husband is married to the dog!


A couple, I will call them Jane and Paul, first came to see me after about 3 years of marriage. Jane first called to seek marriage counseling stating that they were on the verge of divorcing. She said that they had been fighting a lot and didn’t seem able to resolve their differences.
Upon meeting them I asked them to describe what it would look like if we were to be successful working together. Paul described that they would be “like they used to be”: they would be fighting less, having more fun and she would stop being so critical and angry. Jane said that she would feel more loved, have more attention and feel special.
She blurted out, “Paul would act more married to me than he does to our dog, Fluffy”!
I led them through a guided meditation where they were able to reconnect to their positive memories of having met and fallen in love. I then had them express some appreciation for one another. They left, holding hands and eager to get started in therapy.
During the second session, each reported that they had experienced “a better week”.
In this session, I taught them to express their frustrations with one another by using a structured dialogue process. I coached them to listen deeply to the other, mirror what they’d heard, validate their partner’s position and empathize with their feelings.
In this way, they were able to stop the escalating pattern of argumentation and really begin to understand each other’s worlds.
Over the course of the next 6 weeks, their communication improved and their affection for one another seemed to increase. They reported less fighting and a renewed commitment to one another. Then, on the 7th session, they came in with a crisis. Jane was enraged and unable to look at Paul. I asked him to listen carefully as she talked about her anger at him and I mirrored her words. It seemed that Fluffy had recently broken her leg and was needing more attention. Paul had gone back to his previous level of attachment and caretaking of her and Jane was feeling neglected again. She noted that he had taken off work to be with the dog (although he had refused to take the day off work to celebrate her birthday), that he was being overly affectionate and loving to the dog (whereby he was frequently unavailable and cold to her) and that he had even moved out of their bedroom to sleep with Fluffy in the guest room!
As I listened to her words and empathized with her feelings, her anger began to soften and the underlying hurt and fear came out. At this point, I asked if it would be okay for Paul to hold her. Safe in his arms, I asked her to tell him about how this situation with the dog reminded her of other times in her life when she had felt neglected and replaced. She sobbed as she recounted for him the story of how her father had left her mother and abandoned her when she was young. He held her and comforted her and she relaxed.
In the weeks to come, Paul and Jane were able to continue expressing their needs in the safety of the dialogue process. Both began to see how their individual behaviors were triggering old pain and defensive reactions in the other. Jane became aware that Paul withdrew and “got cold” when he sensed her anger or displeasure. He was able to trace this back to his childhood and the way he learned to protect himself from his mother’s potent rage. Paul was able to see how his ignoring Jane and lavishing love on Fluffy caused Jane to feel neglected and replaced. Together they engaged in healing one another in safe dialogue and empathy.
After several months, this couple moved to coming in about once per month. They report feeling “in love” again and more conscious about their relationship. They still argue once in a while, but have the tools to bring it back around quickly to a safer dialogue. They have renewed their commitment and no longer consider divorce. Both are loving and taking care of Fluffy and Jane no longer feels that she’s in competition with her. Recently, Jane and Paul told me that they might just be ready to start a family.

Article contributed by
Advanced Member

Mary Kay Cocharo


Mary Kay Cocharo, LMFT, Certified Imago Relationship Counselor and Master Encounter-centered Couples Therapist

11340 W. Olympic Blvd. Suite 210, Los Angeles,  California 90064 310.828.2624

Location: Los Angeles, CA
Credentials: LMFT, Other
Specialties: Communication Problems, Couples/Marital Issues, Dating/Being Single Support
Other Articles/News by Mary Kay Cocharo:

Is Technology Splitting Your Marriage Apart?


Technology: it's wonderful but has certainly complicated the world of human interaction in unforeseen ways. Do you remember the episode of Sex and the City when Berger breaks up with Carrie on a Post-It note? That's dated. Today, the episode would most likely show him leaving the message in a text, on Facebook, or possibly on Twitter or Instagram. ... Read more

New Partner? What To Consider Before You Have Sex


Not to take away from the magic of that first kiss, but let's talk about what's really going on in the beginning of a new relationship. Before deep love has time to take root, we experience strong infatuation — and it's taking place at the neuro-chemical level. Two central chemicals are at play: dopamine and oxytocin. First of all, ... Read more

Marriage: Turn Conflict Into Marital Bliss


Why does communication seem so difficult for some married couples? Why is argument the go-to communication strategy? In this new video, Marriage therapist and counselor Mary Kay Cocharo talks you through the steps you'll need to take to become a better listener and speaker in your relationship. First step? Stop yelling! “When you’re yelling, ... Read more

See More

My Videos
How to find the right pro for you
Dating Coach: Who Is Afraid Of The Dating Coach?

Who Is Afraid Of The Dating Coach?

Women will pounce on the chance to learn better ways to date. Men, not so much. Why is that?

10 Reasons Mental Health Pros Should Join YourTango Experts

10 Reasons Mental Health Pros Should Join YourTango Experts

YourTango Experts can help your business go from good to great.

10 Steps To Improve Your Coaching Business

Take your coaching business from mediocre to great in no time…

Frequently Asked Questions About YourTango Experts

Thinking of joining? Here's all the facts you need to know to make the most of your membership.

Getting Your Guy To Join You In A Therapy Or Coaching Session

So how can your get your strong, self-reliant, superman to talk to an Expert with you?

See more resources
Most Popular