive and understanding and if you tick all of these boxes then you are well on your way to the aquarium of your dreams.
I’m only joking with this piece, though I bet many readers will chuckle at some of the tactics here and recognise a few they’ve employed over the years. The real issue though, the real point I want to make is that the best way towards getting your new system, new fish room or basement-based aquaculture operation is to be the best partner you can and recognise with genuine gratitude your family’s willingness to accommodate your obsession.
The other thing to note is that your partner may be doing you (and your potential livestock) a favour. Acting as a brake on your latest crazy scheme (as they see it), will make you think longer and harder about whether you can achieve your ambitions and whether you have the time and the commitment to properly care for your aquaria.
What you’ll be doing in this process, whether you realise it or not, is working out just what kind of an aquarist you will be (or are). If you are an impulsive ‘buy it all now and to heck with the consequences’, kind of person then you will be storing up a load of problems for yourself in the long run and your livestock will likely suffer. Talk to your family, think about what you’re going to do and plan for the future welfare of yourselves and your livestock. Despite me making light of it, this is a serious business that should not be entered into lightly.
Obviously if none of this works and you’ve tried plain old bribery sell the lot of them for medical experiments and spend the money on a Clarion Angel.
The author refuses to accept liability or responsibility for any breakups, bust-ups, moving outs, cat fights, fall-outs, fracas, maimings, trips to the ER or indeed any other kind of family or relationship trauma! So there.
By Richard Aspinall