I remember reading once that over 50% of people in the US are pet owners, so that means over half of us know the love that comes from a sweet (and sometimes challenging) animal who depends on us for their care and well-being. We all know that all that we put into this relationship is far worth the rewards of what we get in return– their undying love. But this article by Suzanne Phillips is great, because it encourages us to think about what lessons we can learn from from our relationships with our pets, that we can then apply toward our relationships with people in our lives, to make those more harmonious. It is short and to the very valid point. If you’d like to read more about this idea, jump below for my own reflections on this article.
On Can Pets Improve Your Relationship? by Suzanne Phillips
(an excerpt from a talk I have given based in part on this article, and with the permission of the author)
Basically, this article considers that our relationships with our pets can serve as a fantastic model for conflict resolution. Think about it—aren’t our relationships with our pets pretty harmonious? So can’t we learn from what we’re doing right there, and apply it to our relationships in which we have conflict? Some of you might argue that, unlike people in our lives, our pets aren’t always making demands of us. Aren’t they, though? My dogs will scratch at the door or whine repeatedly until I let them out, have decided on their own designated spots in the house where they can sit, even if I’m already there, and I have to clean up after them every day. Moreover, while I like to think they’re my little angels, maybe that isn’t the most accurate description. They have torn up my things and peed on my furniture to let me know how they feel about, say, being left alone for longer than they have deemed acceptable.
But I forgive them. Quickly, even. I might be upset for a minute or so, but I get over it. Why is that? Because I know that they’re trying to express a need—in some cases they weren’t even thinking of how it might impact me, and in others they’re making a statement about a need I’ve overlooked. So, maybe their decision inadvertently impacted me, but if that wasn’t their intent, why should I be hostile toward them? And if they did mean for it to impact me—even if they’ve done something that I think is rude or that has inconvenienced me—I’m willing to take the time to consider my role in how they’ve chosen to express their need, and to focus less on dwelling on how they’ve expressed it than on how to move forward.
What allows me to focus on the positive goal of moving forward, rather than the unproductive goal of stewing in my anger, is my pets’ attitude—specifically, I know they care about me and that we just weren’t seeing eye to eye on something, and secondly, I can see that my pets don’t hold grudges. They’ve torn up a roll of toilet paper but now they’re sitting here smiling at me. In this case, the pet is providing cues to indicate they’re ready to move past it. In picking up on that cue, I’m not having to prepare myself for battle. And with that stressor out of the way, I can focus on the productive goals of moving past a frustrating situation and resuming my investment in the relationship. In translating that to our conflict resolution with people, what if we each conveyed that we haven’t seen eye to eye and that mistakes may have been made, but that we’re ready to move past it? Maybe, similarly to how we respond to our pets, we wouldn’t feel the need to respond to others with anger and stubbornness if we weren’t so focused on how they’ve wronged us, and were more focused on getting the relationship back on track. So even though the pet analogy is cute, it’s also entirely true.
These are really great ideas to use as a reference point when we find ourselves in conflict with the people we love. Essentially, try operating under the assumption that, in whatever area in which you’re having conflict, the other person isn’t acting out solely to annoy you. They may be annoying you, but if it’s merely a product of careless or ineffective communication of needs rather than that person’s sole intent, you’ll want to keep in mind that continued ineffective communication takes two people. So it’s your choice how you want to proceed. And it’s the attitude you maintain that will steer the situation in whatever direction it goes next. If we pull in that common sense logic that we all claim to have, you already know that holding grudges doesn’t contribute to anything productive, and just serves to maintain negativity. In contrast, treating the person like you like them, or in other words maintaining a positive attitude toward that person in the face of a conflict, helps you to keep your cool, stay focused on respecting the relationship, and move forward from a rough patch. Thank you, Fido, for the insight.