Yesterday, the New York Times featured a Well Pet blog by Tara Parker Pope called “What Pets Can Teach Us About Marriage.” Ms. Pope was reviewing a previous article from PsychCentral where clinical psychologist Suzanne B. Phillips explores the difference between how people relate to their pets in contrast to their mates. Phillips poses the idea that we could have better relationships with the humans in our lives if we treat them the way we do our pets.
A couple of her ideas include always giving your spouse a rousing, happy greeting. Never holding grudges (even when the furniture is destroyed). And forgiving quickly and easily instead of taking mistakes personally.
Hmm . . . I greet my husband when he comes home, usually with a “hi” or something a little on the calm side. But honestly, I don’t think he’d want anything dog-like from me. I mean at my weight, if I jump on him, uncontrollably wagging my rear end, I’m sure I’ll knock both of us down. And what good would come from that? What if he puts me in a crate for a time out? What if he shoves me outside while he changes clothes, leaving me with nothing to do but dig holes and chase squirrels? How will I get dinner cooked?
I do agree that grudges are never good to hold — at least for long periods of time. And I think I practice what I preach. We did have a dog who tried to eat my dresser (twice), and we forgave him both times. We knew it was part of the whole separation anxiety thing and that we left him alone for too long before he was ready. The thing is, as with most poor behavior of dogs, the mistake was our fault and we knew it. It’s very easy to forgive people (and animals) when they do something wrong because of something we did. Honestly, I believe that if my husband ever chewed on the corner of my dresser because of something I did, then I’m sure I’d be quick to forgive and forget. Otherwise, he’d be on his own and I probably would hold a grudge.
I do think Dr. Phillips has a cute idea: maybe if we give our spouses unconditional love and acceptance the way we seem to give our pets, we’ll have better relationships. But I also think maybe she’s forgetting there are a couple inherent differences between humans and pets (and it has nothing to do with the fact that we have thumbs, or maybe it’s partly to do with that).
First, ultimately, we are responsible for our animals’ behavior, whether or not we consciously admit it. We train our animals, we teach them what proper behavior is, what we expect from them, etc. We take on that task because we cannot trust them to think for themselves or rely only on their instinct. If we did that, we wouldn’t love our animals so much (nor would we allow them to live in our homes or sleep in our beds). Have you ever seen feral dogs and how they live? They don’t care where they do #1 or #2, in fact they like to roll around in #2. I don’t know of many humans who would unconditionally accept that behavior on a continual basis.
The second difference is they cannot talk, read, or write letters of apology. Their only avenue of communication is via their physical body. And since we cannot read their minds, we have to admit that there must be times when we misunderstand them. Think about it, what other way can they say “I’m so glad you’re home because I’m really, really hungry, so hungry I was about to get in the trash even though I know you’d be mad at me” besides running up to you with that maniacal, happy look in their eyes that says “Yes! Yes! Yes! You’re home! This is the greatest freaking thing that has happened to me all day!”