The Happiness of Non-Human Friendships

I lost a very special friend over the Thanksgiving holiday. He and I had a 16-year relationship and we spent time every day cuddling, and sharing meals and walks. He was someone with whom I could share my deepest fears and secrets. He was there for me whenever I needed him. I learned so much from my friend about courage, generosity and strength. I loved him dearly.

My husband was not the least bit jealous or threatened by this relationship because my dear friend was my cat, Mistoffolese.  For over thirty years, Gary and I have shared our home with cats. All were at one time strays or kittens of a stray, or shelter cats. We’ve also had a few dogs, fish tanks, hamsters, gerbils and two praying mantis named Ramsesses and Moses. However many of these creatures lived with us, cats have always been big part of our life together.

Pets are good for your health and happiness. Researchers tell us that pet owners live a few years longer and visit the doctor less often. People who share their lives with a dog or cat have lower blood pressure and higher levels of serotonin. Dog owners in particular tend to be more active because of the demands of daily walks. (Although, I’ve had a few cats who insisted on having a daily walk, too.)

People who have animals in their life recover faster when they are sick and have longer survival rates after a serious diagnosis such as cancer or heart disease. Even something like a fish tank or a bird can help people feel more relaxed.

For all of these benefits and more, I choose to have stains on my carpets and tiny pricks in my grass weave wallpaper. I don’t even mind the claw marks on my kitchen cabinets. And when I put the tree up next weekend, I know there will be a few of the younger members of our household who will be sure to climb it and chase a few ornaments. I don’t care.  What I have, I share with the ones I love most and that includes my furrier friends.

My animal relationships aren’t limited to the indoors. I have friendships with some of the creatures that share the property I call mine. They were here long before this house was built. Perhaps they are the ones who share with me, so I try to be a good neighbor to them.

I plant extra herbs for the caterpillars and butterfly bushes for after the metamorphous.  I have blueberry bushes, but the squirrels and birds usually beat me to the berries every spring. I know when I plant the tomatoes and other vegetables; the raccoons and deer will probably get most of the fruits of my labors.  I have made peace with this. I can go to the grocery for more. They cannot. The relationship I have formed with the animals matters more to me than a tomato no matter how red and delicious.

I never look at these non-human creatures as my pets. They are my friends and guides to a deeper and truer love. They have taught me how to connect without words and how to sense the world around me. They have shown me how to see the world from a different perspective. (purrspective?) Each relationship has given me more than I gave in return.

This was especially true of my friend Mistoffolese. I have known very few people who knew how to love as completely as this very special cat.  I will miss him and all that he brought to my life.

This holiday season consider opening your home to a shelter animal. So many dogs and cats need a loving home and many shelters offer specials at this time of year on adoption and vet fees.

Building Stronger Relationships

It’s the rule of nature that all living things must grow to live. Relationships are living connections that require daily attention and nurturing. Like all living things, relationships must grow and expand in order to survive.

In the earliest stages of romance, lovers often wish they could freeze a perfect moment so they can stay in the embrace of those wonderful loving feelings. However, trying to hold on to love by freezing it in place is the surest way to kill it.

People change. Your life partner will not be the same person you married in five, ten or thirty years from now. He or she will constantly change to meet the demands of life. The key to a long and healthy relationship is to expect that change and encourage it by growing together.

The higher qualities of the Enneagram offer us a blueprint for exactly how we can nurture our most intimate relationship with the kind of attention that helps love grow:

Ennea-Point One: Goodness – Make a point every day to review the qualities you most admire in your mate. It is easy to fall into the habit of seeing only the faults. From the very beginning of your relationship, establish the habit of deliberately focusing your attention on the goodness in your partner. Find ways every day to let him or her know the many ways you respect and appreciate all he or she brings to you life. This is especially important for the times you are disappointed in your mate’s actions or choices.

Ennea-Point Two: Devotion – Make your relationship your highest priority. Strong relationships are built on devotion. You’ll have many demands on your time and attention throughout your life. Make it a daily habit to demonstrate with your actions that your partner is always number one with you.

Ennea-Point Three: Excellence – We can fall into the habit of taking our loved ones for granted. We start to relax our standards of dress, manners or simple courtesies.  We often reserve excellence for people we want to impress. Remind yourself often that the person you love the most deserves your best every day.

Ennea-Point Four: Depth – Strong relationships are built on intimacy. This is a willingness to share your vulnerabilities and ask for support. It’s also a willingness to listen and give support. It’s impossible to feel connected to someone who refuses to share his or her thoughts and feelings. Make it a habit to spend time with your partner every day talking and listening so the depth of intimacy can grow.

Ennea-Point Five: Clarity – Many people make the mistake of thinking a relationship is about getting all of your desires met on demand. Strong relationships are about building a life together. Develop a shared vision for what that life is going to be. Review your goals often to keep the clarity of purpose in your relationship. Be honest with your partner when your dreams start to shift so the relationship can grow and adapt with you.

Ennea-Point Six: Commitment – Being in a relationship is a commitment to the life you are building. Make a point to do nothing that will jeopardize that commitment. As you move through your life, many opportunities with present themselves. These include opportunities for career changes and new friendships. As you explore each one, remember that your relationship is your first commitment. Sometimes that means letting a few of those opportunities pass by.

Ennea-Point Seven: Joy – One of the greatest joys in your life will be your relationship with your mate. Find ways to express that joy with new experiences and challenges. Surprise your partner with small expressions of your love. Romance is kept alive by partners who never stop courting each other.

Ennea-Point Eight: Strength – In healthy relationships, partners draw strength from each other by sharing the responsibilities of the life they are building. Be willing to extend yourself without keeping a tally sheet of whose turn it is to do something. Be equally willing to ask for help when you need it. Relationships where one person is the “strong one” are out of balance and cannot grow as long as you are assigning roles to fill. Growth is only possible when both partners have the freedom to be strong sometimes and vulnerable at others.

Ennea-Point Nine: Healing – Expect that your partner will hurt you sometimes. No relationship survives, or grows, without hitting rough patches.  Be the first to say, “I’m sorry.”  Be willing to forgive mistakes when asked. Once a conflict is resolved, let it go and never bring it up again. Healing is essential for growth, but it only happens when mistakes are acknowledged, forgiven, and put away. The only thing you should remember about a mistake is the lesson they brought to your relationship.

In the first days of romance, the feelings are so strong it feels like your connection will last forever. Feelings change and as your relationship matures, love will also mature. When love is nurtured, each new expression is more wonderful and fulfilling than the last.

The mistake many people make is refusing to grow love beyond those first few months of connection. They mistake the excitement of a new relationship with love.

Love has many different ways of showing up in your life when you are open to allowing it. What the most successful couples know is that when you protect your connection to your mate by feeding your love with daily attention, everything else takes care of itself. No matter what is going on around you in your life, if the bond you have with your mate is strong and loving, even the worst problems are manageable.

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