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Your Partner vs. Your Pet

What to do when couples struggle with pet issues, pet allergies, and pet behavior.

Pet Conflict Resolution

Catherine Hastings, PhD, a marriage and family therapist in Lancaster, Pa., says couples' disagreements about pets are ultimately about differences in tolerance -- be it for shedding, noise, self-control, or boundaries.

"If it’s your pet, and you say, ‘I see that shedding bothers you, so I’m going to do the cleaning’, that’s respecting the other. If you’re saying, ‘If it bothers you so much, then you clean it,’ I think that’s sending a bigger message," says Hastings, a former board member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy.

When conflicts arise in a relationship, Hastings recommends using these communication and resolution techniques:

  • Be honest about your feelings and frustrations.
  • Be empathetic to the other person’s concerns.
  • Be respectful and take responsibility for solutions.

Hastings advises couples facing a breakup over pets to ask, "Is this issue bigger than us?"

In some cases, the answer is yes. In others, Hastings watches as pets bring struggling relationships together. "It makes me think about how comforting pets are to couples," Hastings says, "especially those who are under some kind of stress in their lives."

If At First You Don't Succeed…

Keith Brown of New York first tried humor when he and DeAnne Merey argued over their English Pointer (Bundy) regularly peeing in Merey’s home office. Brown denied it being the dog’s fault. He teased that maybe he or Merey’s young son had done it. "I tried to diffuse the situation with humor," he says, "but it didn’t really work."

When Bundy continued to bark during conference calls, chewed her way out of a crate, and caused endless distractions in Merey’s day, Brown says, "We had several pretty nasty fights."

Brown tried another tactic. He enrolled Bundy in Running Paws Athletic Club, which sends Bundy home exhausted each day. "Doggy daycare kind of salvaged our relationship," says Brown, whose December 2009 wedding to Merey went ahead despite Bundy’s ongoing behavior challenges.

Reviewed on June 04, 2010

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