For men, on the other hand, a woman’s closeness to his pet doesn’t affect his relationship satisfaction at all, said study researcher Kristen Capuozzo, a doctoral candidate at the University of Houston.
“Either they’re unaware or they don’t care. It doesn’t matter to them,” Capuozzo told LiveScience.
Capuozzo, herself a dog owner, decided to do the study after a couple of conversations with friends about the role their pets played in their relationships.
“I started thinking, ‘I wonder if that actually does affect people’s relationships?’” Capuozzo said.
So she and her colleagues recruited 120 cohabitating heterosexual couples to answer online questionnaires about how close they felt to their pets and how happy they were with their lives and relationships. Each partner filled out a separate survey.
Women reported being happier with their relationship when their partner reported similar levels of closeness to their pet.
The study also found that when men perceived themselves as having a unique bond with their own pet, they were happier in their relationship regardless of how the woman felt about the animal.
But when the woman perceived that the man was closer to a pet than she was, she felt worse about the relationship.
“She kind of gets jealous,” said Capuozzo
Those results deal with perception, Capuozzo warned, so the researchers hope to take a closer look at what might be causing the dynamic. But the take-away is clear, she said.
“If you’re going to get into a relationship with a girl who has a dog, you’d best be prepared to like that dog just as much as she does or fake it. Because she cares,” Capuozzo concluded.
Capuozzo reported her results in January in San Diego at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.