WHAT YOUR DOG CAN TEACH YOU ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS
Updated: Apr 13
When I was 19, I came home from college to attend my then-boyfriend’s high school senior prom. To keep a long story short, the night ended quickly, unhappily, and with me on the floor of my parents’ house cuddling my 90-pound childhood dog, Hank. “You make a much better boyfriend anyway,” I remember saying into a mess of white, curly fur.
Now, as a relationship counselor, I realize I was on to something. Dogs inherently seem to know the basic habits of a happy and healthy relationship that humans frequently miss. “Man’s Best Friend” may roll off the tongue easier (and is a little less weird) than “Woman’s Best Romantic Partner”; however, it doesn’t change the fact that dogs can teach us valuable relationship behaviors. Here is a list of 5 things our dogs can teach us about relationships:
1. Be happy to see your owner-- I mean partner-- when they get home
No one wants to come home to a scowl, yelling-- or perhaps worse-- no greeting at all.
I get it, life happens. Sometimes your partner comes home to this chaotic scene: the toddler is crying but you can’t pick them up because you have to change the diaper blowout the baby made, and now the dinner is burning-- and the last thing you want to do is greet the co-creator of these tiny-monster-humans.
But secure couples do.
They greet each other with a long-ish kiss, or a lingering hug. Do happy couples know the health and relationship benefits? Maybe. Do they feel them? Definitely. Knowing you have someone warm and loving to embrace at the end of a long day is one of the benefits of a long-term relationship, so make this reunion something to look forward to.
2. Sniff your partner
Not literally (well, unless you’re into that kind of thing). Dogs sniff to get information:
Where did you go?
Who were you with?
How was your day?
Maybe the last one is a stretch for your dog, but it’s essential for humans. We need to be observant and check in with our partners. How does your partner look: are they exhausted, proud, defeated, cheerful? By taking time to find out how your partner’s day was, and cross-checking it with their non-verbals, you discover what your partner needs--and doesn’t need (for example, maybe avoid complaining about the dishes when your partner was just surprised by a tirade at work). How many times has an argument started in the evening only to find out later someone had a horrible day and is still feeling the stress? By allowing each person to vent and responding to the other’s needs, you can not only avoid arguments, but also be each other’s biggest support system.
3. Ask for what you need
I’m not sure when society began to believe that coupling up suddenly gives your partner the magical power of mind-reading, but it’s time to toss out that fairy tale. Again, we can look to our four-legged friends for a more logical approach. Good dogs let their owners know when it’s time to go outside, when they are ready to eat, and may ask for snuggles with a head in your lap and longing puppy dog eyes.
Good relationships involve both partners directly letting the other know when they need more quality time, more alone time, more touch, more fun.
4. Take each other for walks
True story about dogs and walks: Last year, my husband and I decided to foster a dog and her eight (8!) puppies. Our adopted dog child did not take to this kindly. Our sweet boy stopped sleeping in our bed, he refused treats from our hands... he couldn’t even look at the dogs we had brought home. Our normally very loving and happy boy was heartbroken.
So, after a few days, we took him for a walk. Just us and him. And he slept in our bed that night.
Walking is deeply regulating for our thoughts and emotions. Walking side by side builds a sense of collaboration. Anecdotal research suggests walking also promotes open sharing, especially for men. Walking is a good tool to build a sense of teamwork, to stay calm when discussing stressful topics, and to foster positive connection. In other words, if you want to stay out of the doghouse and sleep in your partner’s bed, it may be good to go for a walk.
5. Find peace in the quiet moments
Love isn’t all about exciting trips, grand romantic gestures, and going out for haut date nights. Take away the expensive locally-baked dog treats and perfect #dogsofinsta photoshoots... and you can bet your dog is still going to be glad to have you as their owner. Happy couples enjoy what is called "quiet love," a state of relaxation and alertness-- a quiet, loving, contentedness that comes with lots of serotonin benefits. Be mindful to find pleasure and connection with your partner while snuggling and watching Netflix, decompressing over dinner, and, of course, in the long walks with your dog, who apparently has a lot to teach.
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