Can your dog pull your partnership together?

Most people know the wonder of dogs, how they are heavenly creatures living on earth with us. Just look at the word dog—God spelled backwards.

There is no question that dogs do amazing things for their humans. They ease stress and anxiety. Simply petting a dog can lower your heart rate and your blood pressure. Dogs can teach kids responsibility, and they can also teach the very sad lesson of losing someone you love dearly. In their most important role, they bring families together, giving them a shared focus for affection as well as a language of love that comes with interpreting together what the dog is trying to tell you.

If you grew up with dogs or just love them, you probably either have or long for one in your home. If you are lucky, your partner feels the same way. But what happens when you fall in love with or marry someone who doesn’t know dogs? Maybe they never had one or they struggle with allergies. Maybe they think dogs are messy, cost a lot of money, and require too much attention. How can you find common ground that makes room for furry paws?

Everyone today feels overwhelmed in general. The volume of responsibility people feel about their jobs and taking care of their families can consume all they think they have to give. If someone hasn’t had a pet before, the thought of adding that extra draw into their lives might seem like an automatic no. Combine that with worries about money and how much it will cost to feed and care for a new puppy or the reality of living in a small house or apartment and suddenly welcoming a new bundle of fur into your space. It might seem like a hurdle too high to jump.

There can also be the possibility that your partner does know and love dogs but lost a beloved companion at some point and will not, under any circumstances, put themselves in a situation in which they might have to go through that again. You, on the other hand, are literally craving a four-legged friend; you want their kisses and their loyalty, and you know feeling them lean against you on the couch at night will be as good as the effect of any prescribed antidepressant. So how can you convince your partner to take the plunge? How can you get your dog and not ruin your relationship?

The first thing to do is to stick to the facts. All the good things about dogs are true and well-documented, and you can talk about that on a concrete level. They bring joy, laughter, and unconditional love into your lives. They make you healthier. They give you a reason to get up and out every day for their walks. They reduce depression and ease loneliness.

The American Heart Association even claims that owning a dog can make you live longer. Who would be able to argue with that plus?

It is okay to explain that you understand that bringing an animal into your home can add to the pressure your spouse or family members might already feel, but that you are fully invested in improving your physical and emotional health. If dogs are used as therapy to help people cope with challenging situations, be it in hospitals, schools, and e;sewhere, imagine what they can do for you. All those benefits are available to you from your own dog.

A second thing to do is to sidestep making dog ownership a power struggle and instead allow your partner to voice their concerns or skepticism, so they know you are taking them seriously. Look to address each aspect of their resistance. If your partner worries most about the actual care, feeding, and walking of the dog, you can see whether they are willing to do any of that maintenance and, if not, decide whether your desire is so great you are okay with taking it all on yourself. If so, you can tell them that they will never have to deal with it.


Dr. Jane Greer; Marriage and Family Therapist

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