When it comes to finding role models for a happy marriage, perhaps we pet parents should look no further than our dogs. Think about it: dogs do relationships better than anyone. They’ve figured out what it takes to keep a partnership running smoothly, and they totally get how to make us feel loved and appreciated. They understand the importance of snuggling, they know that occasionally being selfless is a part of the package, and they’re down for whatever we want to do, whether it’s chilling on the couch or hiking the Adirondacks. Dogs do marriage right.
My dogs, Millie and Olive, have been excellent marital role models for me and my husband Tom over the years. The traits that we humans find so endearing about our dogs – loyalty, sensitivity, playfulness – are the same ones that we can apply to our relationships with our significant others, butt sniffing and face licking aside (or not – you do you!). Sure, it might seem strange to look at a dog for relationship guidance, but I think they’ve got it all figured out.
What Olive Taught Me About Marriage
Our dog Olive is unlike any dog I’ve known. Not only does she look like a cross between an alien and a Muppet, she’s got quirks that defy explanation (like her habit of wading into rivers to go potty, both #1 and #2). Olive isn’t what you’d call a “deep” dog, but she has a surprisingly nuanced ability to understand and respond to our emotions in a way that could put a therapist to shame.
One of the most important traits of a successful marriage is the ability to have empathy for your partner, meaning you’re able to sense what your partner is feeling and use their feelings to guide your actions. No one does this better than Olive, our very own little emotional nursemaid. She constantly watches our faces for signs of anything other than contentment. A heavy sigh or eye rolling exhortation is enough to bring Olive running to the source to see what’s wrong and how she can help. Sometimes, just a crumpled brow and a sniffle are enough to elicit her tender attentions. She paws at the upset party and offers consoling kisses until she’s told, over and over, that everything is okay now thanks to her.
Tom and I strive to match Olive’s amazing empathy skills with each other but it’s not easy because the dog is selfless. There is absolutely no thought of herself when she senses that someone needs her support. She feels that it’s her job to comfort that person until she thinks that they’re better, and no matter what we tell her, it’s up to her to decide when we’ve had enough caretaking.
Tom and I strive to match Olive’s amazing empathy skills with each other but it’s not easy because the dog is selfless.
We jokingly imitate her when one of us gets a minor injury, like a stubbed a toe. “Ohmygosh!” we say. “Are you okay? Do you need me? Can I give you a kiss?” It’s a joke, but deep down we know that Olive is on to something. Focusing completely on the other person and offering solace, whether because of a paper cut or a bad day at work, makes sense.
What Millie Taught Me About Marriage
Our dog Millie, on the other hand, has zero empathy skills. I could cut my arm off and stand next to her, bawling with my bloody stump inches from her nose, and she’d barely lift her head from the couch. She doesn’t do empathy, and yes it can be a bummer, but Millie has other important relationship lessons for us. We call Millie our little supermodel because she’s a unique breed – a Smooth Brussels Griffon – and also because she has a delicate, slightly snobby approach to her daily life. She’s a princess, grossed out by the squished frog on the road and unwilling to get too close to a scary storm drain. But she’s also a paradox, because our fancy little dog is always down to have an adventure. When it comes time to have fun she’ll dive in with all four paws. Millie has taught us that life is happier when we’re being bold together, and because of that Tom and I frequently find ourselves taking the road less traveled.
If we want to pack up the car and do something exiting, Millie is waiting at the door before we’ve even said the words “let’s go.” On the weekends she watches us closely, looking for any sign that we’re about to head out (during the summer she knows that good things happen when I apply sunscreen). When we go for a hike Millie is the first one on the trail, leading the way and attacking hills with the agility of a mountain goat. She divides her time checking out the terrain ahead of us on the path and then doubling back to see if we’re on the way. She’ll dive deep into a hollowed-out tree to look for creatures, leap-frog on rocks in the river and run through the muck like a junkyard dog. And when it comes time to play, look out. Millie can turn anything into a game, so a trip to the yard for a potty break can become a no-holds-barred round of hide and seek or “chase me” in an instant.
Her love of fun and adventure inspires me and Tom to get off the couch and get out there more often, and to be playful when it’s least expected. Millie’s life motto is “let’s go!” Her zeal for new experiences, love of play and the joy she experiences partaking in them with us has been an inspiration for our little family and the source of many good times together.
It might seem strange to think of dogs as marriage role models, but can you imagine how worshipped we’d all feel if our significant others looked at us the same way our dogs do? That devotion, the boundless love for us no matter what we might do wrong … we should all be so lucky to have a partner that views us with dog-like adoration! Our dogs might not have all the answers when it comes to creating a happy union (for example, they don’t have an opinion on the toilet seat up/down argument), but they sure have figured out how to embrace us wholeheartedly, flaws and all. And isn’t that what marriage is all about?