We have always heard about the Inuit have at least fifty different words for “snow.” They live with it and know all of the subtle or not so subtle variations. We really do need to have at least as many words for love. It is hard to understand what someone means specifically when there is just one word for love.
Think of it: there is love for one’s favorite food, car or color, love for one’s family members or pets, religious or spiritual love, romantic love, sexual love, idealized love, and needy love. The list could be endless.
So what is meant by the term “unconditional love?” There is no one meaning. It can mean I love you no matter what, you should love me no matter what I do, I love you just as you are, I love you without expectations of anything in return, the bonds of our love are unbreakable.
Unconditional love when it comes to our children is so important. They need to know what we love them even if they are not perfect, and we will not withhold our love if they are not exactly how we wish them to be. We do not make them responsible for our emotional wellbeing.
When it comes to romantic love I prefer to talk in terms of mature healthy love and immature, unhealthy love. In mature love there absolutely are conditions but they are healthy adult conditions. For mature love to survive and thrive conditions for essential human needs must be met: trust, companionship, communication, appreciation, respect, and appreciation. Love cannot remain grounded if these are compromised by lies, neglect, rudeness, secrets, criticism or stubbornness.
If we do not have appropriate boundaries then conditions are set for abuse, codependency, and loss of the ability to express or be one’s authentic self. We need to have enough self-respect to set limits and our partner needs to respect us enough to honor those.
When the basic conditions for healthy love are there, then the couple can love each other unconditionally within those boundaries. Notice those conditions do not include being responsible for the other’s happiness, meeting all his/her emotional needs, always doing things our way or allowing either of us to control the other.
Mature, healthy unconditional love understands that love is more than a feeling, it is ongoing action. We are loving towards our partner: not loving to get our needs met, but loving that comes from a generosity of heart. Our partner’s happiness and wellbeing are just as important as our own. We work as a team to resolve issues, not as competitors in battle. Notwithstanding major threats to the basic conditions of the relationship, we choose not to judge our partner, not even within our own mind. We let little things go and focus on all that is good in our partner. We do not carry anger and resentment or hold grudges once we have processed the issue and have agreed to move on.
We probably all enter into relationships with all kinds of conscious and unconscious expectations. It is common to think if our partner really loved us, he/she would meet all of those expectations. This is unhealthy conditional love.
For healthy relationships, we need first to be emotionally healthy ourselves. We need to establish a strong loving relationship with ourselves, to validate and emotionally comfort ourselves when needed. Our partner should be one with whom we share a healthy journey: two emotionally mature individuals enjoying life and growth together.
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For articles, and information about her books, “Deep Powerful Change” Hypnosis CDs and “Creating Effective Relationships” Series, go to www.gwen.ca