Individual Counseling

The Fleas Come with the Dog

Every relationship has some difficulties. And, every person has their limitations and challenges. In my sessions, I often jokingly, but seriously, point out that “the fleas come with the dog” when someone is annoyed with their significant other over insignificant issues. But, how many fleas are too many? The answer to this question can save you a lot of time and perhaps heartache. I see many individuals and couples trying to fit a square peg into a round hole when it comes to relationship compatibility.

There is no magic formula to answer the above question, but there is a pretty good outline to help you reach a trustworthy conclusion. First off, you should have a good understanding of who you are… basic insight into your values, goals, dreams, and lifestyle and what you need in a partner. And, coupled with that should be the ability to set boundaries when called for. It’s necessary in a relationship that each person can communicate effectively about who they are, what they’re feeling, and what they need. Without assertiveness and boundaries, all self understanding only serves to do just that… serve yourself and not the relationship.

Secondly, it’s paramount to realistically view the person in which you’re in a relationship. Are you looking through a lens of feeling or objectivity? Understanding a person through a combination of what they say and what they do is helpful. A person may say they are one thing, but consistently do another. It’s important to take note of this. Or, the person may give an accurate account of themselves which would normally be a deal breaker for you, but since you have strong feelings for them, choose to believe it could work. This is an example of giving up your boundaries. It’s so common for me to see people fighting for a relationship with only feelings as their shield and foundation. Because a more realistic assessment of compatibility isn’t made, people often think feelings can carry them through. It’s important to break down those feelings… into what do they translate when it comes to building a solid relationship? Careful not to get blinded by emotions alone. So often, I ask a client why they want to be in a particular relationship and the answer is only, “because I love him/her”. If you can’t name some concrete facts that contribute to a healthy relationship and are in alignment with what you need in a person, this is a red flag.

So, after you have gone through the above two steps and feel you know who you are, communicate and care for that, and the person you’re involved with aligns with your values, needs and lifestyle, chances are the part you’re frustrated with, annoyed with and squabbling over are just the fleas on the dog. Don’t’ get rid of a good dog cause of a few fleas!

Sylvia Flanagan, MFT is a San Diego therapist with a private practice in Mission Valley. For more information about San Diego Counseling, feel free to call or email her.  Office hours are Monday through Thursday 9:00 to 6:00. – See more at:

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I offer individual counseling, couples therapy and premarital counseling. The issues I work with are diverse and range from problems arising from sudden circumstantial changes to long standing and complex struggles. My approach to counseling is varied since individual needs and circumstances inform the methods I use. I don’t approach any two people the same and personalize my methods for each situation and client. Click the button below to book a session and we can begin your journey to rediscovery.


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