I’ve been thinking about the phrase “unconditional love” lately. It is hard for me to imagine anything being unconditional. It seems that the very fabric of US culture is based on conditional logic – if A then B, etc. Indeed, perhaps even our language itself is based on this conditional logic. So, if there cannot be love without any conditions, what is the minimum set of conditions needed? I can think of one. One condition.
The condition is NOT about the beloved person’s thoughts or actions, it is the attitude that YOU, the lover, must take – the willingness to open your heart to love even when you are angry or disappointed, to love the being of the other person, not any thing they said or did.
So what does one-conditional love look like? The best example is love of a mother for her infant. The infant does not DO anything to deserve the love – the infant simply IS, and the mother loves the BEING of the infant, not the actions. True, the mother may enjoy the infant’s smile and gurgling, but that is not the same as love. The infants late night crying and messy bowel movements may also annoy the mother – but these do not diminish the love.
Applied to a teenager – can the parent become annoyed by the back talking and drug use of the teen, but not remove love? Can a parent maintain love even when the teen’s actions reflect poorly (by the parent’s belief) on the parent?
Can a spouse maintain love – even when there is a growing feeling of boredom in the relationship? If the spouse looses interest in the relationship and focuses on other things or people – including an affair – is it still possible to love even then?
Yes – it is possible to remain loving even in extreme circumstances – remember the one condition is what is in your heart, not what the other person does.
How can one maintain or enhance one-conditional love? What will it take to create the one condition for the love to be present? Here are three things that may help:
1) Meditate on how the other person is suffering – Imagine as deeply as you can what the other person needs and how the need is not being met. All of us suffer from physical or psychological pains. Each person has their own pain – what is the suffering for the person you would like to love more? The more detached you are from love, the more you may need to meditate on this.
2) Imagine or meditate on the perfection of the other person. Imagine the full positive potential this person has. Imagine what the person may be able to grow into given the right circumstances. Imagine their capacity for infinite loving and good works. Even a person who can no longer accomplish physical work – can send positive energy into the world.
3) Depersonalize the conflict. When you feel upset or disappointed with the other, recognize that the other’s intention is to get a need met, NOT to upset you. An infant’s cry is not intended to cause irritation, but to alert others to a need. This is the best way the infant knows how to signal his or her needs.
Following these three suggestions may help you return to, or achieve for the first time, one-conditional love for another. If the task is too large to begin for another person, perhaps you could begin with one-conditional love for yourself!
Michael Winters is a Psychologist in Houston focusing on marriage counseling and therapy. Michael received his PhD from the University of Memphis and has been practicing since 1991.