I was convinced unconditional love didn't exist, but now I see things SO differently. Here's why ...
Honestly, if you'd have told me just a few short years ago that I would make a case FOR unconditional love, I'd have laughed in your face.
I genuinely didn't think it existed. Or, if affection without reservations DID exist, it certainly wasn't something I thought I was capable of.
I, like many, felt that loving someone without conditions meant you never wanted anything more than they could give.
I felt that people are so wrapped up in their own desires and personal pursuits that what they could give was so minimal, I would always want more.
I've learned SO much since then.
Charles Darwin was one of the first scientific minds to discover that no matter the species—from humans to ants—behavior is primarily driven by cooperation, caretaking, and nurturing. He discovered that members of the animal kingdom with the highest chances of survival were ones most adaptable to change.
He observed and documented countless examples of animals that overcame big obstacles simply because they instinctively worked together and looked after one another—often putting the needs of the many ahead of the needs of the one, prolonging their existence—as individuals and communities.
This comes as a surprise to people who know Darwin only as the "survival of the fittest" guy, but upon closer inspection of his book, Descent of Man, he only states that idea in one specific instance; yet, he references love, and loving behaviors, almost 100 times.
Basically, from an evolutionary standpoint, love is in our DNA.
You see, love is our very truest nature. It is who we are at the core. We cannot NOT be love.
Knowing this brings the concept of unconditional love into an entirely different perspective.
We are love; therefore, we cannot help but love. Yet, we have this other piece of our psyche (not our DNA) that acts as an inhibitor to that natural state of being—fear.
We are desperate to feel understood. We're afraid that we or our partners will make a mistake. We either do too much or too little based on this very limited piece of our thinking, which has nothing at all to do with our natural state of being.
- The fear that we (or our partners) have to do everything 100% right, in order to qualify as unconditional love, is just a thought.
- The fear that we (or our partners) can't ever ask for what we need, in order to qualify as unconditional love, is just a thought.
- The fear that we (or our partners) can't experience conflict, in order to qualify as unconditional love, is just a thought.
I think you see where I'm going with this. Yes, we are loving beings by nature AND we're fallible, emotional, and perpetually evolving. The notion that once we're in a relationship we can somehow turn off all of that humanness is, quite simply, absurd!
We will always grow, change, and make mistakes. Our one saving grace is that beneath all of those goofy layers, we are still inherently loving kindness. Thank goodness, too.
There's even more good news. We get to use all of our foibles to build on this simple truth about ourselves—that we ARE love. Here's how:
1. It all begins with ... YOU!
This sounds a little counter-intuitive at first, but the first place we fill the love bucket is by treating yourself kindly.
When we can learn graciousness and forgive our own mistakes, we not only learn from them, but we also change the pattern in our thinking from mistakes are bad and shouldn't happen, to we all make mistakes and that's okay.
This internal dialogue is a critical first piece, because whichever mindset comes up as the default way you treat yourself, then it will also come up as the default way you treat others.
2. Accept that other people understand life differently than you.
What's obvious to you isn't necessarily as clear to your partner. Everyone has their own unique life experience that frames the way they see the world and everyone in it. Something as simple as word choice can drastically change someone's perception about an event or an idea.
It's easy to think you're on the same page, only to find out later you weren't even in the same book.
3. Every mistake is an opportunity.
Whether it's your mistake or your partner's, every single time one of you slips up, there is an opportunity to practice love. Love has many faces—grace, forgiveness, cooperation, nurturing. Every moment is a chance to bring love to the forefront.
Someone is rude? That's an opportunity to practice grace. Someone takes their anger out on you? That's your chance to practice cooperation and remind them you're on the same team.
We don't always get it right and it feels extremely hard at times, especially when your feelings are hurt or you're angry; but over time, this slight shift in perception eases that discomfort significantly.
After all, it's pretty hard to feel angry toward someone who just gave you a gift.
4. Love is not a weapon.
Sometimes our fear rises up inside of us and we forget that love is our true nature.
If you catch yourself saying emotionally manipulative things like, "If only you could __, then I would love you," you're simply dangling a carrot in hopes of personal gain. That is not love.
Emotional manipulation is a coping mechanism for someone who sees relationships strictly in terms of what they can receive and is blind to what they have to give.
If this is you, go back to the first guideline and give yourself what you need first. Not only will you be full enough to give to your partner, you'll drop the fear of not getting enough.
5. It's okay to ask and it's okay to say, "No."
Remember, we're always evolving. We can't promise that the person we are 20 years from now will have the same needs as the person we are when we say, "yes" to commitment. As our we change, we have every right to ask for what we need and desire, and our partner has every right to refuse. The trick is loving them anyway.
6. Sometimes, love means leaving.
True, unconditional love doesn't always mean we stick together. Sometimes it means recognizing that while we still love one another, we no longer serve each other's best interest. Breakups are painful, no doubt, but they're also a true opportunity to practice loving without conditions.
I was with a man for years who, near the end of our relationship, said to me in desperation, "It's like we're an iceberg and each time we get roughed up by the waves, we lose a little piece of ourselves. How long before there's nothing left of us?"
This was shocking to hear because I'd felt like we were a human muscle and each time we got a little torn and battered, we created the exact conditions we needed to strengthen and fortify ourselves.
When we treat love like it is in limited supply that depletes with use, fear is sure to make it crumble. When we treat love like it is limitless and expands with use, our exuberance is sure to make it grow.
Once we truly understand and embrace that love is inherent in who we are, we realize it's not something that someone can take away from us.
True, unconditional love is not something that wears down; with a little shift in the way we deal with hardships we can always call on that love to strengthen ourselves and our relationship with others.