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Adam Maurer, LPC, LMFT
I have a dog who I absolutely love, most of the time. Her name is Scout and she is part terrier, part schnauzer, and part Joan Collins. Don’t let this happy teddy bear expression fool you, she will slap you in the face with a paw if she does not believe that she is getting the attention that she is due. Scout was a rescue dog from Austin Pets Alive and in the years that she has been in my life, she has taught me many lessons so that I can be a better husband to my partner. So, let’s look at some of the relationship lessons my pup has taught me.
Sometimes it seems like Scout can sense when I am in a rush to leave home and inevitably, this is when she chooses to explore every blade of grass in our apartment complex before going potty. The time seems to speed up as my anxiety grows. I used to either plead or grumble, neither of which would expedite her process. The fact of the matter is that I cannot rush Scout and all I can do is practice acceptance. She will take as long as she takes. I had to learn to stop personalizing the issue, thinking that she was just being difficult, and instead, I learned to better budget my time to accommodate her. This is true in my marriage as well. My husband is a phenomenal human being in countless ways and yet there are some things about him that I have had to learn to accept. (Unlike me, who is practically perfect in every way…jk ya’ll) He and I have different strengths and challenges, which makes us a great team when we work together. In the beginning of our relationship I would sometimes expect him to be as gifted as I am in certain areas, and when he struggled to perform I would get frustrated. Unfairly, I would frame his failing as a lack of love for me. The reality is, I was trying to get him to change a fundamental part of his personality. Asking my husband to magically become an extrovert was like trying to make Scout pee on command, futile. And like Scout’s sometimes shy bladder, my husband being an introvert has nothing to do with how much he cares for me; it’s simply who he is. So, thanks to my pup I know how to better accept and love my partner as the person he is today. Accepting our own individual strengths and challenges and those of our partners will help you have a relationship that is best for problem-solving. Instead of getting frustrated, get accepting and be curious about other ways to approach issues.
Understanding and Compassion
Scout was a rescue dog and she came to us with a past. She had experienced trauma so she was skittish with her new family at first. She would guard her food, was unwilling to tolerate much affection and was anxious most of the time (including in her sleep). Today, she is a lovable jealous furball who gets between me and the computer if I don’t give her enough affection. This change did not happen overnight. It took weeks of considering Scout’s experiences and treating her with compassion from that place of understanding. I couldn’t just scoop her up and force her to cuddle me. I had to put out some treats and let her come to me to for more. With a little empathy, she was able to form a secure attachment to us. Now that she has a safe and loving home, she is happy to interact with other dogs and people. This is a wonderful lesson and remembering this helps to bring a sense of safety into our relationship. We all have baggage, some of it we even packed ourselves. When I remind myself of who my husband is, and the experiences he has had in his lifetime I am better able to love him. I am able to admire him for his values and forgive some of his shortcomings. Understanding leads to empathy, which builds safety, and in turn, keeps arguments from developing. It’s hard to be mad at a person or a dog when you start to understand the reasons for their ways. And the ironic thing is if you want to help a partner change a behavior you first have to understand why it needed to develop. Understanding my husband also makes it more difficult for me to project my negative experiences onto him. My husband is secretly a caring person, if you are fortunate enough to be close to him you have someone who is devoted to you. Because I understand that this value is a part of his DNA I am able to correct my thoughts when they try to paint him as selfish or uncaring. The reality is, it is a rarity that he be either of those things so I am able to replace the negative thoughts with more accurate ones. This allows us to have conversations instead of arguments.
Thoughtfulness and Sacrifice
Scout cannot feed herself. She cannot open the door to relieve herself. She is dependent on me to help take care of her needs. If she needs to go out she will sit by the door quietly, if she is hungry she will patiently sit by her bowl. When I am out of the house I have to be conscious of her needs. Sometimes that means altering my plans to take care of her. It is a small sacrifice for the endless love, affection and good times she provides. Thoughtfulness and sacrifice have helped me be a better husband. I might be tired but when I consider that my husband has a difficult time relaxing after a long day of work when the kitchen is a mess I try to muster my resources to clean. He wants to come home and decompress, which I want for him too. I want him to feel thought of, respected, and loved. Now, some folks are gifted with the innate ability to be a non-stop cleaning machine, I am not one of them. I can live with a little mess for a moment. So, though this is a chore that has to be done, doing it as an act of love for my husband turns the task into a way to get closer to him. And when the kitchen isn’t up to par, he’s now more forgiving of my messes. A little thoughtfulness and sacrifice goes a long way in a relationship.
Scout fills my life with love, as does my husband. Though both can be annoying at times I have a limited number of days on this rock with them and I intend to enjoy every last one of them. If you need some help being a better partner, then relationship counseling might be for you. In counseling, you’ll have a guide who’ll aid you in developing better communication skills, tips for negotiating conflicts, and ways to maintain your love.
If you liked this, you might also like So Much Commotion Over Emotions, Solutions Aren’t Everything: Strengthening Relationships Through Reflecting and Feeling, and What To Expect From Marriage Counseling.