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Science Advice Goddess: Couching Tiger

Amy Alkon on

I'm a woman in my late 20s in a happy, committed relationship. I had the idea of going to a therapist with my boyfriend so we can learn to communicate better, etc. Friends I've told about this see it as a sign of "trouble in paradise." Is it possible I'm in denial and there's something wrong between my boyfriend and me?

--Unsettled

Be glad your friends are not in charge of airplane maintenance. It's annoying when a nonstop flight makes an unscheduled stop -- especially when it involves going down in flames in a cornfield.

We're given training in how to read, write, and drive, and if you go on YouTube, somebody will teach you how to do magic tricks with your blender. Only in our romantic relationships are we expected to be untrained geniuses. Unfortunately, this expectation pairs poorly with therapist Albert Ellis' realism on what it means to be a person (in language he suggested to a client): "I'm a human, fallible being who screwed up and may screw up in the future because (of) my fallibility."

So, though there's a tendency to see therapy (for individuals or couples) as something you do only when you're broken, it shouldn't be that way. It can be a tuneup to help a good relationship be even better. For example, when I do relationship mediations for couples, I help them see each other's sometimes conflicting wants -- he wants this/she wants that -- not as threats but as mere facts to manage (with love and respect). You can find your partner's request unreasonable or even crazy, but if it's not a big deal for you to come through, maybe you do it simply because you love them and want them to feel good. (If it is a big deal, you can at least tell them lovingly why you wish you could but you can't.)

A relationships researcher I respect, psychologist John Gottman, gives weekend workshops for couples that can be attended online (gottman.com). Couples on a budget could just get Gottman's book, "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work," out of the library and read and discuss a section a week. Gottman's workshop or book would also be a great wedding present. We find wedding vows romantic, but we tend not to consider that "till death do us part!" would have been a great T-shirt slogan for enemy soldiers trying to off each other in the Hundred Years' War.

Cujo's Diner

I live in California, where there's outdoor dining. My husband and I disagree about bringing our dog to restaurants. Our pooch has to sit under the table, and I think it's really dirty and unkind to put him there. My husband thinks we should bring him. What do you think?

--Concerned

 

Dogs long to please us, which is why they always give us such wonderful little presents: "Wow, Toto, headless dead bird? Oh, good, because a diamond tennis bracelet would be super boring."

By human cleanliness standards, dogs are seriously disgusting. The "Merry Corpsemas!" gifts on the duvet and the love some breeds have for rolling around in the mud (immediately after you spend $75 at the groomer) aren't the half of it. Dogs live to sniff poo; they'll snub their water bowl to drink out of the toilet; and they have the lovely habit of using your Persian rug for toilet paper -- especially when you've got company over for a chi-chi cocktail party.

In other words, any minor foot dirt under a restaurant table is unlikely to be a problem for your dog. All that's likely to be "really dirty" are the looks you might get from patrons with allergies or dog-in-dinery issues. From your dog's perspective, it'll be simply awesome to be at your feet.

Anthrozoologist John W.S. Bradshaw explains that dogs co-evolved with humans, starting between 15,000 to 25,000 years ago, per archeological estimates. Over all those doggie-human generations ever since, dogs have been bred to find human contact extremely rewarding. Bradshaw and his colleagues discovered that some dogs -- Labs and border collies, for example -- suffer intense "separation distress" when they're apart from their human. "They find it difficult to cope without us," writes Bradshaw. "Since we humans have programmed this vulnerability, it's our responsibility to ensure that our dogs do not suffer as a result."

As I see it, we're cruel to exclude dogs from so many areas of our lives. Take airline travel. Airlines require dogs over 20 pounds -- no matter how well-behaved -- to be put in a cage and stowed with the luggage in the hold of the plane. The airlines could easily adopt a more compassionate policy: Instead, give the cage space to that baby who's sure to scream all the way from Dallas to St. Louis, trashing the mental health of everybody from 1A to 32E.

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Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email AdviceAmy@aol.com (www.advicegoddess.com). Follow her on Twitter @amyalkon. Order her latest "science-help" book, "Unf*ckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence."

 

 

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