dog behaviorWhen Pets Come Between Partners: How to Keep Love-and Romance-in the Human/Animal Kingdom of Your Home by Joel Gavriele-Gold, PhD. puts words to the often unconscious and unacknowledged feelings and interactions experienced by many pet guardians and their new partners. 

Have you ever wondered why loving guardians surrender their pets, sometimes perfectly good animals, to shelters or to veterinarians to euthanize? Do you wonder why some people abuse and neglect pets? Or fellow humans for that matter? Perhaps you have squelched some of those same feelings in yourself. Sure there are those among us who were taught and actually believe that animals feel no pain and don’t deserve the same kindness that humans do. But what about the rest of us? What is it in a person that makes him or her behave in cruel ways or want to?

Being regularly exposed to horrors reaped on animals by humans, questions such as those questions are rarely far from my mind. So, when I met Dr. Joel Graviele-Gold at the Dog Writers Awards Banquet, and he handed me his card with the title of his book on it, my interest was immediately piqued. I knew I had to read his book  and share its message with you.

Joel Gavriele-Gold PhD
Dr. Joel Gavriele-Gold with Val Silver at the Dog Writer’s Association Awards 2014

When Pets Come Between Partners – Is It Really the Animal’s Fault?

Dr. Joel asks:

“When you’re fighting about the dog, is it really about your in-laws?

When your boyfriend says, It’s either me or the cat,” isn’t there a way you can keep both?”

When Pets Come Between Partners explains how conflicts over pets are often signs of deeper conflicts between couples or even within oneself. It demonstrates through teaching and examples of real clients how feelings like jealousy, anger, guilt, control issues, and fear can play themselves out through our pets. You will see how emotions are often unconsciously connected  to symbolic meanings and play out in a variety of ways. 

As discovered in therapy sessions with many clients, Dr. Gold states that genuine animal behavior issues aside, negative reactions to minor and major offenses committed by the pets (or sometimes no offense at all other than just being themselves!) are due to earlier times in clients’ lives. He says that people may even unconsciously train an animal to do offensive things. We may allow them to take on our negativity and direct it toward the object of our hostility. For example, you may secretly be seething at your partner. You can hide those feelings from him, but not your dog, who acts on them for you.

Sometimes, it seems as if pets are responsible for causing problems in relationships. And it is true that a behavior such as chewing shoes or peeing on the carpet triggers tension between partners or abuse toward pets. But, according to Dr. Gold’s experience with his patients, the real trouble often runs deeper and begins even before an animal is in a couple’s life. The animals become the carriers and victims of our emotional baggage- our power plays, dramas, and defense mechanisms.

This is particularly disturbing in light of the fact that veterinarians and shelter staff tell of large numbers of animals brought in for rehoming or euthanization by people facing the choice between their partner or their pet. They are given the ultimatum by their partners, “It’s me or the pet.” Distraught guardians may make the decision themselves to keep the peace. For some reason, more people than you might think believe the animal must be euthanized. (I prefer to speak the truth and use the word killed.)

These animals become casualties of a relationship because one person finds them an intrusion, resents the time they take, finds fault with them, or doesn’t  like or want them for any number of reasons. Instead of looking for the true source of the problem, the blame is laid on the pet. Their people often feel a sense of guilt or loss for years after relinquishing their pet.

One particularly disturbing story from the book is told of a woman who had been abandoned as a child to an orphanage by her mother. This woman had more than a dozen of her dogs killed. When, in her mind, the dog no longer appeared to love her, she took it to the vet to end its life. Another was of a man so jealous of his girlfriend’s beloved little dog that he killed it by purposely engaged him in a game of fetch with the final throw of the toy going out of her eighth story window. Yeah, you read that right. These are just two examples of dogs as victims of people’s psychological issues. I’m sure there are thousands more stories like these being played out every year.

when pets come between partners

The Psychology Behind Dysfunctional Relationships with Pets (and Partners)

 When Pets Come Between Partners is such an important book because it contains a lot of relevant information about the psychology behind why we think and do certain things and how they affect our relationships for better and worse. By explanation and example, it shows us how to recognize these issues in ourselves and others. It offers hope that when brought to light we can deal with them at the root in order to improve our relationships with loved ones and resolve issues that threaten them. 

This book covers a lot of material. If you aren’t familiar with psychology, it will be a real eye-opener. You will probably need and want to read some parts more than once. Even as a many years ago psychology major, I had to reread passages more than once to “get it”. Don’t be surprised if you catch glimpses of yourself and other people you know in its pages.

This book helps you gain an understanding of three common defense mechanisms; displacement, projection, and repetition compulsion. Dr. Gold explains what they are and how they operate. He shares examples of actual clients to illustrate how they operate alone or in concert with each other in a multitude of ways for a multitude of reasons. (No one said human psychology is simple!) These defenses intertwine with our dramas, power plays, control issues, love triangles, and emotions such as jealousy, fear, and anger. They affect our own well-being and the quality of our relationship with our partner and pets.

In the next post, we’ll delve into two of these psychological mechanisms to give you a taste of how they work in our lives and how our partners and pets may be adversely affected by them. In the meantime, run, don’t walk, to pick up a copy of When Pets Come Between Partners if you or someone you know is being threatened with the words, “It’s me or the dog”. Continue reading about the psychological defense mechanisms behind these behaviors.

 What do you think? Have you ever been jealous of a partner’s pet or had a partner jealous of yours?
Were you ever faced with the ultimatum of “It’s me or the dog?”
What would you or did you do if that ever happened to you?

When Pets Come Between Partners: Book Review

34 thoughts on “When Pets Come Between Partners: Book Review

  • February 5, 2016 at 6:29 pm
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    Thankfully my husband is a huge animal lover too, and loves the kitties just as much as I do. But I will admit that there have been times we have had tension between us because of our pets. We haven’t come anywhere close to the point of wanting to get rid of them, but I can see how it could escalate to that for people who also deal with different psychological issues. So sad. Those stories you mentioned… absolutely horrifying! This sounds like a really helpful book.

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    • February 7, 2016 at 7:42 am
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      Thanks for sharing your experience. We all have these psychological mechanisms. Some of us find our way to healing them, others learn how to manage them, and others give them full range to damage relationships while blaming the other. More about that in the next article.

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    • February 5, 2016 at 9:05 pm
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      Who couldn’t love Mr. N.? Ok, I could see that someone could be jealous of that cutey-pie.

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  • February 6, 2016 at 12:38 am
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    This is really interesting, and makes a lot of sense.
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

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  • February 6, 2016 at 5:21 am
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    Fortunately I’ve never been faced with the situation of a pet coming between me and a partner. Sadly, if that ever did happen, the partner would need to be rehomed.

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  • February 6, 2016 at 6:06 pm
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    Wow! That sounds like an interesting read. It’s such a shame that some partners take their frustrations out on the pets. I wish there were more help for the mentally ill.

    I’ve dealt with my husband being jealous of our pets before but luckily he has gotten over it for the most part. He knows that if I had to choose between the dogs and him it would be the dogs and he’s at peace with it. It did take a while, though for him to get over it.

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    • February 7, 2016 at 7:39 am
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      Sounds like you have a special husband. As you’ll see in the next post on this topic, we all have these psychological mechanisms.

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  • February 6, 2016 at 7:45 pm
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    Thankfully, I have never had that problem. The saying, “Never give someone a choice that you don’t want them to make.” fits here. Always choose the pet, nobody that loves you would make you choose.

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  • February 6, 2016 at 10:37 pm
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    Innocent animals are easy targets. I’m so glad I’ve never been in a desperate situation over mine. It’s just imperative that both the animal AND human victims (when abuse is involved) get the help/shelter they need. And an education (as in this book) doesn’t hurt either.

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  • February 6, 2016 at 10:44 pm
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    Ditto. Not liking animals is a deal breaker (big time) for me. If someone doesn’t like your pet … get out fast…

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  • February 6, 2016 at 10:50 pm
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    I feel SO lucky that my husband shares the love and enjoys the bond with our three hounds. SO lucky as I know this is not the case with a lot of folks that share their lives with animals.

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  • February 7, 2016 at 2:24 am
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    I could never stay with a person who would pose such an ultimatum, and if someone were jealous or resentful of my dog I wouldn’t stick around. That kind of pathology is not changed overnight. Not only would the person have to want to change, they’d have to be willing to pay for therapy for the long haul to do it. And in the meantime, what about the treatment of the dog when you’re not home? That’s a big red flag to me.

    I know not everyone is in a position to just move on. Sometimes this happens to couples already married or committed when the decision to bring a dog or cat into the home is not entirely mutual. I’m glad it hasn’t happened to me in either of my marriages, but I can say animal dislike is not negotiable for me.

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    • February 8, 2016 at 6:26 pm
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      Very true. Some people are so awed by “love” or “having someone” or “needing someone” that they feel like they have no choice. Maybe they even believe the person is right. It takes a special therapist and a person committed to sorting out the truth about him or herself to come out healthier on the other side.

      Reply
  • February 7, 2016 at 2:24 am
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    This sounds like an interesting read. My pets always come first.

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  • February 7, 2016 at 10:15 am
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    This is such an interesting topic – thanks for covering this topic! Anything that can help people walk through informed decisions and learn tools and tips to keep a pet in their life!

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  • February 7, 2016 at 3:12 pm
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    My husband would prefer to live without pets, but he knew what he was getting into when we got married. He even suggested we get a second dog before we got married. We’ve made some compromises over the years, but it works. He limits the breed of the dogs and doesn’t let them upstairs. When he’s out of town (less than once a year) I have the dogs sleep in the bed with me.

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  • February 7, 2016 at 3:44 pm
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    I have broken up with boyfriends in the past because they didn’t like my dogs. I’ll take my fir babies over a man any day!

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    • February 7, 2016 at 3:46 pm
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      Lucky dogs!

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  • February 7, 2016 at 6:16 pm
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    Thankfully, I’ve never had to deal with this situation personally. However, as a foster for a cat rescue, we heard this all the time.

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    • February 7, 2016 at 6:40 pm
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      How sad is that. It just validates what the shelter told Dr. Gold. Partners are a number one reason for relinquishment.

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  • February 7, 2016 at 7:29 pm
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    This sounds like a great book! It is so sad when humans let their hurts, habits and hang-ups cross-over to their pets’ lives. Us humans do have a bad habit of blaming everyone but ourselves for the problems we have. I hope that the right people get a hold of this knowledge and pets can have a better life! 🙂

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  • February 7, 2016 at 10:44 pm
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    Wow! That sounds really interesting and of course our relationships affect them. I’m adding this to my wish list. Thanks for sharing.

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  • February 7, 2016 at 11:06 pm
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    This books sounds really interesting! I know when my mom married my dad he wasn’t a fan of Callie the Cat but now she is growing on him.

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  • February 7, 2016 at 11:52 pm
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    Definitely a great and interesting post! Book sounds very interesting indeed. For me – Must.Love.Animals. My husband was not an animal person when I met him over 35 years ago, then when he began dating me, he also dated my horse and my dogs, and cats…and now he adores our FiveSibes and is a terrific hu-dad! 🙂

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  • February 8, 2016 at 1:53 pm
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    This is such a difficult topic. I could never imagine having to make a choice between my girls and a significant other.

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  • February 8, 2016 at 1:59 pm
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    The joke is supposed to be ‘It’s me or the Dog/Cat’ whatever. If this reflects what is supposed to be happening in our lives this is terrifying and depressing. I’m sorry but the man would go, not the cat. If my partner didn’t like animals there would not be that deep connection I would need to love and he would be out the door. In-laws? They don’t even come into the equation. Some of these people sound profoundly disturbed – why kill your dog because it ‘doesn’t love you?’. YOU are the one needing help and her vet should have reported her for abuse.

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    • February 8, 2016 at 6:22 pm
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      You are absolutely right. I wonder if she brought them all to the same vet.

      Reply
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