The benefits of pets on individual wellbeing is well established. But can pets also have benefits for romantic relationships? Using mixed methods, three studies explored the link between pet ownership and romantic relationship quality. First, using a grounded theory approach, we qualitatively investigated participants’ personal beliefs of how their pets influence their romantic relationships by coding open-ended responses. Results suggested that pets are seen as having predominantly positive (86.5%) effects, followed by few neutral (8%) and negative (4.5%) effects (study 1). We next compared a community sample of pet owners’ reports of relationship quality with those of non-pet owners. Results suggested that pet ownership was associated with several relationship benefits (greater overall relationship quality, partner responsiveness, adjustment, and relational investment) compared with couples without pets (study 2). Finally, we examined one possible reason for why pets may benefit relationships: A pet might provide the opportunity to practice empathic abilities, which is a crucial ability in the maintenance of positive relationships. Results showed that the number of years an individual owned a pet was positively correlated with empathic concern, which in turn was linked to several relationship benefits (commitment, couple identity, and relationship maintenance behaviors; study 3). In sum, three studies provided initial evidence that there is indeed a positive association between two important relationships in peoples’ lives: their partners and their pets.

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Keywords empathy, pets, relationship quality, romantic relationships
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Journal Anthrozoos
Cloutier, A. (Anika), & Peetz, J. (2016). Relationships’ Best Friend: Links between Pet Ownership, Empathy, and Romantic Relationship Outcomes. Anthrozoos, 29(3), 395–408. doi:10.1080/08927936.2016.1181361