How A Pet Helped My Love-Life

In the course of your love-life, you might find yourself alone. Maybe you’re between relationships or you’ve decided to be alone for awhile because of a bad love-life experience. Whatever the reason, when you’re alone it’s a good time to repair your ability to love and be loved.

Believe it or not, a ‘warm-blooded’ pet can help you do just that. Here’s the thing, they love you even when you don’t feel good about you. That’s big. This is exactly what is needed to rebuild a person’s ability to love and be loved when he or she has been hurt by love.

The problem is, apart from an experience of effective psychotherapy with someone who cares about you at a time when you don’t feel good inside yourself, it’s going to be hard to find this kind of relationship out there in the adult world. Most adults, or more specifically lovers, withdraw from, or worse yet, take advantage of a person with low self-esteem.

This kind of experience with another adult, when you’re hurting, would obviously compound and make worse the hurt you are already feeling. Believe it or not, a loyal loving pet has plenty of forgiving love to offer.

As a clinical psychologist I have worked with people over the years who have felt detached and mistrusting of others for a variety of reasons. Many of these people were hurt lovers or disappointed with the inadequate limited love they received from their families of origin. Some of them bought pets (dogs &/or cats) to help ease the feelings of loneliness and detachment.

I noticed how important their animals became to them over time. How caring for and eventually ‘falling in love’ with their pets helped them survive these hard times in their love-lives. The curious part was to realize, not only were they falling in love with their pets, but that their pets were falling in love with them. This wasn’t just a one way experience of buying a pet hoping that the it would serve as a useful distraction at a bad time in their lives.

No, a real love relationship was forming. Now for those of you with a perverse sense of humor, let me nip the ‘bestiality’ comments in the bud right away. I’m talking about the emotional relationship that is possible between two sentient beings, an animal and it’s owner. Love can surely be a limited one way experience, whether we’re talking about humans with humans or animals. What happens when love is ‘mutual’ in the context of a relationship between an animal and a human?

I’ve observed that, love can be ‘healing’ when it shows up in a relationship between two courageous people who’ve been hurt by love in the past. What happens when love shows up between an animal and a human being who has been hurt by love? Let’s list some of the elements of this healing experience when and if it happens between a person and let’s say his or her cat or dog.

I already mentioned one, an animal’s capacity to give love even when his or her ‘human being’ is suffering from bad feelings. The love being offered is pretty simple. No strings attached (except don’t forget to feed and pet me). Human love, on the other hand, often gets complicated by the rules and regulations imposed on love to essentially try to ‘control’ the experience. So for now, this might be a relief.

The other thing that is healing about animal love is it’s very forgiving. Of course, I think an animal has ‘limits’ in terms of how much mistreatment would be forgiven. The point is, they have a greater threshold of tolerance for human error and ignorance especially when in love with you. This tendency to forgive can feel very gratifying for a person struggling to repair his or her ability to love and being loved.

Related to this tendency to forgive is the accompanying ability to commit. A dog or cat (often accused of cold indifference) will give its human being devotion and loyalty. Over time, as comfort levels grow in the relationship and you and your pet learn how to provide each other with ‘affection,’ the relationship can feel very exclusive.

Animal lovers know that a dog or cat will wait patiently for their human counterpart to return home, accepting no substitutes. This kind of pure loyalty is very gratifying at a time when it seems other people have forgotten the importance of commitment.

As an aid to coping with loneliness, pets are always helpful. Loneliness being a time when ‘being by oneself’ does not feel good enough. Having ‘company’ in the form of a devoted loving animal friend can make the difference. Most people who have experienced this kind of ‘love’ will acknowledge that living with a loving pet is not living alone.

How we (humans) perceive our pets is often influenced and determined by what we ‘expect.’ If you expect a dumb animal without feelings or motivations, you’ll often get precisely that. If you expect something more, you will be surprised from time to time at the extent to which your pet is sensitive (meaning their ‘senses’ are geared to to feelings, thoughts, etc.) to what you are experiencing. If you are happy and loving they know it. If you are sad or hurt they know that. If you are angry they surly know that.

The hard part of course is the ‘grief’ you’ll feel when your faithful companion leaves you through age or illness. The simple fact is, you’ll grieve because you’ve loved. There is nothing to be ashamed of. For many people, injured by abandoned love, constructively grieving the loss of a pet is an important step in the process of healing the ability to love and be loved.

If your pet, whom you loved, can help you learn how to accept, tolerate, and express your grief, he or she has given you a very special parting gift. Learning how to grieve a loss is one of the most important skills required to love. If a person is afraid of grief and avoids it at all costs, he or she will find love intolerable.

I was once a middle-aged man with two cats and no wife. Disappointed in love, I lived alone with my two friends. At the time they helped me tolerate myself and my loneliness. They helped me re-learn how to give love and receive the love I was being given.

Many people won’t understand or accept what I’ve said in this post. There is even a scientific term for what they would call what I’ve said: anthropomorphism (the attribution of human characteristics or behavior to an animal). Regardless, when I talk to someone who loves an animal, there is a mutual recognition and understanding of what I’ve said here.

And every once and a while, I’ll get a chance to speak to someone whose love-life is being or has been healed in a relationship with a devoted animal. Once again I’ll marvel at the fact that some of the most important things in this life can be found in the most unexpected places.

Comments? Welcome. Dr. Tom Jordan


Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.

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