People are complicated ... so is love.
Have you heard this joke? "Here's a quick test to see who has unconditional love for you. Lock your partner and your dog in the trunk of your car. Go back in one hour and open the trunk. See which one is happy to see you."
How about the reverse? Well, I guess your dog can't really lock you in the car, but let's say your dog growls at you and your partner growls some nasty words at you? Are you unlikely to take your dog's growling personally but get really annoyed with your partner?
Loving our pet unconditionally is easy because they love and treat us in a joyful and unconditional way. Why wouldn't we love them without condition?
The real question, is it even realistic to try loving our partners unconditionally or expect the same back from them?
Human-to-human love relationships are messy, confusing and often filled with hurt, love, and growth. Through all that mess, how can we just always love without asking for change, without annoying or frustrating each other, or without wanting something different at times?
In his brilliant book, The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck says, " ... the extent of our communication with our pets is extremely limited in comparison with the extent to which we may communicate with other humans if we work at it."
This deeper, yet more difficult, conversation style leads to challenges in relationships. We never get to that place with our dog. Our dog thinks and "speaks" what we think or project onto them, but our partners speak their own mind and we get to (or at times have to) listen.
Maybe the continued talk of "unconditional love" and "soulmates" isn't particularly helpful when it comes to being in a REAL love relationship.
Maybe knowing that we don't always feel unconditional love for our partner is normal and expected as relationships change. Maybe putting the pressure of soulmate status and all the lore that goes with it is too much for most couples.
Is it possible that instead of giving love unconditionally, we, instead, love our partners with acceptance, patience, and with the ability to periodically ask for change?
In Joanna Schroeder's viral blog, she quotes her therapist's discussion of unconditional love. "No way," said our fantastic marriage therapist. "Who told you that? He's not your child. You're not guaranteed each other's unconditional love."
Schroeder realized, and so should most of us, that expecting unflinching, unconditional love through the tough times only makes them tougher.
There are days that we don't love our spouse but most of those days we will still love our dog.
Unconditional love is precarious for relationships because on those days when you aren't feeling all that loving (or loved) you may mistakenly believe that you are with the wrong person. Yet, mature love suggests that if we hang in there, and communicate our desires and feelings, those brief moments are just that—moments.
Perhaps unconditional love is better saved for our fabulous non-human pet family members. And for our human-to-human relationships, let's bring mature, complicated, and deeper love to the table.
Dogs can certainly be more loveable than people, yet far less satisfying than the joy that comes from growing and learning from a life partner.
When we drop the storybook concept of unconditional love and, instead, brave our way to genuine love, we find that we don't need our pets to take the place of people.