The other day I came across the following story, from the wonderful author and therapist, Bill O’Hanlon.
Some years ago, at the therapy group practice where Bill worked, a couple had sought relationship counselling. They were very embittered with one another, but couldn’t get a divorce because they had a dog that was the centre of their lives and neither of them was willing to give up even partial custody.
When the therapist worked with them, he discovered that the wife resented her husband’s habit of coming home from work, not even acknowledging her when he walked through the door, but heading straight upstairs to shower. By the time he arrived back downstairs she would be so livid that they would get into a terrible argument.
The therapist asked what the dog did when the husband arrived home, which was different from what the wife did. It turned out that the dog would run to the door, greet the husband and get a nice rubbing in return. The wife would wait in the other room for her husband to seek her out, which he didn’t do.
The husband complained that the wife was not physically affectionate. He longed for her to cuddle up next to him on the sofa while they were watching television, and would complain sarcastically that he must have body odour when she sat some distance away from him.
The therapist discovered that the dog was very assertive when he wanted affection; he would come over, sit next to the person from whom he wanted affection and push his nose under their arm if they were distracted or unresponsive, until they gave him a cuddle.
The couple was given this task: they were to study the dog and make him their teacher and guru. When they saw how he got what he wanted from their partner, they were to model that behaviour and try it out with their partner. They had great fun with this and began to turn their relationship around, no longer wanting a divorce.
For any relationship that you would like to shift in a positive or better direction, Bill suggests that you could think of an animal whose behaviour you could model – or, as he says, let Dog be your co-pilot…
...and the Canine Members of Staff