You know what unconditional love is but you don't know how to do it. How come? Maybe it's because you've had your heart broken before and are afraid to open up again. Or maybe it's not something you grew up witnessing, and therefore don't have a solid foundation helping lead your way. Whatever the case may be, it doesn't mean you can't learn how to love unconditionally. Sometimes it just takes a little work. Luckily we have three YourTango experts on hand to guide you through the process of loving without limits. Read on to see what Debi Berndt, Dr. Judith Swack and Janna Becherer have to say about unconditional love and how you can achieve it in your life.
Becherer starts off by using the proverbial puppy as an example. "You know when your adorable puppy uses your favorite boots for a chew toy, you just have to forgive him? Or he piddles on the carpet right when guests show up? After you scold and clean up the mess, he still melts your heart with those big eyes and doggy energy. You know you're going to love him regardless. That's limitless unconditional love: you extend it, no questions asked." She continues to note that this type of love is also possible in your romantic relationship. "Extending unconditional love in your relationship works the same way. You don't scare yourself with a boatload of "what if's." Yes, your partner can and will make mistakes, frustrate you and test your patience. Can you pretend he's an adorable puppy? Can you give your whole heart, wholeheartedly?"
If you can't pretend your partner is an innocent puppy, are you able to discern why that is? Bernd offers an explanation, citing the human need to live with a "persona." Oftentimes, we utilize the created "persona" to protect ourselves from pain. "Early in life we built what Carl Jung calls a "persona" around our vulnerable places to keep us safe in a big, scary world. We forget the true love inside and believe we are only this surface self. We date with this persona and find other matches from partners who wear the right mask." She adds: "These barriers to love are often referred to as something that is a wound that needs to be healed or cleared, but the normal defenses of the ego are indications of a healthy mind. We need our persona to relate to the world. Without it, we would have no identity or unique expression. However, this persona is just the surface and there is much more to us available for real love."
In addition to building barriers, sometimes people show love in the way they themselves want to be loved. This doesn't always work, because everyone gives and accepts love in their own way. Dr. Swack shares the story of Sally and Frank, a couple who came into her practice, both complaining of feeling unloved. "When I asked Sally what Frank could do to make her feel loved, she said, 'He needs to tell me I'm beautiful.'" Further exploration revealed that she needed to hear this once a day. Although we tested other adjectives like gorgeous, fantastic, pretty, cute, adorable, fabulous, wonderful, terrific… no other adjective gave her the feeling of being loved. Frank agreed to do this one simple thing. In contrast, Frank needed someone to pet his head (anywhere on his head) about once a week to feel loved. Sally agreed to do this and within a week they were both feeling loved."
Dr. Swack goes on to explain what we all already know, but often need reminders of: "Each of us assumes that everyone else's reality is the same as ours, so we interact with others from our own personal frame of reference. But in order to really understand and connect with your partner, you need to ask for their definition of important concepts and values in addition to love such as, security, success, happiness, family, home, etc. It may surprise you how easily you can accommodate someone and make him/her happy once you know exactly what he/she wants."
Once you commit to showing love for your partner, the love will grow naturally. Becherer cites marriage vows as an example. "Couples who marry in a traditional ceremony repeat vows promising to see each through "for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health." It's the first step towards unconditional love for the long haul, whether facing a partner's bad choices, financial struggles or a life-threatening illness. So why would you say yes — or "I do" — to that? Why not bail when the going gets tough? Why not threaten divorce when your mate keeps doing stuff that makes you nuts?"
Becherer goes on to explain why we don't threaten divorce every time there is an argument. "Because love grows you. Limitless love grows you more, all the way into your best self. Risk your heart, take and pass the hard tests, stay vulnerable, let it be messy and inconvenient, accept your partner flaws and all. This takes strength, courage, wisdom and passion. You're committed to the "us" against all odds. Don't you like — really like — the person who does this? Look in the mirror. That's you, loving unconditionally."
Berndt agrees with the sentiment and adds that limitless love is attainable when you realize you're not giving it. "Limitless love is attainable when you realize you are much more than a persona, tapping into the collective unconscious, and you are the source of all love. Instead of trying to pull or get love from another, you realize that you have your own reservoir to draw from and the partner is just a way to express this love through you.
We are all like fountains that are drawing water from itself and constantly flowing from the same huge well shared beneath the surface. Most people see themselves as holding a bucket thirsting for water, mistakenly believing that the love needs to come from a partner. When the partner leaves they think love has left them. The path to limitless love starts with going inside yourself beneath the mask you have been hiding behind and love everything you find. There is great treasure there for you to discover and you will find a mate who matches your limitless imagination."
And so what should you do today to help your relationship? Dr. Swack has an idea. "For a satisfying and lasting relationship, ask your partner what you need to do, say, or show him/her to make him/her feel loved and happy. You might be surprised at the answer and at how easy it is to accommodate him/her. You'll definitely find it rewarding." And so will your partner!
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