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I just experienced a difficult situation and I did not know how to react. My SO and me have a pet hamster that showed some worrying behavior and might have to be put down. She is very attached to him and she started worrying and crying intensely. While I like the hamster, I am not really emotionally attached. What made the situation worse is that she always projects the future negative while I project it positive. So for her he was already dead and for me he just had a small thing that a vet would be able to fix in no time.

While I don't know the future, but when he eventually dies I can see questions coming up like why are you not sad? Did he mean nothing to you? How can I prepare for this event and also show her that I care about her and her wellbeing.

I saw this question which is great and gave me some further reading. But most advice is written for outsiders and not really shared pets. Also the main point is listening to the person. While I did that in the above mentioned situation for most she was just crying and not saying anything, which makes listening hard. I also did not really know what to say, I thought of the obvious also mentioned in an article in the question of what not to do: "Like you could get a new one", but did not say it.

The main problem is that I have the feelings of an outsider but the role of an insider(since the pet is shared) which makes anything I say like "I am so sad about this" fake or "My condolesence" too distant.

What I tried so far is just holding her and not saying much. I just said "That it will be fine" but this definitely won't help when he actually dies. Is there something more I could do than just physical contact, that could help her with her emotions?

  • You might not feel sad for the hamster itself, but do you genuinely feel upset at how upset your partner is getting over it? – user8671 Oct 17 '18 at 10:21
  • Upset is the wrong word, but yes I felt also quite sad that she is so sad – Hakaishin Oct 17 '18 at 10:21
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    Possibly helpful: interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/19041/… – apaul Oct 17 '18 at 14:01
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    Actually VERY helpful. I didn't know about that concept but it is exactly what I was looking for. The best about the first answer is that it gives good advice what to try to do to train it. I might give the suggestions a shot. – Hakaishin Oct 17 '18 at 14:14
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    I think the grief tag covers this one, and most other questions regarding death. It brings more attention to the primary concern that is interacting with your grieving SO rather than death in general. If you still feel the tag is necessary feel free to add it back. – Jesse Oct 18 '18 at 1:11
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I've gone through this "from the other side" as the person who was very, very attached to my dog. My fiance liked my dog, but wasn't nearly as attached. I understand where your girlfriend is coming from because as my dog aged, I could see what was coming, and it made me sad to think my friend would be gone at some point.

Losing a beloved pet painful, gut wrenching, and it doesn't go away quickly. I still get sad when I see reminders. Garbage bags make me sad because I used little ones to pick up after her. I'm sad I don't have to get up at 3am to wake her up and get her outside because she couldn't make it through the night anymore.

What my fiance did was be there for me. Not tell me it was ok or anything like that, just hold me and comfort me. Don't try to fake it, don't pretend you are as sad as she is. On some level she understands that her friend has a special place in her heart that isn't there for you, and if she's like most pet owners, that's ok. You can be sad for her.

You can't say anything that's going to fix it or make better. If you lost your best friend, someone your girlfriend knew but wasn't particularly close to, you wouldn't expect her to mourn in the way you would. What would help you? Probably someone who is understanding that you are going through a trying, emotional time. Little things like bringing a cup of tea or taking a walk together. Think of it that way.

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    Could you maybe expand on the comfort me? Like what would be comforting in such a situation? Because besides the holding here I did not find, especially anything verbally that could be said and would be comforting – Hakaishin Oct 17 '18 at 13:03
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Some general advice about the situation without knowing the specifics of your relationship with your girlfriend. These are just things that have worked for me in the past.

  • Don't avert the subject of the pet being ill. If she wants to talk about it acknowledge and validate her feelings. If she is being scared or sad about the situation then that's just the situation.
  • Try to use techniques for feeling more control together - for example reading about what the pet might be suffering from and learning about it together.
  • Treat bereavement with respect. It is a strong feeling.
  • Savour the nice moments you had together with the pet and focus on things she has done to improve the pet's life and situation.
  • Consider techniques that help with the accompanying stress such as somatic breathing or meditation.
  • Be supportive, her grief or sadness is not something you need to "solve", focus on being there for her, hearing her out and gently suggesting alternatives.
  • Make sure to support other aspects of her life during this period so that they are well maintained. Namely that she sleeps well, eats nutritious food, exercises (if she normally does) etc.

Be watchful but non judgmental of harmful coping behaviours (such as excessive rumination).

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I know you say that the way you may feel about the animal's death may prompt questions about how you feel about your SO, but unless she has already expressed a concern that you don't love her, really the only thing you should need to explain is your feelings for the animal.

It is impossible for anyone to tell you how to express something that you feel, so the first step is for you to find a way to explain it yourself.

I can sort of relate to this. I love animals, I really do. Animal cruelty and intense farming concern me so much that it made me stop eating meat. But when it comes to pets and natural deaths from old age or illness I am not deeply affected emotionally. Personally, I see flora and fauna the same way - flowers and trees bloom in the spring, then they die back, and new ones grow. Likewise, to me, animals generally have a short lifespan compared to humans so I expect to see them die but get joy from seeing newborns and the cycle starting again. And on top of that, I believe we have a duty to care for flora and fauna that is in our care - and that covers taking care of our planet's ecology but also taking good care of any pets we choose to bring into our homes.

Now, that's just the way I think, I don't want to put words in your mouth! But I've put this across to a few people in the past and they have understood my point of view. I notice that you said you like the animal... and I assume that you contribute at least in some way to its wellbeing? Perhaps you take a share in feeding, cleaning etc? If so then you do care for the animal, and this proves it.

If your SO does show concern over your behaviour if and when the pet dies, you could perhaps say something like:

I did care very much for [pet name]. I hope that I showed that by the way I took a share in caring for him. I guess I just accept animal deaths better than some people. When you take on a pet with a short lifespsan it is inevitable that it will die. I try to show that I care about it during its life.

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(a) Don't try to talk her out of her feelings or downplay her feelings. Certainly don't say something like, "What's the big deal? It was just a hamster." I think most reasonably sensitive people realize not to say that, but there are much milder statements that people sometimes make without thinking it through. Like, "You can get another hamster" or "I'm sure you'll get over it".

(b) If she attacks you for not caring enough about the hamster, don't try to defend yourself. Don't argue about it. People feeling strong emotions often get irrational. You are not going to force her to be more logical. Just take any abuse stoically. If you turn it into a fight, she could be mad at you about it for years. If you just let her vent, she'll probably apologize later. Regardless, don't worry about it.

  • Hey, thanks for the answer! Can you please explain exactly why you think that this is a good idea? Why do you say to take this course of action? What’s the thought process behind this answer? As this currently stands, this is essentially a “Try this!” answer. We require that answers provide some sort of explanation for why they are suggesting this solution, and unfortunately, at the moment this answer doesn't appear to do that. – Ælis Oct 22 '18 at 19:21
  • @Noon Hmm, as to the first part, I thought that once stated it was obvious. You can't logic people out of feeling what they are feeling. Emotions simply are. So trying to talk someone out of their feelings is just going to make them angry at you on top of feeling bad about the original event. As to the second part, I thought I did say why: Because you would just turn it into a fight. Sorry if that's not clear. I'm really not sure how else to say it. Do I need to explain why you don't want to get into a fight with your girlfriend? – Jay Oct 23 '18 at 3:35
  • Can you edit that into your answer? The second part is justified enough (I think), it was more the first part who was causing me concern. – Ælis Oct 23 '18 at 4:45

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