The biggest factor in determining the quality of our relationship is the way we view other people, particularly our partner. There are many books, seminars and couples retreats that are designed to help you improve your relationship. But is there something we can possibly learn from treating our partner the way we treat our dog?
This advice might sound a little unusual, but just go with me for a second.
We accept our dog unconditionally, because we know they’re a dog. We don’t expect them to be what they’re not, because they’re completely authentic. Acceptance is the greatest gift you can give to a person (or a dog) because it’s the greatest sign of respect. Respect builds trust and without trust there is no relationship.
Here are 5 lessons we can learn from our furry friends:
1. Accept your partner just as he or she is.
We accept our pets just as they are, we don’t expect them to be anything else. If our dog does something we don’t like, we may get upset and reprimand them, but we almost immediately forgive them. We think, “well, after all they’re just a dog” or “they’re just being natural.”
Dogs don’t try to be something that they’re not. They are completely authentic. They react to their environment and their natural instincts. Because we know this, we accept them.
If we can learn to accept our partner just as they are, our relationships will transform miraculously. Accepting your partner completely is the biggest sign of respect you can give them. It means you love and respect them enough to know they’re making their decisions based on what they know is right. That doesn’t mean you can’t offer them support and guidance, but you don’t find them guilty for not being who you think they should be. After all, they’re not you; they are themselves.
2. People, like dogs, react better to reward than punishment.
When we pick out all the things we don’t like about our dog, we’re focusing only on the negative. When we constantly punish them for being who they are, we’re telling them it’s not okay to be who they are. This only creates feelings of guilt and resentment.
It works the same way with our partners. When we focus on all the negative things about them, we’re sending them a subliminal message: we don’t think it’s okay for them to be who they are. People often defend themselves by saying something like “I only try to help them because I care” or “I just love them so much that I want to make them better.” But this type of behavior simply leads a person to feel like they’re constantly being rejected. They’re never good enough.
If we instead focus on the positive attributes of the other person, we send them a message of acceptance. When a person knows that we respect them enough to accept them as they are, they’ll also be more likely to take our criticism and guidance. People need to know that you see their strengths first, before their flaws.
3. Love comes from within first, with out second.
Our dogs may seek our approval, love and acceptance, but they don’t rely on it. They have their own sense of joy, playfulness and love that comes from within. They enjoy our company and love, but their sense of self doesn’t come from it.
When our sense of self comes from our partner, we leave ourselves vulnerable to the ups and downs of the relationship. When our partner acts in a loving way, we feel good. But when our partner is unloving, we feel down. This is because our source of love is rooted with out, not within.
When we find love from within ourselves first, we have a much greater capacity to give it. We’re not relying on our partner to give it to us.
This also makes it much easier to love our partner when they are not so loving towards us.
4. Be compassionate, but don’t be a doormat.
Often people have a hard time drawing the line between when to show compassion and when to show tough love. I think this conflict is due to a misunderstanding. Sometimes tough love is the greatest sign of compassion. We all know when something is not good for someone, in our own hearts. This isn’t the kind of judgment that’s just based on our own opinion of the right way to do things. It’s more based on knowing when a habit is something that is unhealthy.
For example, say your partner is a smoker. Obviously, you know this is an unhealthy habit and could have serious and negative consequences if they don’t change. Expressing your concern in this case doesn’t mean you’re coming down on them. It comes from a place of love and genuine concern. You may not want to criticize them, but confrontation and letting them know where you stand is necessary. This is a greater sign of love and compassion than ignoring the problem because you don’t want to seem like a nag. In fact, ignoring it — whether we want to believe it or not — is really just a kind of silent approval.
Sometimes you have to give your partner tough love, just like you would your pet. You may not want to make them feel bad, but it will really benefit them in the long run.
5. Forgive and forget.
When our pet does something wrong and we lose our temper, they naturally feel ashamed, as though they let us down. They might resent us for a while, because in their mind they didn’t know any better. But they forgive much more quickly then we humans tend to.
We humans, on the other hand, have a powerful memory and tend to take things personally. We have a feeling of personal importance; that whatever “they” did it must be about me. But usually, it wasn’t about you at all. It was about them. Whatever someone does to hurt you, it really has nothing to do with you. It was their beliefs, opinions and feelings that caused them to react the way they did. It’s easy to see this when you know that the more emotional security and self-esteem you have, the less likely you are to take offense to others wrongs. On the other hand, the more emotional baggage you carry around, the more likely you’ll take offense to others actions. In psychology, this is what we call projection.
This whole way of thinking stems from personal importance and trying to live up to an image of perfection that we have in our minds. We think that we should be a certain way, but we know we aren’t. So we find ourselves guilty and punish ourselves. We play the game of the judge and the victim constantly in our minds. Because we do this so much with ourselves, we naturally do this with others. We don’t know any better.
Dogs on the other hand are completely authentic. They know that they are a dog and they accept it. They don’t try to be something they’re not and they don’t expect you to be something you’re not. That’s why it’s so easy for your dog to forgive you when you do something wrong. If there’s one thing we can learn from our canine friends, it is forgiveness.
Sofie Aiko, my 2 year old Shih Tzu has taught me a lot about the perfect relationship. It’s based on unconditional acceptance. She loves me just the way I am, as long as I play with her and take her potty, she thinks I’m an angel. As long as she doesn’t steal my food (she has a thing for croissants) or bite my foot, then we usually get along.
She doesn’t have many expectations of me and I don’t for her. She may get on my nerves when she wines at the foot of the stairs for what seems like hours, but I soon forgive her. I know she’s just being herself and wants her daddy to wake up and play with her. And if I don’t play with her, she doesn’t take it personally; she just goes and does her own thing. Most likely chewing her bone or playing with spider.
A grain of salt.
This guide isn’t meant to be taken completely literally. Obviously there are some big differences between romantic relationships and the relationships you have with a pet. Also, a lot of people assume master/servant roles (you decide which is which, with cats it can get confusing =P), which shouldn’t be applied to human or romantic relationships. Some people see their pets as their children as well, some people are abusive to their pets. These are two more examples where you shouldn’t translate the your pet relationship to your relationship with your partner.
Most importantly, we should take this advice with a grain of salt and take away the lessons of forgiveness and acceptance . If we can apply this to our personal relationships, we can see there’s a lot to be learned from our humble friends.