Reader Question: I'm struggling with having unconditional love, especially for my mate and my family. I grew up with a very critical mother and work on myself daily not to become her, but sometimes fall back into being critical of things I don’t like or having expectations of others. I so badly want to break this habit!
Unconditional love is one of the most misunderstood aspects of human existence and lots of well-intentioned folks including teachers get it “wrong.” Let’s take a look at a few common misconceptions:
- Unconditional love means you like everything another person does even if it means subordinating your own personal preferences.
- Unconditional love means you take everything lying down even if you have to end up battered and bloodied. That’s especially false if you are in a dangerous relationship or situation.
- Unconditional love means you have to keep someone close or active in your life no matter what.
No, nope, and not even.
Instead, the quest for unconditional love is a priceless opportunity for you to learn how to practice compassion, acceptance, understanding, gratitude, appreciation, and forgiveness. And that includes all of the above towards yourself.
The questioner went on to add a bit more detail. She said, “One thing I know about myself is that my expectations can be very hard for other people to meet and I can sometimes be too judgmental. I have a partner who treats me like a queen and really have nothing to complain about, but find myself nitpicking about little insignificant things anyway. So I think much of my problem is me, learning to let go of the unimportant things and appreciate how amazing he actually is. I need to discover ways to break through this and learn to be more loving and encouraging instead of demanding.”
How Our Habits Can Sabotage Love
Bingo. Since she is already identifying the core issue, let’s dig a little deeper into her own underlying habits.
For starters, everything that irritates you about another person is directing you to your own best growth opportunities. Think of it as a laser focused on where you, not your partner, need work.
Also, think of it as conditional love with lots of nonsensical conditions. Tell the truth – Do you want to be loved conditionally? Do you really want your partner pointing out every little annoying habit you have? I though not. A little Golden Rule goes a long way.
As with most things, the problem isn’t so much what the other person says or does, it’s how we react. If we choose our battles, genuinely letting the little irritations slip on by or perhaps asking them what they are trying to show us, then we’ve turned our annoyed reaction into a positive response. On the other hand, if we run with the irritation, we drag both ourselves and our partner into the muck.
Our irritations are also often pointing out our own insecurities. The questioner says her partner treats her like a queen, yet she continues to nitpick. Some food for thought - why does she feel unworthy of being treated like a queen? Usually, if we are receiving what we say we want, yet are finding fault with it, the issue is an internal one of self-worthiness. If that isn't the case, then it is time to examine what we really want as opposed to what we think we want or think we are supposed to want or what looks good on paper.
She also mentions expectations. Expectations can be a painful trap. They violate the free will of others and limit you. When your expectations are rarely met, you are in a lopsided relationship. That may be because the other person makes no effort to care for you (not this woman’s situation). It can also be because your expectations are out of line with the purpose that person is serving in your life or because you are putting up barriers to receiving the love you say you want, another indication of a deep-rooted sense of unworthiness. Ask yourself this:
If I habitually find fault with everything, how will I ever be pleased and fulfilled by anything?
Your soul craves co-creation. Ultimately, you want to be co-creating on the same wavelength with your Beloved and these challenges are showing you the way.
Regardless, when something gets on our minds like this, it's usually because our human self is finally ready to see the nugget of wisdom our soul has been delivering. Notice that she says she has been working on this daily, but still has no peace about it. That probably means she is ready for the big ah-ha she has been moving towards.
It’s really hard for most of us to quit a habit cold. If it were easy, there would no need for therapists, healers, AA, Weight Watchers or ....you fill in the blank.
How to Break a Habit
What often works better, certainly for me personally, is to set up a two-step system.
The purpose of the first part is to make us even more aware of the habit we want less of, not to beat ourselves up, but so we can actively and regularly make better choices.
One way that is easy and fun comes from A Complaint Free World. The idea is simple: you wear a little purple bracelet and when you find yourself complaining, criticizing, fault-finding, whining, or any other behavior on that end of the spectrum, you switch the bracelet from one wrist to the other. That’s it. It’s all about awareness, and often that is enough to cause changes in behavior. It can be especially illuminating when done together with a group such as a family, an office, or a church. When done in a group, one more guideline applies. If you want to point out to someone else that they are complaining, you must first move your own bracelet. After all, no matter how good your intentions might be, YOU are complaining about THEM! And that’s lesson #1 – conditions AKA complaining are sneaky little beasts.
The second part of the two-step process is a replace-and-erase technique. Once you become more aware of those times when you are going negative, you can replace those behaviors with something more nurturing to both of you. As you become more aware of all your instances of conditional love, you can consciously choose whether or not it’s of value to you to feel the irritation or expectation, and whether or not it is helpful to your relationship to point it out. You can then begin replacing those irritations and expectations with unconditional love in the form of compassion, forgiveness, acceptance, and all their “friend” emotions.
Another way to help shift your thinking is this: When one of those little annoyances rears its ugly little head, remind yourself that the only reason you are faced with this aggravating behavior is because this otherwise remarkable person is in your life. Play this little game with yourself. “I am so grateful for the mess on the kitchen counter because it means I get to have my Beloved in my life.” You’ll be amazed at how much that one little phrase can change your perspective.
If you just can’t bring yourself to be grateful for the messy kitchen, substitute something else. “I can deal with the messy kitchen because my Beloved does _________ for me without being asked.” Focus on the good qualities and crowd out the things that get on your nerves.
What If You Can't Redirect?
And then there’s another possibility – that these little annoyances are a misguided way for you to sidestep dealing with your deeper concerns. It’s much easier to complain about the proverbial splinter in your Beloved’s eye than deal with the log in your own. It’s also much easier to grouse about the toilet seat being left up than to have a deeper dialogue about feeling disrespected which might really be about your own feelings of unworthiness. (When you do ______, I feel disrespected which feeds my sense of unworthiness which I really don’t want to face.)
Sometimes it’s just a matter of rephrasing your request. Instead of “You always leave the seat up” (accusatory), try “I really feel like a cherished woman when you put the toilet seat down.” That is more loving and respectful to both of you.
In each scenario, the best course is to ask yourself why this little thing matters so much and let that answer help guide your response.
Is It OK to Love Unconditionally from Afar?
You can also love someone unconditionally and not keep them in your life. It’s OK to love some people from afar. Once you have received what this relationship is showing you, it may be time to release it. It’s OK to grieve and it’s OK to move on.
The quest for unconditional love is possibility the strongest teaching tool in human life. It is still love even when the other person does something you don’t like. Circumstances, behaviors, or conditions may point out things you don’t care for, but that changes you, not the love.
Unconditional love is freely given with no strings attached. It cannot be earned. (Setting conditions to earn unconditional love demotes it to conditional love. See how this works?) It recognizes that everything that shows up in your life is ultimately for the good of your soul’s awakening. It is neutral, not dependent upon behaviors or circumstances. Unconditional love simply IS.
Unconditional Love is Determined by the One Choosing to Love
Remember - Love is not determined by the one being loved but rather by the one choosing to love. To reiterate, that means the core issue is not your Beloved’s behavior, but your attitude towards and reaction to his/her behavior.
- Unconditional love does not mean you like everything another person does. It does mean you love them for doing the best they can from where they are and what they know right now. It does mean you forgive them for being human, for living their own free will, for making choices you don’t particularly like, for not growing as fast as you think they should, for not living up to your expectations...and forgive yourself for having expectations in the first place.
- Unconditional love does not mean you take everything lying down. It does not mean you have to end up battered and bloodied. It does mean you learn to have compassion and forgiveness for others in their own struggles and issues. And sometimes it does means you walk away. Sometimes they have their own karma to work out and you do not have to participate. Recognizing that is practicing unconditional love for yourself.
- Unconditional love does not mean you have to keep someone close or active in your life no matter what. It does mean you can teach yourself compassion AND teach yourself to set better self care boundaries. As Jodi says, “Love is unconditional, but relationship is not. Not every one you love is someone you can have a long term relationship with.”
Souls who choose unconditional love as a life purpose often put themselves into human situations that challenge their ability to love. It’s like a vigorous workout for your love muscles. It is through changing your perspective on these challenges that you will get into the giving and receiving flow of Unconditional Love.
Anne Wade is Teacher, Writer, Mentor, and Coach for courageous women in midlife and beyond who want to disrupt their own status quo and design life on their own terms, even in turbulent times. She has developed the Becoming Found process of going within to find and address the inner barriers we have all inadvertently built up against love, happiness, health, wealth and any other desires of our hearts. Teaching women to unapologetically shine like a superstar and live their legacy is Anne’s mission. You can follow her on her Facebook page “Anne Wade – Becoming found” or join her “Becoming Found” Facebook group.