I was recently working with a couple who were in a very intense place in their relationship; they were spending time with me to gain clarity on the continuance of their partnership. The woman was upset because her partner had been her that she was overweight and he was concerned — she had gained 40 pounds in less than a year. At one point in our session she screamed, "You are supposed to unconditionally love and accept me!" The man stared at her and said, "I am trying to support you being healthy for you and for me. That is what unconditional love is." She replied that "unconditional love has no conditions." At that point, I shared with them my thoughts — now I want to share them with you.
Unconditional love is misunderstood. Yes, we should be accepting and respectful of our mates. We should honor their choices and support their dreams and visions. However, a truly loving relationship contains compassionate truth-telling. Unconditional love refers to the honoring of our self and our partner. If I see my partner doing something that is not healthy for themselves or our relationship, and I do not speak up about it, the integrity of our relationship wavers. When that kind of withholding occurs, the breakdown of the relationship begins. Resentment starts to build a home in our thinking, and our trust erodes.
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Here are some questions I gave the couple I counseled. Ask them of your relationship and begin to recover unconditional love yourself:
1. Is my partner truly being destructive, or am I exploring a need I have to control? A need to control is about having things done your way, and does not take into consideration the needs of the partner.
2. Am I communicating in a way that includes how much I love this person? Begin with the desire for longevity in the relationship, the deep love you feel, and then share your observations — not your judgments.
3. What unhealthy or bad habits do you have? Are you willing to listen to your partner and change? Our partners often mirror our own character defects. In a healthy relationship, we do our own inner exploration, listen to our partners and make healthy choices.
4. What will you choose if your partner refuses to make healthy or positive choices? This is a big one. If you choose to stay, then you must unconditionally accept the choice of your partner. You do not get to nag or complain.
5. Are you willing to get help? Sometimes a couple needs a therapist or counselor to support. If you are not willing, you are making a choice — a choice that might be detrimental to your relationship.
We are all here to love and be loved, and one of the best manifestations of that emotion is unconditional love. Unconditional love is being awake in the context of the relationship, and daring to be vulnerable, honest and authentic. What can you do to cultivate that in your relationship?
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