Are you a zombie or a puppy in your relationship?

Two relationship categories that can work harmoniously, but it’s essential they understand each other. Author Gary Waldon investigates how to overcome those clashes.  

Relationships are complex, but people can generally be categorised into two types: predominantly zombies or puppies. The battle between these two forces is real, and every relationship will have elements of both.

Some of us live our lives being emotionally distant or shut down (zombies), while others actively look for love and recognition from our loved ones (puppies). Issues can arise when zombies and puppies enter into a relationship and discover that the connection they are looking for is not being offered by their significant other. Zombies and puppies not only have their own requirements they even speak their own languages.

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How can it be a fair fight between zombies and puppies, you may ask? Well, let me tell you, those damn-cute puppies can certainly hold their own. Their weapon of choice includes their need for attention and, using every psychological weapon in their arsenal, their devastatingly effective ability to get their way. Most zombies would find it hard to resist the cuteness and persistence of puppies.


If you’ve watched World War Z, The Walking Dead or any other zombie movie, you know that an apocalypse of the living dead is something to be feared. So, too, is a relationship apocalypse. The relationship zombie is known by many names, including emotionally stunted, emotionally distant or immature, emotionally unavailable, heartless, uncaring, cold, or, as I’m often referred to, Tinman. To get a reaction from a zombie can be an exhausting fight.

Legend has it that zombies become infected after they have been bitten or scratched by another zombie in the past. I don’t know exactly what emotional injury in my past caused my zombification.

I do know that I often feel like I am dead inside and wandering aimlessly through life. Relationships and interactions between others more emotionally attuned than myself fascinate me because they seem alien and out of reach.

A zombie’s defence to being hurt or feeling like they don’t belong involves blocking their feelings and emotions. They still want people to like them, but are unwilling to give anything in return, and as you can imagine, this one-way love is pretty unfulfilling for friends and loved ones. The emotional hurt they feel will release their inner zombie at some point and they may give up on the relationship.

Some of the zombie symptoms may include:

  • Withdrawing from social situations by hiding or becoming silent.
  • Having emotional walls, lacking intimacy or commitment, and being unable to share feelings with others.
  • Feelings of guilt, anger and confusion about situations and relationships.
  • Low trust of others and their intentions.
  • Feeling overwhelmed or feeling like you’re drowning.


In the other corner of life’s big battle are puppies. Puppies love hugs and public displays of emotion/affection. They will look for their family to play with them, shower them with love and be there for them at all times.

My wife is more puppy than zombie. Don’t think that makes her a pushover, in fact, it is quite the opposite. Much to the confusion of my inner zombie, she is a very emotional and expressive person who wants to share her feelings and needs to understand how I’m feeling. She is strong-willed and will fight my inner zombie at every point.

Traits indicating a person’s inner puppy is at play include:

  • The need to be at the centre of their loved one’s universe.
  • The need for constant reassurance as they often feel unappreciated or are scared of being deserted.
  • Questioning every sign something could be wrong and overreacting to criticism.
  • The tendency to be a control freak. While the zombie is controlling of their inner world, puppies try to control the people around them to avoid being hurt.
  • Externalising thinking and sharing every thought (i.e. word vomit).

Zombies vs. puppies

Here is a typical interaction my wife and I will have on the drive home from work which highlights the differences between zombies and puppies.

Me: How was your day?

Wifey: It was really good. I worked on this and then this happened……. I really like this job, it’s so interesting. The people I work with are great. I wish they would let me do this …

(20 minutes later)

Me: Sounds like a good day, glad you are having fun.

Wifey: Yeah, how was your day?

Me: Fine!

Wifey: Fine? What?? Is that it? You are such a tinman! Why aren’t you sharing? What aren’t you telling me?

Me: Nothing, the day was ok. Nothing special. That’s it.

Stony silence for the rest of the drive home.

Sound like a familiar conversation? I am sure this conversation – or something very similar – has been repeated in numerous households. However, if we are serious about taking on the relationship apocalypse, we need to identify the zombies and puppies.

There is a good chance we have been infected by one or the other (or sometimes a combination of both). By recognising our traits, we’re able to monitor them and their impacts on our partner and properly arm ourselves to win the relationship apocalypse.

Gary Waldon is the author of Sort Your Sh!t Out ($29.95). He is a business transformation specialist who works with people at all levels from CEOs, business leaders and professional athletes through to teachers and retirees to help them take back control of the things that matter to them.