“Love… What is love? Love is to love someone for who they are, who they were, and who they will be.” ~Chris Moore
Have you ever been in a relationship where you felt it was the other person's job to make you happy, to meet all of your needs, to understand you and know what you want without asking?
Or have you been on the other side of this scenario? You were the partner expected to fulfill the other person and manage their happiness.
Either situation is perpetually frustrating. One partner never feels happy and content in the relationship because they are looking to the other person to perform the impossible.
And the other partner feels unappreciated and overwhelmed by the inexhaustible emotional demands and needs of the other.
Sometimes this situation plays out where both partners expect the other to fulfill them and "make" them happy. They are in a perpetual stand-off of neediness and frustration leading to disengagement in the relationship.
Lasting relationships simply cannot be built upon a partnership in which one or both people are seeking a host organism to provide emotional and psychological nourishment.
Lasting relationships require unconditional love.
The term "unconditional love" might imply that one does attempt to meet all of the needs of the other, to read their minds, to accept and overlook all of the partner's behaviors and actions no matter how selfish or demanding.
But this is not unconditional love. This is co-dependent love. It's not grounded in a healthy foundation of self-respect and respect for the unique individual sharing the relationship with you.
What is unconditional love?
Unconditional love in a relationship begins with oneself. To set the foundation for a lasting, healthy relationship, you must first have a strong sense of self-esteem and self-confidence. This doesn't mean you never have emotional difficulties or don't need support and extra attention at times.
But you do need to feel generally good about yourself, to like yourself, and to recognize the positive qualities you bring to a relationship. It also means you can stand on your own two feet as an individual without requiring a romantic partner to define you or complete you. You can be together with someone and still remain fully yourself -- as a person you like and respect.
If you need to improve your self-esteem or don't feel confident in yourself as a capable, valuable person, then your relationship will suffer. Your insecurities will have an impact on your partner and on your mutual happiness. The best thing you can do for your relationship is to learn to love yourself. Offering unconditional love to yourself means you are able to view yourself as lovable and worthy -- in spite of any perceived flaws or past mistakes. You can read more about self-love in this post.
Within the relationship itself, unconditional love is the ability to love the other person as they are in their essence. If you have fallen in love with this person and want to build a lasting relationship with them, then you must view them as a unique individual -- not as an extension of yourself.
When you find someone who loves you as you are, and you are able to love them as they are, it is an amazing experience. They may be different from you in many ways. They may view the world differently and have habits that you don't share, but you can embrace these differences because they are part of this unique person you love.
But is love enough to build a lasting relationship? And does unconditional love mean that no matter what your partner does, your feelings don't change?
The answer is "no" to both.
Unconditional love within the context of a good relationship is a dance in which both partners participate. You begin with the essentials of self-love and mutual love and respect. You see and embrace the core of the other, their innate personality and worldview. You acknowledge the influences of their upbringing, life experiences, and ingrained behaviors.
But . . . unconditional love within the context of a lasting relationship requires lots of wiggle room. As part of self-love, you know your own personal boundaries and the limits of what you find to be acceptable and healthy behaviors and reactions from your beloved.
According to Dr. Jeremy Nicholson, personality psychologist and relationship consultant, it is your job in the relationship to "use your influence in a caring and disciplined manner to create a balanced exchange with your partner. Such skills are not exercised to 'control' or 'manipulate' for selfish gain, but rather to maintain a mutually-beneficial and satisfying partnership."
When both partners are aware of their personal boundaries and are committed to communicating them in loving and non-threatening ways, then the relationship can continue to recalibrate and grow ever stronger over the years.
With the ability to communicate openly, negotiate willingly, and compromise and make adjustments, you can build a strong relationship in which unconditional love develops and grows more satisfying over time.
For both partners, unconditional love means putting the health of the relationship above all else. This is a conscious decision made by both people, and it requires . . .
- regular and open communication;
- active and engaged listening skills;
- a willingness to calmly express concerns or hurts;
- a willingness to make behavior adjustments that don't compromise your boundaries;
- a willingness to communicate boundaries;
- the ability to accept and even embrace personality differences that don't compromise the health of the relationship;
- a willingness to continue to work on your own self-awareness and self-esteem;
- complete trust that your partner "has your back" and you have theirs;
- the ability to forgive and forget, especially when forgiveness is requested for flaws and failures and there's a real effort to make change;
- the firm commitment never to withhold love (or sex or money, etc.) to get what you want or need;
- the desire to express your love with small daily actions and words;
- the decision to let go of the "small stuff" that might bug you so you can focus on the best aspects of your partner;
- the willingness to show extra love and have patience with your partner when they go through periods of difficulty, sadness, or disconnection, knowing it's a short-lived condition;
- loving the other for the joy of loving, without thought for what you will get in return.
Unconditional love is more intricate and complicated than simply loving your partner "no matter what." Unconditional love requires stepping back and seeing the bigger picture of your partnership and how to maintain the health of the relationship so that love can continue to thrive and grow.
The first step toward loving your partner unconditionally is learning to love yourself unconditionally. It requires understanding and communicating your own boundaries and limits, yet being flexible enough to adapt and compromise when possible.
How are you expressing unconditional love in your relationship? Where do you need to focus more attention in order to nourish the relationship and the love you share with your partner -- and yourself? Please share your thoughts in the comments.