Talking things out and getting guidance from a neutral third party is a healthy way to build a better relationship with yourself and others—and is undoubtedly true for romantic relationships. Professionals have dubbed this helpful voice of reason as the “third” in a relationship. Typically, a therapist would fill this role. But experts are asking if the third always needs to be human.
Dr. Suzanna Phillips, a couple’s therapist, says a “third” in a relationship could have fur, drool, and currently be sleeping at your feet. She brings light to something pet parents (and FetchaDate) already knew—pets are capable of bridging the gaps between humans through pet therapy.
How pets “bridge the gap” in relationships
“[Pets] open the space between and within partners in therapeutic ways that invite mutual focus and room to move closer in emotional space,” Dr. Phillips writes in Psychology Today. What does this mean in non-therapist speak?
1. Creating opportunities for communication
Walking your dog, for example, provides a safe space for communication. Many couples find that, even in moments of relationship stress, walking their dog opens a dialogue around the shared love for their pet, and, eventually, the opportunity to share feelings about the relationship. It’s a different kind of pet therapy.
I’m not one to echo Howard Stern’s sentiments. But when we had the opportunity to meet, I was surprised to find we had a few things to talk about. We quickly realized a shared love for animals and a common thread of not being allowed to adopt a dog when we were kids.
Just when you think you have nothing in common with someone or you feel like you’re at an impassable barrier with them, the love of animals seems to break down those barriers and allows you to hear them with fresh ears.
2. Reconnection and tenderness
Seeing a potential partner interact with an animal provides a glimpse of a tender, more vulnerable place. In a long-term relationship, it can be easy to lose sight of this tender place of connection. In a different and unexpected space, says Dr. Phillips, pets afford a glimpse of the other that had been loved and lost along the way.
3. Pets spark curiosity
Curiosity may have killed the cat, but curiosity is what keeps a relationship alive. A view of your partner playing with your pup from the dog park is a new vantage point—one that might evoke new and heightened feelings. Pets help shake up date night, whether they were invited or not, and keep owners on the search for the newest, dog-friendly date spots.
4. Pets can uncover and begin to heal suppressed trauma
“Sharing a pet can be a catalyst for tough conversations about the ways in which you’re each damaged, allowing you to discover each other in new and different ways,” she writes in Vogue magazine.
And when you’re not quite ready to talk about past trauma with your significant other, your pet will always be there to listen. On par with therapists, it’s easy to see why 85% of owners say their dog has helped them get through a difficult time in their life.
Will a pet save my relationship?
Pets can help you find and cultivate a healthy relationship, but they are not the saving grace for a struggling relationship. While you may find that pets bridge the gap in some areas, you and your partner will also need to navigate expenses, division of care, and unified communication. If your relationship is there, then you might be ready to join the 38.4 million dog owners and 25.4 million cat owners!