Unconditional Love: The Biggest Trap in Relationships
Nearly every person I have worked with has the same relationship issue: Trying to change their partner. Is unconditional love dead?
For example, years ago when I was dating around, once the honeymoon phase was over, I tried to change every woman I ever dated.
“Hmmm, If she only ___________.”
She’s so awesome, but her _______________.”
Then I met my wife, who I still tried to change. Since she wouldn’t change I broke up with her, twice.
Then, with the help of a seasoned relationship therapist and a super honest, but harsh letter from my wife (we were broken up at the time), my game was reflected back to me very clearly.
"Unconditional love really exists in each of us. It is part of our deep inner being. It is not so much an active emotion as a state of being. It's not 'I love you' for this or that reason, not 'I love you if you love me.' It's love for no reason, love without an object." - Ram Dass
I saw how I wasn’t willing to practice real, deep love. It was too scary, too much, too confronting. Rather than face my fear, I was making her wrong claiming, “if only she would ________, then I’d be willing to drop in to deeper love and deeper commitment.”
This is a very common pattern for men.
Women often respond to this with more insecurity, and might even try to abandon themselves and change for their guy (which leads to long term resentment). Fortunately for me, my wife held her ground and just kept being herself.
Or, another way this shows up, is an empowered woman who is willing to grow and transform herself finds herself in a relationship with a guy resistant to change and growth. She then tries to drag him into therapy or a personal growth workshop, only to amplify his resistance. He then ends up feeling judged and insecure and digs his heels in even more. If he finally does acquiesce to her demands and changes “for her” he will most likely resent her for a long time. The change is unlikely to stick.
In all three cases including mine, the message is the same.
The basic message given is “I don’t accept you as you are.” And, “I would love you more if…”.
The basic message received is “I’m not accepted and loved for who I am.” “In order for him/her to love me, I have to change for them and be who they want me to be.”
“Unconditional love is hard to compete with.” ― Abbi Glines
While it can be helpful to inspire our lovers to be their greatest selves, it is different when your wanting to change them is coming from fear, resentment, or your own unwillingness to accept them as they are, or your unwillingness to leave them and find someone who IS willing to grow and change.
It’s okay to want our partners to be different. Seems to be human nature, but to take that seriously and invest energy into changing them to make you feel a certain way is a very slippery slope (the “grass is greener” mentality is discussed further here).
If you go down that road, be aware of the basic message you are sending and take a really honest look at why you are unwilling to accept them as they are.
By the way, accepting them as they are, doesn’t mean you have to stay with them. Quite the contrary. Accepting someone as they are, frees you up to choose to pursue someone that is willing to walk alongside you and experience mutual growth
To practice unconditional love, I mean, really practice loving another (and yes, it’s a practice), it means accepting and loving them as they are.
This is not giving up on them, or their potential.
Most of us don’t have the experience of really being loved as we are - true unconditional love. Thus, we don’t love ourselves as we are and then we find partners that tend to have limitations in loving and accepting us. Our job is to love ourselves anyway, no matter what our partner wants or thinks.
If you find yourself on the receiving end of someone trying to change you, perhaps it’s time to accept yourself as you are, and move on.
Lastly, practicing self-love is the quickest way out of this loop. The more we embrace ourselves, the more we learn to accept our partner. And, being in a committed relationship is a wonderful fire to practice this in.