Why successful relationships are much more simple than we think
I have four beautifully goofy canine companions in my home. There’s my chow-chow Foxy, my half-boxer brindle Thor, my Great Pyrenees Rue, and my five-pound chihuahua Bruno.
And during this time in seclusion I’ve been doing some deep reflecting on how much love they bring into my life.
And I know I am not alone in my emotional attachment to my “babies.” There are millions of people who can validate the statement that dogs are truly “man’s best friend.” But the magic of this human-animal relationship seems a bit beyond my comprehension at times.
I mean, have you ever thought about how crazy it is that you can love a dog so deeply, even though the two of you don’t speak the same language? That you still love them unreservedly even though they chew up your underwear, demolish your remote controls, and steal the steak off your plate when you have to go to the bathroom during dinner?
And I can’t shake the feeling that there’s something greater to be learned about love from the behavior of our furry four-legged friends.
So here are some bits of wisdom, compliments of our beloved pets, that we can all apply to improve the special relationships in our lives.
Lesson number one: Learn how to listen
Have you ever noticed how our dogs seem to “get us” when no one else can? It’s because they’re listening to us. They’re listening to us in a way that most people don’t. Because dogs know the real way to listen doesn’t involve listening to our words.
If we’re depressed, they’re listening to the pitch of our voice, the slump of our shoulders, or the dullness in our eyes. If we’re happy, they’re hearing the “spring” in our voice, the lightness of our step, and the glow in our eyes.
And more people should listen to others this way, a way in which the actual words people say come last on the ladder of importance.
Because people lie. Because we avoid sharing our true pain. Some of us do it to protect ourselves from others, to project an image of strength and invulnerability. Some of us do it an attempt to shroud our feelings and fears from ourselves, as if speaking truthfully of our worries will suddenly make them a reality.
But dogs see through our falsity. They’ve listened to the feelings behind our words. They know the truth that our body language and behavior speak so much louder than the deceptive words that come out of our mouths. And not only do they know these things speak louder, but they also know they speak more honestly.
So just for a moment, we should take this lesson from our precious pups. Try focusing on our partner’s behavior. Study it. Really look at the actions of their body and the language of their face. Sometimes we may discover their anger is really hurt and their happiness is really masked loneliness or disappointment.
And dogs are so special because they know that only by determining the unique feelings of their owners can they provide the type of love “their humans” really desire, which is another thing our canines have knowledge of that we often don’t.
They understand the type of love people need most.
And once again, it deals with knowing the language of the heart is far more important than the spoken word.
Lesson number two: Don’t try to fix things by talking or giving advice, because often that isn’t what people want or need
Our dogs have never told us that things will get better or that we need to do this or that to fix things. Because they know sometimes we’re too hurt, hopeless, and exhausted to ponder solutions or strategies. (They also can’t talk, but stay with me.) They are wise enough to intuit that usually the only way people really get answers to the questions of the heart is to look inside of themselves through quiet contemplation.
So they give us the one thing they know can be of immense help while we face sorrow or strife. And it's not words.
It’s a quiet presence. It’s a warm body curled up against ours. It’s soft paws and a fluffy head on our thighs. It’s someone to fill our space with unspoken echoes and reminders that we are special and that, no matter what happens, we’ll never be alone.
So they sit with us in silence. Lick our face and look into our eyes. We see their love there, and that’s more than enough. It’s everything.
So let’s learn from them. Let’s recognize that sometimes we just need to be with our loved ones. Share the same space. Not speak words of wisdom or unsolicited advice. Just sit with them. Hold their hands. Provide that silent communion and peace that only love can bring.
Lesson number three: Love is about forgiving
How many times have we forgotten our pup’s dog food due to a crazy day at work? How many times have we pushed them outdoors when a new love interest or family member is invited into our homes? How many times have we cursed them for the hairs they so innocent shed that find their way into our best work attire or our just cleaned couch?
They know we’ve been under stress (remember, they’re listening all the time), so they go to the empty dog food bowl and look, but no whining.
They walk submissively outside when company comes even though all they want is to snuggle us on the couch like they normally do when no one is around. Yet they walk into the bracing cold or the burning August sun to give us the human companionship we need.
They know true love is about seeing that the good in our partners outweighs the bad. It’s about understanding that these people in our lives are trying and that sometimes they mess up, just like they themselves do when they make a mistake on the carpet or bark too loudly during our conference calls.
They forgive us for our imperfections because that’s what true love means. They see that for all the pushes out the door or the empty dog bowls, we’re still good humans doing the best we can. They know we’re still their protector. We’re still their security blanket when lightning strikes or Fourth of July fireworks shake their security. We’re still “their person” even with all our flaws.
And perhaps we should realize the same about “our persons.”
Lesson number four: Don’t hide your feelings. Don’t ever let people forget how much they mean to you.
Dogs don’t play hard to get. They don’t pretend not to care to spark our interest. They greet us each moment we walk in the door with every ounce of love they have been holding in while we were away. They let us know we are all that matters, empty dog bowls be damned.
To them, love is not a game. So why “hold back” or make us wonder if we truly have their heart?
They know that’s not what love is. It’s letting it all “hang out,” regardless of the consequences.
It’s moments in the rain when those special persons in our lives start to drive away and we run like maniacs into the middle of the street, hands up, stopping them because we have to let them know we’re in love with them and we’re sorry for pretending not to be. It’s reminding them that our lives would be less beautiful, less meaningful without them in it. It’s not saying they matter; it’s saying they matter the most. More than anything.
It’s saying that every day when they walk through that door it’s the most important thing in our whole world. And it’s reminding them of that fact for the rest of their lives.
The bottom line:
Charles Yu said, “If I could be half the person my dog is, I’d be twice the human I am.” And we can infer that if we tried to be more like those slobbery fur babies who make our lives so full, our relationships would be twice as strong as well.
Because as complex as we think relationships are, dogs know that real love truly only involves a few simple things: listening, being there for the people that are special to us, forgiving, and being “real.” It’s truly as simple as that.