Why is it that we can quickly forgive our pets when they misbehave -- like peeing on a brand new rug -- but when our significant other commits a transgression, we can hold a grudge for days? That's exactly what Suzanne B. Phillips, a clinical psychologist and professor at Long Island University poses in a column she recently penned for PsychCentral
As the married owner of two dogs, I was curious to find out what Phillips had to say about how pets can improve our love lives. Her underlying argument: "What is interesting in my work with couples is that although they may vehemently disagree on most topics, they usually both soften in manner and tone to agree that the dog, cat, bird or horse is great. Maybe you give something very positive to your pet that invites the unconditional love and connection that makes you feel so good, and maybe it has potential to enhance your relationship."
We all know what she's talking about. Most (if not all) of us accept what our pets do, good or bad, because we love them unconditionally. So Phillips suggests that the trick is to try and treat partners much like we do the dog or cat -- and she's not talking about rewarding good deeds with snacks.
No matter how you feel or what mood you are in, you greet your pet with a positive, even animated, hello and often with a display of physical affection.
With pets, maybe it's your lack of expectation that makes the difference. You probably rarely predict that your pet will be angry if you are late. As a result, you don't head home defensively angry in preparation for the reaction you expect to face.
When you do return home to find that your cats have redecorated the room with shreds of every tissue they could find or the dog has eaten some of the mail, you may well react with a choice expletive but you are not likely to hold a grudge. You are still going to be petting Donatello or cuddling with Thor the next day.
Assuming the Best
There is a natural tendency to forgive pets their trespasses – after all, the dog wasn't trying to torture you by eating the mail. Was your partner really trying to torture you by putting it in such a safe spot it can't be found?
Few pet owners personalize their pets' reactions to others to an extreme that makes them so embarrassed that they fear their image is tarnished or they become resentful of their pets. The fact that the dog is licking every part of the arriving guest's body is cause to pull him away or laugh it away. The cat that will not come out of hiding or the parrot that is screeching is left without judgment or excuses. That's them!
For Better or For Worse
In most cases, pets are home to stay. People love and care for pets of every size, shape and disposition. "She's not exactly a watch dog; she's loving but easily frightened." "He insists on sleeping on the bed – we have given in." "She steals food from the other dogs, she's pretty hyper, but cute." Few pets live with the fear of being betrayed or with the implication that things are just not working out. Of course they don't – but just consider how the absence of such fears enhances the trust and connection you feel from them!
After reading these whisper tips, I have to ask: Does this mean dog whisperer extraordinaire, Cesar Millan, whose wife just filed for divorce
, has a few things to still learn?