What Does Unconditional Love Mean In Relationships?
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What Is Unconditional Love
Love is a connection or an attachment between two people. It’s a combination of knowing the person, understanding who they are, building trust and reliance in each other and being able to commit to what that relationship looks like.
So, love is both a feeling and a choice (a great book to read about unconditional love is Keep Your Love On! by Danny Silk).
As Maya Angelou says:
“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”
And what is the destination? It’s a relationship with someone that refuses to give up when faced with challenges.
What Are Boundaries?
Creating healthy boundaries is the path to love. Without them, there is no love. Boundaries define who I am and who I am not: they include my values, desires, limits and strengths.
Sometimes we think of setting boundaries as keeping people out. But here’s the thing — boundaries are just as much about saying “yes” as they are about saying “no”! They’re about saying “yes” to you and “yes” to me. This is who I am and this is who you are.
And boundaries are important because they tell the other person who we are and what’s important to us. They’re a normal and natural part of love and connection.
As Dr. Henk Visser says:
“Setting boundaries is a kindness. It builds a bridge of connection and we know that people crave connection.”
When you tell me your boundaries and I respect them, this builds trust in love. Boundaries create expectations for how to interact and how to have a relationship with someone — especially in a marriage!
What Boundaries Look Like In Action
One example of a boundary in our home was that when you leave the house, you would leave a note that would say where you are going and when you expect to return. That way, whoever was on supper that night knew that they needed to make supper for you too.
Another example is when my mother used to say to me, “Here’s the deal! I love to babysit your kids so I want you to feel free to ask me. If I can’t babysit on that particular day, I will say no.”
There was never any discomfort in asking her because I knew that she would follow through and say “no” when she couldn’t babysit.
Boundaries are really giving up control of other people…
Because if I expect you to respect my boundaries, then I need to show you that same respect.
What Happens When We Don’t Set Boundaries
One reason why boundaries are important for relationships is because that “yes” to you and that “yes” to me builds a bridge of connection. And it gives freedom to each person. It enables us to build trust with one another.
However, when we don’t set boundaries with each other, then it makes it impossible to have healthy relationships.
Brene Brown explains one of the reasons why:
“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behaviour.”
Another result of not setting boundaries is that we’re not living according to our values. And Bonnie Ware said that the number one regret of the dying was not being true to themselves.
So we need to learn to be clear with others about what’s important to us so we can be authentic.
Why We Need To Love Unconditionally
We need to learn to love unconditionally because it keeps the bridge up for connections with our loved ones. This provides a lot of freedom and security in relationships.
As soon as we love people conditionally, where we only love them if they behave a specific way, then that can create anxiety in the relationship. This isn’t a strong or healthy relationship.
At the same time, loving others unconditionally doesn’t mean we accept however they want to treat us.
As I mentioned above, we need to set healthy boundaries. And I’m certainly not suggesting that if someone is in a really unhealthy or abusive relationship that they should just put up with it.
We can choose to love others unconditionally while setting healthy boundaries but the other person always has a choice how they will respond to us.
5 Steps On How To Love Unconditionally
This is the big question — how can you love people unconditionally while setting healthy boundaries?
#1 – KNOW YOURSELF
First, you need to recognize where your boundaries are. This means you need to know what you value, what you think about things, what your opinions are, and what you’re feeling.
NOTE: If you struggle knowing yourself well, then I suggest writing out your thoughts and feelings in a journal. You could also find a coach to help you sort through what is important to you.
#2 – SET CLEAR BOUNDARIES
Second, clearly express what your boundaries and expectations are. Don’t leave people guessing what you think or feel about their behaviour. Make it clear in a respectful way how you want to be treated and what you value.
#3 – SPEAK UP WHEN YOUR BOUNDARIES ARE CROSSED
Third, acknowledge when someone crosses your boundary. Boundaries such as, when someone is not apologizing for the wrongs they do and it becomes a pattern. Patterns of aggression or anger. Patterns of blaming others and not taking responsibility.
NOTE: I find it helpful to journal this out or talk with a safe, non-judgemental person who will listen to me, such as a coach.
#4 – REDRAW THE LINE FOR YOUR BOUNDARIES
Next, re-establish your boundary in a firm but kind way. This means we learn to communicate in a way that’s respectful and not rude. Just say it for what it is. And give the person choices.
#5 – WAIT FOR THE PERSON TO RESPOND
Last, let go and allow the other person to choose how to respond. Depending on what they choose, they will set certain consequences in motion.
But — this is really important — don’t make ultimatums unless you’re willing to follow through.
When boundaries are set respectfully, it’s a kindness both to yourself and to the other person. Because in order to love other people well, we need to love ourselves well first. And when we honour ourselves by setting boundaries, we show other people that because we are worthy of love and honour, they are worthy of the same love and honour too.
When we encourage our family and friends to better behaviour, better actions, better attitude without withdrawing our care for them, we are showing them unconditional love.
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