Ever hear this (or think it yourself)? "I want to marry a man who will love me unconditionally." Really? I believe unconditional love is a myth based on fairy tales and Hollywood movies. Sorry to burst your bubble. "But Sandy, when I find my true soul mate, we will love each other unconditionally." I don't think so. "How about the love between a mother and a child?" There are conditions there, too. “Aw, come on Ms. Grinch, surely the love between a dog and his owner is unconditional.” Sorry, that’s conditional, too. Allow me to explain…
Let's define love
I do believe in love — deep, connected, bodice-ripping, we-were-meant-to-be-together love. But I also believe in mature, romantic love, the devotion between two independent people responsible for their own emotions, able to effectively communicate feelings and needs. Both of whom have full interesting lives independent of each other. When they bond together in a relationship, they enhance each other’s lives. And they understand that relationships require tender loving care.
In any relationship, there are conditions. If one partner doesn't hold up his or her end, the partnership will eventually fall apart. For example, Joan and Sam were married for ten years. They began their marriage with deep attraction, care and respect for one another. After their two children were born, Sam began to work longer hours and Joan stayed home with the kids. When Sam came home from work, he wanted attention and sex from his wife. She was exhausted and depleted after a long day tending to everyone's needs but her own.
When Sam's needs were not met at home, he sought attention outside the marriage. He eventually had an affair with Cathy. After a five-year marriage, with two kids under the age of four, Joan and Sam divorced. This couple began their relationship with passion and love, but they didn't properly take care of themselves or the relationship.
Relationships are like a garden. Just as you need to regularly pull weeds and put down fertilizer in order for plants to thrive, you need to give attention to your partner, your child, and even your dog, in order for those relationships to continue to flourish and grow. It's unrealistic to expect to love someone (or for them to love you) without restraint and forever without a little effort on your own part.
The five-to-one ratio
Dr. John Gottman is a relationship expert famous for his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. One of his guiding principles for a successful relationship is the five-to-one ratio. He says that for every negative interaction in a relationship, you need five positive interactions. Relationships thrive when you keep increasing positivity. They will eventually fall apart if you don't. If you're sitting around, waiting for the positive to happen, it probably won't.
So don't take any of your relationships for granted. Whether you're a parent, a friend, a pet owner or a romantic partner, increase your positive interactions, pay attention to your needs as well as theirs, and you'll meet the conditions for a great relationship.
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