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Relationship advice: treat your partner like the family dog

What can our pet relationships teach us?

Should the president base his foreign policy on his relationship with Bo?

The many ways in which pets have been found to benefit an owner's health is well-documented. Children growing up with a furry animal are less likely to have allergies or asthma. Pets are shown to reduce social anxiety, anxiety about medical procedures, depression, and high blood pressure, just to name a few of the health benefits.

Should the president base his foreign policy on his relationship with Bo?

Additionally, since Freud and the invention of psychotherapy, animals have been used as part of therapy. Called Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), there have been many studies indicating a wide-range of benefits. Among other advantages, regular exposure to these therapy animals have included: reduction in physical and psychological pain, improvement in self-care and self esteem, increased optimism, greater levels of attention and concentration, reduction in anxiety and fear, lessening the likelihood of boredom and loneliness, and even creating better success rates during medical treatment.

Recently, Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., APBB, has raised the question of whether or not the way we perceive our pets and how they act towards us can teach us some important lessons about how to be in relationship with our partners/significant others. She posits that while most people who love their pets describe the animals as undemanding, giving unconditional love, and predictable, the truth is that pets are quite demanding and unpredictable but we forgive these behaviors because of the way in which we love them.

Dr. Phillips posits that if we all modeled our behavior with our partners from how we treat our pets, it would go a long way towards improving our relationships. Her suggestions include:

  1. No matter how you feel or what your mood is, greet your partner with enthusiasm and affection.
  2. Don't carry negative expectations around of your partner or their reactions - we don't anticipate negativity from our pets, don't from your partner either.
  3. Be forgiving - you may get angry at your pet but you don't hold a grudge.
  4. Acceptance: don't personalize your partner's behavior in the same way that you don't personalize your dog's behavior.
  5. For better or for worse we hang on to our pets and find a way to love them - and they never live in fear that we will get rid of them or end that relationship.

Dr. Phillips argues that maybe it isn't just that pets are naturally wonderful; maybe it is also the way we interact with them that makes that relationship great. "Maybe you give something very positive to your pet that invites the unconditional love and connection that makes you feel so good," she writes. "Maybe it has potential to enhance your relationship." Perhaps, then, there is a greater question at hand than just your marriage or partnership relationship. Maybe it is not just the animals that provide all of the physical and psychological benefits of having a pet or of Animal Assisted Therapy. Perhaps it is also what we expect of the animals - how we treat them and how they treat us in return. Certainly, animals are special and unique. However, it may not be too big a leap to wonder what the benefits to our collective mental and physical health might be if we all treated each other in the same way that pet owners and their pets do.

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

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