“I feel like I’m being stupid but I’m jealous of my girlfriends pets – she has more time for her dogs than me. They even sleep in her room when I stay over and it freaks me out. I know how important they are to her and I’m not sure I can adjust. How can I get her to understand how I feel about it and change the situation?” Carl, 27, Hove.

This is a very common situation, and you are being generous to others in asking it here, I wonder why you would feel like you are being stupid? I’m guessing it’s because it’s “only pets”, but what if we were to replace the dogs in your question with family members? Children? A hobby? A career? The point is that any and all of those things could be the catalyst, the real issue we need to address is: “I want more attention from my partner”, which you have revealed by saying “she has more time for her pets than me”.

Consider this – what is she getting from her relationship with her dogs, and what is she getting from her relationship with you? Depending on the dogs it could easily be affection/love, attention, approval, relaxation, an opportunity to nurture and take responsibility, certainty, protection, warmth, dependability, trust, simplicity, and all at an unconditional level. No wonder it’s hard for her to tear herself away!

So, what is she getting from her relationship with you? How many of these attributes? And more importantly, how are you demonstrating them?

You may know for a fact that you can provide all of these attributes in a relationship, but if your partner doesn’t experience them, how could she know that they are there? Now you might say “but I buy her x, or I tell her X or I show her physically”, but if the way you are showing her is not the way she likes to receive those things, she may not recognise what you are giving. Where some people want to hear the words “I love you”, others may distrust words and simply want to be held to feel loved. This is why having an honest conversation about what makes each person feel loved/trusted/warm/heard/felt/noticed etc. is vital for any relationship. It’s a fundamental that is so often overlooked.

Let’s also bear in mind that having a relationship with an animal is much safer emotionally than having a human partnership. She may love you desperately but if there’s any fear in her that you might not feel the same, or that she doesn’t deserve you, or that you are an emotional risk for her in any way, then it’s going to be a challenge for her to move the dogs out of the bedroom, and move you in! There is of course also the risk that she feels that she would be rejecting the dogs and that they in turn might reject her (highly unlikely but still something to consider)

Ultimatums are clumsy, often brutal, and generally highly ineffective, so rather than telling her that it’s you or the dogs, I recommend you spend some time talking to each other instead. You might find that the dogs are not the real issue after all. Here are some tips to get the conversation flowing:

Communicate: Be honest, don’t make this about the dogs, make it about your relationship so she can take it seriously and listen more deeply to you.

Investigate: Take time to find out how you can meet her needs so well that she actively wants to spend more time connecting with you, and feels safe and excited to do so. Be honest about your needs and what it feels like to be paid attention to, how great it makes you feel and how she can do it in a way that lights you up.

Negotiate: Explain to her that you understand the historical role of the dog in her life as a totally dependable source of love, and that your aim is not to remove them from her life, rather to move them out of the bedroom (or whatever compromise you are willing to make) to allow your relationship a little more room to breathe and grow.

Strategise: Support her by working together to make the transition as easy as possible, for example buying new dog beds and toys to make the move appealing and fun, and giving treats to reward good behaviour.

Once again, thank you for asking your question here where everyone can benefit, and I wish you huge success and happiness (and a nice new bed!)