Can Pets Improve Your Relationship?

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?

Making Sense of Dreams: A First Step Toward Sharing

Earlier this week, I wrote a post entitled "Should You Tell Your Partner Your Dreams?" Today, I continue that discussion by offering insight into how you can understand your own dreams -- an important step toward sharing them with your partner.

You don’t have to be a trained expert to understand your dreams -- after all, you are the writer, director, actor, lighting expert and stage hand of your  night theater.” Recognizing this and taking a look at the nature of dreams will give you a way making sense and utilizing your dreams. Once you can begin to understand your own dreams you can expand that understanding by sharing with your partner.

Should You Tell Your Partner Your Dreams?

It is quite possible that you have said or heard your partner say:

“You will never believe the dream I had last night!”

“You were screaming in your sleep – are you okay?”

Dreaming and the use of dreams have been recorded from Biblical times and across many cultures. While we credit Freud with his contribution of The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900 and still marvel at his formulations, the royal road to the unconscious has been greatly expanded.

Whereas Freud understood dreams primarily in terms of wish fulfillment, later theorists like James Fossage (1997) built upon psychoanalytic theory with cognitive theory and dream research to suggest that dreams serve an important organizing mental function. They help us process feelings, cope with traumatic events, solve problems and develop a sense of ourselves and our relationships with others.

Promoting Your Partner’s Ideal Self: The Michelangelo Phenomenon

In the past few blog posts, we have considered disagreements and value conflicts between partners, envying your partner, understanding jealousy and identifying similar and opposite personality traits. Now we ask:

Can you promote your partner’s ideal self? Can you help facilitate the dreams, traits, skills and resources your partner yearns to have as part of self? Understanding these questions involves recognizing the power each partner has in enhancing  growth in the other and accepting the belief that the individual growth of each partner will benefit the couple .

“ Did you want to play music your whole life?"

“If you could do it again, would you study law?”

“ I bet you always dreamed of owning a restaurant.”


Do Your Personality Traits Affect Your Relationship?

So in your relationship is it a matter of “opposites attract” or “birds of a feather”? The question of whether similar or dissimilar personality traits are a source of romantic attraction and marital satisfaction has been debated for years. There are those who propose a complementarity hypothesis claiming that partners may be more satisfied with those who differ with them on certain personality traits because these partners complement them or offer what they don’t have: she is a thinker; he is a doer.

Reflecting this sentiment, Tim Lahaye  in his book Opposites Attract maintains that people with similar temperaments never marry because like temperaments repel -- they don’t attract. Similarly, Harville Hendrix, author of Getting the Love You Want, proposes that “There's a polarity in the universe physically that is also reflected in relationships, especially when it comes to personality traits. So a high-energy person will be attracted to a low-energy person … Incompatibility makes for a dynamic, powerful, growing, exciting relationship.”

Disagreeing with this, authors Scott Lililenfeld, Steven Lynn, John Ruscio, and Barry Beyerstein describe “Opposites Attract: We Are Romantically Attracted to People Who Differ From Us” as one of the 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology in their 2010 book by that title. These authors contend that most studies demonstrate that people with similar personality traits are more likely to be attracted to each other. This similarity-attraction hypothesis seems to hold up across characteristics as physical attractiveness, attachment style, political and religious attitudes, socio-economic background, and level of education, according to Pieternal Dijkstra in his 2008 article “Do People Know what they Want: A Similar or Complementary Partner?”

So do opposites or similarities cause attraction and satisfaction? Maybe both.

Handling Couple Disagreements: Do You Really Need a ‘Ref’?

Last Thursday, the hour-long premiere of The Marriage Ref aired on national television, suggesting that what every couple needs is a “ref” to settle their disagreements. While most of us love the validation of being “right” and it may be that some couples, as those depicted on the show, really need someone to decide whether it is okay to keep the dining room table set and used only for Thanksgiving or to vote against teeth flossing in bed – I’m not certain all partners need, much less want, a ref.

Perhaps a closer look at why couples disagree may help you decide when and if you need a ref :

The Meaning of An Apology

On Tuesday, I blogged about different types of guilt and the impact that guilt can have on relationships. Today, we're going to look at apologies and why they can be reparative:

Apology — The Expression of Guilt

In the interaction between partners there is a difference between feeling guilt and expressing guilt. In those cases where guilt is both a product of self-judgment (You really feel guilty) and judgment by your partner (he/she is clearly hurt by your actions or inactions), the expression of guilt is reparative.

The Impact of Guilt on Relationships

A week or so ago, I was about to pay for an egg sandwich and newspaper in the deli when the clerk—who knows what I do for a living—pointed to the picture of Tiger Woods on the cover. “So is he really feeling guilty or just trying to get his wife and everyone’s sympathy?”

“I don’t know,” I said, wondering if it was time to change to another deli. “It’s complicated—guilt, relationships. I don’t think it’s easy.”

Apparently, many people were asking that same question and even collecting data on it. Evaluating Tiger’s apology ratings, HCD Research found that men and women rated the sincerity of his apology in a similar way with 61% of women and 58% of men reporting that they felt he was sincere. Apart from whatever unfolds for Tiger Woods, this brings to the forefront a number of questions about guilt in relationships: What is it? Why do people feel it?  What does an apology mean?

Envying Your Partner: Is that Allowed?

Most people view envy in a negative way. It has been defined as the feeling one has when another person has a superior quality, achievement or possession that you desire or wish for. Identified as “sin” in some faiths, it has been associated with a constellation of feelings including guilt, longing, inferiority, resentment, and even ill will toward the envied person.

Do partners ever envy each other? Aren’t partners supposed to be happy for each other, proud when the other wins the golf tournament, earns the degree, outperforms her peers? Absolutely, and they are. Most couples operate from the perspective that when one wins, both win. No one is envious of their partner when he/she is winning on Jeopardy – they're thrilled.