The MARRIAGE MYTH seris continues with Myth #3!!
Myth #3: Marriage is about UNCONDITIONAL LOVE.
No mistake. I believe this to be very true for married couples. The idea of loving our spouses unconditionally is very romantic, but it is simply unrealistic. The reality is that unconditional love in a marital relationship does NOT exist, at least not for a long time. Therefore, marriage is more about give and take when it comes to the emotional exchange that takes place. A word you might be more comfortable with is “reciprocation.” Thus, if one party feels like s/he is giving more than s/he is receiving, then it is likely that that marital relationship has enterered into a love deficit.
In a healthy marital relationship, the two spouses are functioning on an equal playing field where one doesn’t hold more power than the other. In other words, ta health marriage should not function as a hierarchical relationship. If you are wondering what a hierarchical relationship looks likes, the parent-child relationship is a relatable example we can briefly examine. I DO believe that unconditional love can and should exist in the parent-child relationship, but it only flows from the top downward. In other words, parents can have unconditional love for their children, but love from the child to the parent is very conditional. This makes sense because parents are at the top of the hierarchy. Do you know parents that continue to love their adult child despite the terrible things that child has done? I think sometimes it surprises us to see a parent in pain when they watch their adult child face the consequences for their poor decisions. But, is that not what “unconditional” love means – to love no matter what (without conditions)? Thus, parents in this situation are doing what they are supposed to be doing. Now, let’s look from the child’s perspective. Do you know or have you known people who simply want nothing to do with their parents because of how they were treated by them? I'm not saying this always right or healthy, but does that sound like unconditional love? Absolutely not! But, it’s supposed to be that way. It is part of the design. Don’t get me wrong though. I do think a child’s love for a parent can grow to be unconditional over the course of time, as long as the relationship is being fed and nurtured by the powers that be – the parents. Think of it this way:
From the top, unconditional love freely FLOWS; from the ground, unconditional love potentially GROWS.
I think the same is true for a couple in a marital relationship. Couples are operating in a relationship on equal plains; there is no hierarchy. Love is a continual reciprocal exchange. However, I would encourage you to think of your love exchange not as a trade, but as in investment. This means that not only are you expecting a return for your investment, but you are also expecting growth. If the relationship doesn’t grow, then the couple might find themselves becoming complacent in the relationship. When this happens, I often hear couples describe their relationship as reflecting distant roommates or siblings or two ships passing in the night. Additionally, with the investment mentality, some level of risk is implied. What makes a risk a RISK to us is how vulnerable it makes it us feel. For a relationship to thrive, we have to be willing to take risks by making ourselves vulnerable to each other.
Vulnerability is the lifeblood of a healthy marital relationship.
Although I don’t think unconditional love automatically exists in marital relationship, I do, however, believe that a couple can have unconditional COMMITMENT. Unconditional commitment is often what gets couples into my office for counseling. Many couples enter therapy not liking each other very much, but their undying commitment to each other, their marriage, and their family is the driving force behind their desire and effort to change. You might relate to this concept more on a spiritual level. God shows us unconditional love. But, is our love for God unconditional? Think about it. If you ever felt God had removed Himself from you or “hidden his face” from you (as many psalmists say), would you struggle with loving Him? In other words, if you felt God had stopped doing His part in the relationship, would you find loving Him difficult? I know these are hard questions to think about, but I think if we are honest with ourselves, we would answer these questions with a reluctant “yes,” especially if our faith is fairly young. This doesn’t make us bad people, it just makes us human. God is our Father in Heaven. He is at the top of the hierarchy. His love for us freely flows and it never waivers. No matter how bad or sinful I become, He continues to pour out His love to me. Although I might find it difficult to love Him through the difficult seasons in my life, my unconditional commitment is what keeps me on the path of righteousness. My unconditional commitment drives me to say, “God, I don’t understand a lot things right now. And although it would be easy to turn away from you because I am having a hard time feeling your presence or understanding your decisions, I choose you anyway.” So, when it comes to your couple relationship, the question you must ask yourself is:
When I find it difficult to love my spouse, will I choose him/her anyway?
As you are maneuvering through life in your marriage, remember that recieving unconditional love from your spouse is an unrealistic expectation in the beginning, but unconditional commitment is not only achievable, but appropriate. It not only serves as rope that can pull you out of a love deficit, but it also serves as a foundational element for helping marital love grow in astronomical proportions.
If you have entered into a love deficit in your marriage, please don’t be afraid to reach out for help. You can always contact me, but also feel free to research therapists on therapistlocater.net where you can find a marriage counselors in your area. Don't become complacent. Be intential and seek help. God bless.