Friday, June 6, 2014

How Conditional is Your Love?

Today's society is so focused on rewards based on performance.  We offer incentives for work based performance, offering bonuses and pay grades based on ability, productivity, sales, and an employee's "worth."  We give and get grades in school based on the quality and accuracy of the assignment.  Parents may give money to their children based on the chores or tasks that they complete.  

So how do we rank our relationships?


Do we have unconditional love for our relationships with our spouse and kids or do we place that love in a hierarchy of how much we love them or the contingencies we place on that love.  It's easy to think we give unconditional love to our spouse, children, or others in our lives....but look close and examine the reality.  I think of the divorce rate in America and how it has risen over the last few decades.  Obviously, there are plenty of valid reasons people get divorced, but I also think that many people don't want to put for the effort and invest in their relationships.  They may find that they have conditions to their love or maybe their spouse has conditions to the relationship or love.  

Of course, we desire healthy dual-involved relationships. Psychologist Robert Sternberg used the the term Consummate Love and Carl Rogers used the term, unconditional positive regard. Sternberg's term includes the combination of passion, intimacy, and commitment while Roger's emphasized that we love our clients or each other in spite of their actions and behaviors.  We love the person regardless of his or her actions. 

Now to the crux of my point.  Do you love your spouse if they are successful and put lots of money in the bank? Or can you also give the same amount of love if they loose a job, go in debt, and can't provide for the family despite struggles and trying?  Do you love your kids if they keep everything neat and clean, fuss and fight, or can you find that same love when chaos, disorder, and riots break out?  

What about in terms of sickness and health? 

Do you love your spouse through a week long flu? How about a 3 month recovery from an accident? What about a lifelong struggle with chronic and debilitating illness and injury?  Do you love them and provide physically and give emtional support during the week? During the 3 months? 10 years? 25 years? Do you have to draw a line somewhere believing that you've put forth more effort than you bargained for?

Ten years ago, I purposely took out the wedding vows that said, "in sickness and health, for ricer and poorer...." etc. I didn't want to speak those downsides over our marriage because for me it was a given that we'd love each other regardless. Sick = love. Well = love. Rich = love. Poor = love.  Anyway, whatever circumstance, I was committed to love. I didn't want to weigh that down with vows. Now you may think that's a bit eccentric but that's the way I looked at it and so far we've had our good times and bad. We've battled plenty of sickness and disability from both sides and we've had moments our bank account was plentiful and like most, we've had moments we were in the red or very close, pinching pennies and counting dollars.

It is so easy for families struggling with disabilities to give up. To just quit or walk away thinking that they are giving more than they are getting. It is so easy for someone to think they've had enough of their partner's PTSD, of their anger, of their issues.  It is possible to feel overwhelmed with physical symptoms of mobility issues, of brain injuries, and even deformities.  Do I love you only while you are able to love me as much back and I can see that daily? Do I love you regardless of your inability to do the dishes, take the trash out? Do I love you in spite of the fact that you haven't been able to work in years? Can you keep loving someone who has trouble communicating but can squeeze your hand occasionally?  

Do we love our kids when they hug us and squeeze us and say, "I love you."  Or can we also find the wherewithal to love them when they are defiant, scream that they hate us, and run slamming the door behind them.  Do we love the spouse that seems to take and not give? Do we keep loving unconditionally when one needs constant supervision and care?

I'm not saying we don't have our moments where we want to scream and throw up the white flag.  

Its quite human to feel frustrated and defeated. But can you forgive? Can you rise above these moments and continue to love unconditionally?  Can you love those that persecute you? Can you love those that seem to hate you and not reciprocate positive emotion?  Can you love your neighbor, your children, your spouse in spite of their actions and through their unattractive behaviors?  

It is most assuredly not as easy as it seems and it takes grace, patience, and lots of love.  I encourage you to keep loving. To strive to love unconditionally.

If you can push your conditions aside and UN-quantify your love, my guess is that you'll be happier giving of yourself, your time, your energy, and your love. 

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