Q - My boyfriend of the last 6 months seems obsessed with his two dogs. He let’s them sleep on his bed, and lick his face – which I find disgusting. I certainly don’t want sex with him when his dogs are in the room watching us, and likely to jump up on the bed!
I don’t want to finish with him but I don’t want to have four of us in the relationship either.
I like dogs but not to this extreme, I hate dog hairs on my clothes, them jumping up and snagging my clothes, and I smell of dogs when I’ve been to his house.
The dogs seem jealous of me and try to trip me up on the stairs, and they stare at me as if telling me to back off. I know this all sounds a bit weird and crazy, and I’m starting to feel like that myself!
If I speak firmly to his dogs he gets angry with me, and he speaks to them as if they are little kids, but with no authority – he even refers to himself as ‘daddy’! Why does he put them first and seem to love them more than me?
A - Probably because it feels safer for him to do so. I’d guess that his dogs are more than just pets to him and he has formed a ‘primary’ and powerful emotional attachment to them.
Why? Perhaps because they don’t behave like humans and won’t betray or abandon him.
We feel the good feelings that the hormone Oxytocin brings to us when we are cuddling and bonding – and pets are a good substitute when people aren’t around or can’t be trusted to show us real care and love.
I’m curious about whether he had dogs as a child and if so whether he felt closer to them than to the people around him.
It may be that he’s now come to want and expect to get his need for love, acceptance and attention met from his reliable four-legged friends (assuming they do all have four legs).
Perhaps he’s been badly let down by people and has switched his trust onto dogs instead. This may have been a healthy choice to have made in childhood, but not so in adulthood because it can get in the way of developing mature rewarding adult relationships – as you are finding out.
There is clearly a lack of boundaries around his personal space and this may not be in the dogs best interests either. They are territorial animals and need a pack leader not a fur-less daddy.
I don’t doubt that they may feel ‘jealous’ of you as a potential threat to their bond with him, and only he can change that by wanting to re-define his relationship with the dogs and to make it clear that you are special to him too.
I wonder how they behave if there’s a child around… I sincerely hope that jealousy doesn’t make them nasty or aggressive.
It sounds as if he isn’t understanding or empathising with your perspective - maybe because it would imply some failing on his part as your boyfriend.
If your relationship is to grow then there needs to be mutual consideration and sensitivity to one another, and a willingness to make the time and space necessary for a relationship to thrive (12-15 hours of quality contact time a week apparently).
Quality time for you may or may not include his dogs – you need to be clear about that aspect with him.
Just to get things into balance let’s look at your history too. Might there be something replayed from your past that is overlaying and influencing your perception in the present time?
If you’ve had painful experiences of not being significant, feeling second best and overlooked, not feeling sufficiently noticed, appreciated and emotionally connected to, then maybe this current situation is re-activating some of that old pain.
Likewise your own experiences with dogs in the past may be clouding your perceptions in the present day.
It’s obvious, but the only way to resolve this issue (it may not be an issue for him) is to speak with him about it, and attempt to see things from one another’s perspective. Repeat what each other has said (but paraphrased) to ensure you have understood one another clearly.
Where is the compromise? How long will the dogs live for?
Might he switch his primary attachment onto you - when he has taken however long he needs to really trust you?
Share these thoughts and questions with him…not in blaming or shaming way but as a way of helping you to understand him and the overall situation better.
He can love you AND the dogs – in different ways.
Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy) - MIND HEALER & MENTOR