We hardly need to look at the research to verify that pets do good things for people physically and emotionally. What is interesting in my work with couples is that although couples may vehemently disagree on most topics,  they usually both soften in manner and tone to agree that the dog, cat, bird or horse is great.

In fact, if there is any criticism, it is the verbalized wish to receive the kind of love and attention the pet is getting.

“I only wish she was as affectionate with me as with our dog!”

“You should hear him speak to this animal – he never speaks to me that way.”

What happens between people and their pets that accounts for this emotional outpouring of love?

Most will answer with the responses you have heard or given:

“The dog demands nothing from me – he just gives unconditional love.”

“The cats are a predictable source of comfort and soothing – they want to be near me.”

Pets? Not demanding? Predictable? … Really?

What’s interesting is that most pets are loved in a way that makes us minimize or even deny the reality that they definitely have demands we simply accept. Some will only eat certain food; many wake people in the middle of the night; most get sick on the rug; some eat furniture and a vast majority end up on the bed no matter what anyone says.

In one case, when the dalmatian was found eating the steak that had been marinating on the counter for dinner, the husband’s only reaction was “Might as well give him the vegetables and potatoes, and let him finish off the meal.”

Can we learn something from our relationship with pets that might enhance our relationship with partners?

Yes, if we are willing to take a closer look at ourselves.

The old expression “you get what you give” may apply here. Maybe you give something very positive to your pet that invites the unconditional love and connection that makes you feel so good. Maybe it has potential to enhance your relationship.

Can you credit yourself with any of the following?


No matter how you feel or what mood you are in, you greet your pet with a positive, even animated, hello and often with a display of physical affection.


With pets, maybe it’s your lack of expectation that makes the difference. You probably rarely predict that your pet will be angry if you are late. As a result, you don’t head home defensively angry in preparation for the reaction you expect to face.

Holding Grudges

When you do return home to find that your cats have redecorated the room with shreds of every tissue they could find or the dog has eaten some of the mail, you may well react with a choice expletive but you are not likely to hold a grudge. You are still going to be petting Donatello or cuddling with Thor the next day.

Assuming the Best

There is a natural tendency to forgive pets their trespasses – after all, the dog wasn’t trying to torture you by eating the mail. Was your partner really trying to torture you by putting it in such a safe spot it can’t be found?


Few pet owners personalize their pets’ reactions to others to an extreme that makes them so embarrassed that they fear their image is tarnished or they become resentful of their pets. The fact that the dog is licking every part of the arriving guest’s body is cause to pull him away or laugh it away. The cat that will not come out of hiding or the parrot that is screeching is left without judgment or excuses. That’s them!

For Better or For Worse

In most cases, pets are home to stay. People love and care for pets of every size, shape and disposition. “She’s not exactly a watch dog; she’s loving but easily frightened.” “He insists on sleeping on the bed – we have given in.” “She steals food from the other dogs, she’s pretty hyper, but cute.” Few pets live with the fear of being betrayed or with the implication that things are just not working out. Of course they don’t – but just consider how the absence of such fears enhances the trust and connection you feel from them!

So think about what you give your pet and maybe how — in addition to improving your health — your pet can improve your relationship!



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From Psych Central's website:
PsychCentral (April 13, 2010)

From Psych Central's World of Psychology:
Best of Our Blogs: April 16th, 2010 | World of Psychology (April 16, 2010)

What Matters Today Blog Scoop » Best of Our Blogs: April 16th, 2010 (April 21, 2010)

Pets really change you « Fuzypets's Blog (April 27, 2010)

From Tara Parker-Pope at The New York Times' blog Well:
What Pets Can Teach Us About Marriage - Well Blog - NYTimes.com (June 2, 2010)

Your Pets, Your Relationship | Will Baum, LCSW (June 2, 2010)

What Pets Can Teach Us About Marriage | Welcome to James Liou's Website (June 3, 2010)

Dogs, boys and love. | Sharie (June 3, 2010)

Learn From The Way You Love Your Pet | The Animal Journal (June 3, 2010)

From Psych Central's website:
PsychCentral (June 4, 2010)

What Pets Can Teach Us About Marriage « A Puppy Story (June 4, 2010)

Philip Kent Kiracofe (June 4, 2010)

What Pets Can Teach Us About Marriage | San Pedro Animal Hospital (June 4, 2010)

NY Times: What Pets Teach Us About Marriage : Huntington Palisades Real Estate Voice (June 4, 2010)

Marriage Tweets (June 5, 2010)

Can Pets Improve Your Relationship? « Film Beats (from the East) (June 6, 2010)

Couples Therapy For Bitches « Raleigh Pop (June 6, 2010)

melaniemsommer (June 6, 2010)

ninakix (June 6, 2010)

Recruiting Animal (June 6, 2010)

dsashin (June 8, 2010)

Edo 江戸 (June 9, 2010)

Free Relationship Advice … From Pets « Anyone, Anywhere – Official Blog for PeopleFinders.com (June 9, 2010)

Great Article I Found @ « for Single Girls (June 10, 2010)

Improve your Marriage–with the help of your Shiba! | Shiba Inu Hawaii (June 10, 2010)

Pets Can Solve Relationship Problems (June 17, 2010)

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Christian Aubry (June 21, 2010)

Your Spouse or Your Pet | Modern Home Modern Baby (June 22, 2010)

I have a job, i help take care of my family, mum and dad! | Sansan Pups (June 22, 2010)

David Felfoldi (June 27, 2010)

Kerry (July 8, 2010)

DogCentric, Inc. (July 21, 2010)

DogCentric, Inc. (July 21, 2010)

Is my husband my pet? « ready, set … wife! (July 28, 2010)

Links of Great Interest: Speak truth to power in anyway possible | The Hathor Legacy (August 13, 2010)

Cats and Dogs Teach Lessons of Love to people | Global Animal (August 21, 2010)

Is my husband my pet? » Ready, Set…Wife! (August 29, 2010)

Pablo the Pug, Marriage Therapist « Confessions of a Pugophile (August 30, 2010)

Pets as Marriage Counselors… | The Creative Impulse (September 16, 2010)

Is Your Pet Your Valentine? | Care2 Healthy & Green Living (February 13, 2011)

NY Times: What Pets Teach Us About Marriage « The Huntington Palisades Real Estate Voice (March 4, 2011)

Psychologist Answers: Can Pets Improve Your Relationship? | (July 13, 2011)

Through a Dog's Ear - Using music and sound to improve the lives of dogs... and their people! (August 29, 2011)

kathy Dawson Relationship Coach | Kathy Dawson Relationship Coach (December 8, 2011)

Can Pets Improve Your Love Life? | Care2 Healthy Living (February 11, 2012)

Pets Offer Even More Than Just Undying Love « I'm Liking It! (April 13, 2012)

Creative Brief: Humane Society | taylorwerthauser (January 3, 2014)

Through a Dog's Ear - Using music and sound to improve the lives of dogs... and their people! (February 14, 2014)

Ditch Dinner and A Movie: Try These Creative Date Ideas Instead! | Firelight (June 26, 2014)

Dating With Dogs | Care2 Healthy Living (January 12, 2015)

    Last reviewed: 5 Jan 2013

APA Reference
Phillips, S. (2010). Can Pets Improve Your Relationship?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 2, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/healing-together/2010/04/can-pets-improve-your-relationship/


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