Melissa and Ken have been dating for over two years, and their biggest issue is over Melissa's two dogs. "The problem with Ken is that he's jealous of my puppies, and he accuses me of over-humanizing [them]," says Melissa, who enjoys talking to her dogs and dressing them up in costumes. "When Ken comes over to my house, he instantly starts to close up and ignore my dogs and ignore me as well. I wish that he would love dogs the way I do." Melissa first realized this was an issue with Ken after she spent the night at Ken's and left early in the morning to go care for her dogs. "He called me on the phone and said it was outrageous, and that he couldn't believe that these dogs were taking away his quality time with me. My biggest fear is that Ken will become jealous of our kids if we were ever to have children," she says.
"I'm really sick of it," says Ken. "I myself am a dog owner. I love my dog more than anything, but he knows his place. What's really annoying about Melissa's dogs is she treats them as though they're human. They pee everywhere. I've stepped in their poop on many occasions. And another thing about her dogs, which is really crazy, is she loves to dress them up! Melissa and I have talked about plans for the future and I think that is wonderful, but my greatest fear is that when she brings these dogs, our house is going to be total chaos and that's not what I want."
Melissa wants to end the fighting over their one issue. "Dr. Phil, how do I deal with my boyfriend's jealousy over my dogs?"
Melissa says she's not going overboard with her dogs. "I love animals. And they just make me so happy, and they're so innocent, and I just do everything I can to make them happy," she explains.
"How do you feel about Ken?" Dr. Phil asks.
"Oh, I love Ken! I love Ken," she repeats.
Ken explains his side. "It's a bit ridiculous, I'll be honest with you. I feel as though the dogs cut into the time that we have together. When that started happening, I think that is when it became a real nuisance," he says. "And when I try to bring it up to her, she gets defensive, she'll mock me. She'll say things such as, 'I can't believe you're jealous of a little dog. What's your problem?' I think I've been a real good sport about it lately. I just have to deal with it."
Dr. Phil asks Melissa, "Are you hiding in this relationship with the dogs? Because the way you described them, you said, â€˜They're so innocent. They just totally love me. I love them.' And they don't require much from you. You don't have to have a conversation, although I'm sure you do."
"She talks to them like they're little kids," adds Ken.
Dr. Phil understands because he's a dog lover, too. "But there's got to be a balance, right? If something is disrupting one phase of your life, then that means that's out of balance. If you're investing so much into a relationship with your pets that it's interfering with your human relationships, then you've got to ask yourself objectively and honestly if he's just being insensitive. Or is there not a hierarchy and a pecking order here? Because dogs are pets, they're companions, but they're not your significant other in life." Dr. Phil also points out that Melissa shouldn't jump to the conclusion that Ken will be jealous of their future children. "That's a pretty big leap," he tells her.
"I would love for her to nurture our children like she does the dogs," says Ken. "But to do it with the dogs at this point in time is a little strange."
"Do you think you would be less involved with the dogs if you have a child?" Dr. Phil asks Melissa.
"Oh, totally. I can't wait to have a child," she says.
"Well, there you go, problem solved," jokes Dr. Phil.
"I understand the difference between a human and an animal," says Melissa.
"But Ken's not sure you do," says Dr. Phil.
Ken interjects, "Like you said initially, maybe there's something missing. Because I'm not the most sensitive guy, so maybe that's why she substitutes with the dogs."
Melissa explains, "He'll be mean about it. â€˜Get the dogs away from me!' He'll just be mean, and it makes me hurt, because I love the dogs."
"That's not smart," Dr. Phil tells Ken. "To take something that she loves and is invested in and show resentment toward that, that's not a good strategy. But what you guys have to do is set the dogs aside as an issue and talk about where you really are." For example, the couple should address Ken's lack of sensitivity and his inattention to her needs. "If you would meet some of those needs, then she might not meet them through the dogs so much. What you need to be asking is what's missing that she's turning to the dogs instead of you? It's not about the dogs."