When 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.
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.
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.
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?