I was raised to love everyone even when I did not want to. There were no truly evil people among our family, friends, and acquaintances, so my parents were firm on hugging, looking at, talking with, and loving everyone. There were people I knew intuitively to stay away from as they were not kind or frightened me in ways I didn’t understand. As a result of this environment, I grew up with a limited knowledge of my own definition of love and the boundaries appropriate around it. Spirit guided me and protected me during my childhood and young adult years when I was unable to do so myself.
Over the years my definition of love has evolved to one of loving everyone as Divine Beings on their spiritual journey, each with their own Light, no matter how dim or bright. This has served me well in the whole of humanity. However, in thinking about another relationship, love needed a better definition before I could begin to decide whether I wanted another man in my life. Spirit magnified my attention to the following book.
The Emotionally Unavailable Man, A Blueprint for Healing, by Patti Henry, M.Ed., L.P.C., a psychotherapist in private practice, is an excellent book for both men and women. One side is about man, then flip it over to the other side to read about woman as his partner. This book would have been so helpful when I was married as it provides precise, clear steps with examples on actions. In my opinion, this book is helpful for any relationship whether it is a married partner, family, friend, or acquaintance. I found the following definitions of love, quoted from Ms. Henry’s book, to be the most real in life.
Love is a concept that exists on many levels. It seems the older and wiser a person gets, the more levels they can see. There is the surface, lustful “feeling” level of love which, of course, is wonderful. There is the love that we feel for our children. This is probably as close to unconditional love we, as humans, can express and experience. It’s a love so deep that we become willing to sacrifice even our very lives to save them. What mother watching her 10-year-old child dying of cancer wouldn’t take on the disease herself if it would heal her child? Then there is a love that lets us love the unlovable. It’s the love that lets us respond kindly even to strangers whose behaviors are rude and “undeserving.” To say a kind word, “You must be having a hard day. I hope it gets better.” To extend a hand, “Can I help somehow?” it’s the love that lets us offer a smile or a hug; even to a porcupine.
There’s a love that allows us to forgive, to let go of, to go forward. It takes this love to be able to say, ‘I know what you did was really hurtful to me, but I’ve done hurtful things in my lifetime, too. I understand, and I’m choosing to put that behind us and to forgive you.” There’s a love that lets us overlook others’ imperfections. There’s a love that helps us be proactive: to plan surprises, to anticipate need, to take action when someone is hurting. There’s self-love: where we are kind to ourselves, say nice things to ourselves, and have good boundaries. There’s even a love that can pull us out of despair, pick up the pieces, and help us start over again. This love can be found in a child’s innocence, in nature, in God. And then, last, but not least, there is what I call conscious choice love.
Conscious choice love is an active, conscious decision to care for someone. To look out for them, to encourage and preserve what is important to them, to help them, to heal them. Here love is an action verb. It’s not so much a “feeling” as a “doing.” Doing things on purpose to care for another person. In the context of this book that other person would be your partner. It’s a decision to think about that other person on purpose and to actively DO something that would care for him. If you’ve been disconnected from love for a while because your partner hasn’t been meeting your needs, the most important step in reconnection is a DECISION to love again. Without this conscious choice on your part, it is unlikely your system can heal.
Now, I’m clear down in Texas and I can already hear you screaming, “What about HIM? Why do I have to be the one to consciously choose love? The answer is three fold. First, because if you don’t your relationship will, most likely, not change. Second, because love is healing whether you give or receive it, and you need healing. And third, your partner has to consciously choose it, too. The goal is win/win where he wins and you win.
In a paragraph down, she describes Conditional Love in marriage. This is the best description I have ever read and I believe it applies not only to marriage, but to family, friends, and a potential companion/partner.
I am, however, not talking about loving unconditionally. I believe love in a marriage needs to be conditional. To love your partner unconditionally is to have no boundaries. To love unconditionally means I will love you no matter what you do or say. That’s because marriage is a RECIPROCAL relationship. With our children, it is our job to meet their emotional needs. It is not their job to meet ours. With our partner, it is our job to meet his needs AND his job to meet ours. Therefore, the condition of love in marriage is that it will be reciprocal. The “condition” that has to exist in order for love to flourish is one of mutually, reciprocity. I am not saying love your husband even if your needs never get met. Yuck. Who would want that kind of marriage? I am saying love your husband and have the expectation of love being returned to you. I am also saying do not expect your husband to love you unconditionally. He needs reciprocity and mutuality, too.
So really, I am asking you to: first, consciously decide to actively love your partner. That is, check back into your relationship. And second, set forth two conditions that must be met by him:
#1 reciprocity and #2 safety.
I am also asking you to provide those two conditions TO your husband. You must love in order to be loved.
Postscript: If you feel you love your husband unconditionally and that you really will continue to love him no matter what he says or does, then your conditions need to be about staying with him. Sometimes a woman must leave a relationship even when her heart is still filled with love for her partner. I see this in battering relationships. I hear from my clients who have a black eye or three broken ribs, “I can’t leave him. I still love him.” Fine. Still love him. But come to know that you will only STAY with him if the conditions of reciprocity and safety are met. This requires listening to your brain as well as your heart. Sometimes it means letting your brain overrule your heart. You deserve reciprocity and safety in your primary relationship. Make those the conditions that must be met in order for you to stay. If these conditions are not met, let your brain take over, pack your things, and move on. This, I promise you, you will not regret long term. Short term, yes; every minute. Long term, never.
In an earlier chapter, she writes the following about marriage which is truth to me, and again I include other relationships.
I believe marriage is about healing: that the whole purpose of marriage is to heal each other into wholeness. Therefore, it’s your job to heal your husband. And it’s his job to heal you. Of course there are exceptions to this rule….but, besides the exceptions, healing ought to be both of yours goal.
As I look back on our 45-year marriage, I can see the stages, the small and large struggles, and the beauty of our spiritual healing journey. When I first married my husband and at times off and on, I loved him lustfully and unconditionally, and he me. Then as issues came up, our love changed to conditional love. There were times when I was overwhelmed with my lack of knowledge and my inability to cope with the issues. There were times we ran, were in denial and unwilling or afraid to face what change might mean. I did not have the tools to set and hold firm boundaries, but, with Spirit’s help I learned issue by issue. He did not have the tools either, but we worked our way through each issue with the tools we had. We were held in Grace by Spirit at times when we were unwilling or unable to hold each other.
When he became unable to function well, I made the conscious decision to love him at home until he left his body rather than put him in an institution. I used his eight-year process of leaving his body as a spiritual journey, each day consciously choosing to love him and whatever situation presented itself. I healed within our marriage to a point that I experienced the incredibly joyful wholeness at the time of my husband’s passing of honoring that I knew I had completed my part of our journey loving him all the way. During my last near-death experience, Spirit revealed a greater view of that wholeness to me, in that all those who witnessed my love for him were changed by it and it continues to ripple out.
After finding this definition of love and reading this book, it is clear to me now that I want to have more tools firmly embedded for all my relationships. I don’t know about another relationship. Spirit is guiding me on a deeper exploration of tools for myself and my desire to stay open and keep learning. Everything else will unfold in Divine Order.
Reggie knows he is loved with all my heart. He also knows that his behavior has to conform to the boundaries that are there for him. This conditional love keeps him safe, in control of himself, and happy. Spirit helping us find definitions of love and boundaries around love gives us lives that are happy, rich, and fulfilling as we continue to learn and listen. Nancy and Reggie♥