It turns out that dogs are great teachers about relationships. My dog recently taught me that I cannot get him (or anyone else) to do something simply by being right. Being right will not get you what you want in a relationship, and may even drive a deeper wedge between you and what you want.
Our family recently adopted Jack from the Humane Society in St. Paul. Jack is a sweet, somewhat shy, dog who started his journey in Alabama. I think about Jack spending time in a shelter in Alabama and then riding in a kennel for the long drive to Minnesota–multiple kennels, surrounded by unknown dogs, poked and examined by well-meaning vets and volunteers and then coming to a new house with new people. So Jack was living a high stress life for at least the two weeks before he came into our lives.
One night during his first week with us, I took him outside to pee before bed. Jack had been outside several times that day, but he hadn’t peed. I needed him to pee so we could sleep through the night. Jack was skittish, and easily distracted. Just as I thought he was going to go, a dog in a neighboring house started barking and Jack moved out of position. He pulled on the leash and wanted to go back inside.
I knew the right thing for Jack. He would feel much more comfortable all night if he just peed. I bet 10 out of 10 people on the street would agree with me. After 12+ hours, peeing is a good idea. I was tired, and I was worried about him. I became impatient. My voice took on an edge as I got more and more frustrated that he would not do what I was asking. I was right, after all. But it didn’t matter to Jack. My frustration, impatience and insistence only made him more stressed. And less likely to pee.
What Jack needed was a way to reduce his stress. Staking out the factually correct position and insisting did not help Jack reduce his stress. This is true for anyone in a relationship. Couples going through a divorce sometimes get hung up on being “right,” but that’s not going to lead to an agreement if the other person is stressed out. Sometimes you have to back off and let the other person relax and reach their own conclusion. We work very hard to minimize stress for everyone in the collaborative divorce process. It helps people reach durable agreements.
Jack never peed that night. The next morning, we were both refreshed, the sun was shining and I sat back and let Jack take his time. He peed, and we were both happy.
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