Unconditional love is the idea that our affection for each other is not based on a certain set of behaviors or characteristics. It’s the idea that you love your wife because of who she is not just if she stays a size six or cooks dinner every night. This is the kind of love that engaged couples and newlyweds believe in. Unconditional love is the kind of love you have for a person not in spite of their faults, but because of their faults. Your love is all that makes them who they are and wouldn’t have made it any other way. It is blissful and wonderful until real life begins to intrude.
Rather than talking about how they want to treat each other and the ground rules set for dealing with conflict, couples usually start out too drunk with love and desire to pay much attention to the logistics of sharing a life. . Unfortunately, over time we all sober up again and suddenly realize that we don’t necessarily like everything that has happened. Suddenly, what was cute or eccentric is irritating. Your husband’s ambition, which was once sexy and powerful, seems arrogant and selfish. Or your wife’s attention to detail can suddenly seem finicky and controlling. This is the time when couples start to wonder what went wrong. How could someone who loves us unconditionally find fault with who we are? The problem must be with love ?? law?
Establish ground rules
The obvious to say here is that love has changed, that our spouse no longer loves us unconditionally, but this is usually not the case. The truth is, most of the couples I meet at this point are still just as in love with each other. The problem is not that their love has changed, but that the rules of the relationship have never been established or need updating. You see, while love can be unconditional, healthy relationships need rules.
I know, it seems counterintuitive for that starry, pulsating, life-changing love that once dictated your behavior. The point is, however, that relationships need boundaries in order to endure the stresses and challenges of life. I often compare the need for relationship boundaries or rules with parenting. In general, parents love their children unconditionally, but in order to raise children there must be rules. This is how we teach them to get along with others and understand their place in the world. Rules or boundaries allow a child (or a spouse) to clearly understand how to have positive interactions with the people they love and how to effectively express their needs. The happiest and most secure children are those who live with parents who are comfortable and clear about expressing their love and expectations. Intimate relationships, like marriage, need the same guidance to create a secure and lasting bond.
Boundaries are simply rules of engagement, a set of guides on how we interact and what we need from others. Boundaries allow each person to maintain their individuality and grow with each other rather than competing for control or autonomy. Boundaries also protect the engagement of a marriage and promote healthy and lasting emotional bonds. These are healthy boundaries with the outside world that help some couples stay faithful while others may struggle with issues of infidelity or mistrust. Boundaries also protect the individuals in the relationship from abuse and exploitation. While you can love your spouse unconditionally, that doesn’t mean you should live with them in a dangerous or emotionally damaging situation. Boundaries allow us to love freely and deeply while establishing a clear understanding of what is acceptable.
Your path to unconditional love
So how do we keep our love deep and unconditional while setting clear and healthy rules for our relationships? Open communication and honest personal reflection are essential. Whether it’s negotiating how you’re going to handle your finances or understanding how and when you need comfort and encouragement, relationship rule-making requires both partners to be open and honest with themselves and with each other. These moments of honesty and clarity will not always take the form of civil conversations or carefully negotiated lists. Sometimes these moments are unexpected and the things you learn are not always what you want to hear. If you can take the risk of being honest and vulnerable in these times, you may find the key to moving your marriage forward in a positive way.
A favorite wedding moment for me where my husband and I made rules about keeping our life at home came when, in the middle of an argument, I accused him of not being so much of a man. “modern” as he claimed. In a moment of frustration I told him he wanted an old-fashioned woman who would stay home and cook and clean for him, not an equal partner as he always proclaimed. I said he was chauvinistic and really expected him to be offended and defend his previous commitment to having a modern marriage where we shared everything 50/50. Instead, I had a moment of honest communication. To my surprise, I was right and had just put into words what he had been battling for the past few months. He suddenly realized that he had to be honest with himself and me about what he really wanted in our marriage.
Turns out what he really wanted was for me to play a more âtraditionalâ role at home; not exactly a role that fits the modern, highly independent feminist woman he married. That doesn’t mean I quit my job and stayed home ironing shirts all day to satisfy her desire. I also didn’t pack my bags and set out to find someone who wanted a woman who would rather pursue higher education and a career than to mop and change diapers. Instead, we finally had an honest platform from which to negotiate our own rules for how we would handle our household and family responsibilities. Interestingly enough, we both learned more about who we really are in the process. It turns out that I am more traditional than I thought and really enjoyed staying home with our kids, while going to school and pursuing part-time projects. He found that in fact, he looked a lot more like the guy he pretended to be when it came to changing diapers and taking care of babies. Fortunately, we learned these lessons together and were able to support each other in our goals and needs. No matter where you are in your relationship, unconditional love can last a lifetime. All you have to do is make it part of the rules.
Eshter Boykin is co-owner / founder of Group therapy associates and is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Virginia. Eshter graduated from Virginia Tech (Go Hokies!) And earned a lot of my residency hours working with wonderful therapists at the Gainesville Professional Counseling Center. After years of working in a group practice, Esther began working as a group therapy associate with Llouana Harper. Esther is particularly interested in the problems of couples, adolescents and women. In addition to clinical work, Esther is also a part-time writer and full-time mother and wife.