When I read advice columns like Dear Abby or Ask Amy, I can’t help noticing that people often seek a therapist to change their spouse or partner. A wife complains about her husband: Go to the marriage counselor, so that your husband might change.
One can modify his behavior to a degree, but he will never change to become a different person. Molding someone into something he was not cut out to be is not only unrealistic but also unfair and unhealthy.
I had a eureka moment many years ago when I was sitting at an outdoor café with my 120-pound shepherd Forte. He was smart as a scholar, fast as a bullet, and very protective of me. I was a bit green as a dog guardian back then in 1992, and thought I could train him to become a happy-go-lucky dog, like a Golden Retriever.
Forte was very well-trained, so I could sit at a café with him without any incident, but I had to be constantly aware of our surroundings. I envied those people who didn’t have to pay any attention to their dogs who sat calmly next to their masters while they were reading newspapers or engaging in conversations.
I had to keep Forte at my side on command. If he looked at someone, I had to catch what he was thinking about the person first. If he determined someone could potentially be a threat to me, he would take action, so I had to whisper, “Leave it.” Then he’d know that I detected the same “danger” as he did and wouldn't have to make a move. If I ever missed a cue, he’d turn into a grizzly bear, and because of his size, it would make a scene, ergo I had to be so keenly aware of everything and everybody in our vicinity. Thanks to him, I honed my skills to subconsciously notice the slightest movements or shift of energy in my peripheral vision, so much so that an FBI agent I dated said I missed my calling.
One day, as I was sipping coffee with my giant Forte, it dawned on me, “What am I doing? He’s not a Golden Retriever. He will never become one. Neither of us is enjoying this.” I then realized how proud I was of him for who he was. No more coffee shops. We started spending our weekends in the mountains in Idyllwild where he could be his beautiful self running through the woods, and I could fully utilize his protection.
He was trained to cause no harm to society. What more did I want from him? I felt safe, no matter where we went. There was no need to train that out of him and make him a dog he was not born to be.
Forte taught me that to love someone is to accept the person and love him for who he is. If you ever feel that you wish your spouse or partner would change in any way, then you’re with the wrong person. A therapist is not your answer. Once you get the urge or necessity to change somebody whom you are in a relationship with, that’s the time to free that person. There will be someone else who will cherish his traits and there will be another person whose traits you will enjoy.
Everybody should be accepted as who he is, whether it’s your partner, child or dog.
Marie Atake is Founder & President of Forte Animal Rescue and a former Commissioner on the Board of L.A. Animal Services. Click on “subscribe” to receive notice when her new articles are published.