Loving Someone Unconditionally

Depending on the person, this can be either very easy or very challenging.  I also believe this can be interpreted differently by different people and about different people in our lives.  Children, for example, I believe are easiest to love unconditionally for many reasons.  We might not like our kids all of the time, and some can certainly give us a run for our money a good part of the time, but we can’t stop loving them unconditionally.  If we don’t, then who will?  And by nature, they are still learning how to be productive citizens in society, how to be a good people with good character, how to make good decisions, and so on.  They need to know that they can take chances and make mistakes along the way while they are learning about themselves and life around them and that someone will always be there to either praise them or be there when they fall and help guide them to better choices the next time.

We may have other family members (an adult sibling, for example) who don’t always make good choices or show respect, but we can often forgive them because they are family.  Even with family members though, sometimes we reach our limit and say enough is enough, especially when that person never seems to learn from their mistakes and is never willing to listen to others or do anything differently, or perhaps always puts themselves first.  I am not saying we stop loving them necessarily, but we are much less willing to go out of our way or make accommodations for them or even spend time with them sometimes.

Then there are the other people in our lives such as our significant others and friends. It’s these people who are sometimes difficult to love unconditionally because, well frankly, we don’t have to. A lot of it depends on the person and how they treat us.  I know there are marriage counselors who will suggest that you need to love your spouse/partner unconditionally no matter what, but I don’t agree with that philosophy.  I think it’s very easy to love someone unconditionally who is overall a good person who is giving and respectful and has however many other good character traits but maybe has a hard time remembering important dates, or needs reminders to get things done, maybe doesn’t have the greatest communication skills, or perhaps is somewhat of a sloppy person or has a hard time showing appreciation, and things of that nature.  Those things can be worked around or overlooked, or perhaps improved over time.

It is very challenging, however, to love someone unconditionally who almost always puts themselves first, doesn’t treat people with respect, doesn’t have good character traits and values, who is overall a pretty negative person, who can be manipulative and/or deceitful, and who isn’t willing to make any changes to improve any of these things.  This is where I disagree with any counselor who would suggest I should still love someone like that unconditionally.  I have enough love and respect for myself and the other people around me to not want to have someone like that be a significant part of my life anymore.  Children at least have an excuse because they are still learning, but adults should know better.  And if they haven’t been taught what it means to have good character growing up and don’t want to learn as an adult, then I am not obligated to love them unconditionally.  Sometimes love, just like respect, needs to be earned, or at least deserved.

loving unconditionally

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In the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, one of the things he addresses is how people’s culture plays a role in why some people are more successful than others.  In particular, he examines the Asian culture and the discipline it takes for them to be successful in growing rice on a small rice farm in order to make a living doing so.  This discipline and commitment carries over to everything else that they do.  Therefore, they are much more likely to spend perhaps 20 minutes working at a math problem that they can’t immediately solve but are likely to figure out in that time than people who come from cultures less centered around discipline and commitment who might give up after five minutes or less, deciding the problem was just too difficult. Throughout the book, he illustrates that the two key factors that very successful people share are opportunities that came their way because they were in the right place at the right time and the significant amount of time they spent mastering their craft.  The magic number, he says, seems to be 10,000 hours.  Without commitment to what they were doing, they would not have put in that many hours.

Obviously, not everyone can be someone like Bill Gates, Michael Jordon, or one of the Beatles, but commitment is still important for anyone to be successful at anything. This could be a job, a hobby, a project, a particular skill or talent, or a goal such as losing weight or making other self-improvements, or a cause you support. Commitment or dedication encompasses persistence, hard work, perseverance, and determination, all of which are important qualities to have to achieve success.  If you are not “all in”, then you will obviously not be as successful as you could be if you were.

I think this is particularly true of relationships.  If you are truly committed to the relationship, are willing to put forth the effort to making it work, and have a partner who is also dedicated to the process, then you have a much better chance of overcoming any obstacles or differences you may have.  When one or both people are looking for negatives, don’t see how they contribute to any problems, don’t think they need to make any changes, don’t want to share their thoughts or feelings, or don’t want to discuss the issues, then things aren’t going to work.  Or minimally things will be a struggle with a lot of stress and drama that doesn’t need to be there.  Ideally, relationships should be easy and not require a lot of work or for either person to have to make any changes, and perhaps that is the problem.  Some people go into them with false expectations of how easy and fun it will be, and when it isn’t, then things fall apart because the commitment isn’t there to work through the more difficult times.  It’s easier to blame the other person for everything and walk away.  Sometimes there are valid reasons for ending things, but I think lack of commitment often plays a role.

Whether it’s a relationship or any of the other things mentioned above, motivation may play a factor as well.  Figuring out exactly what does motivate you is important. (For more thoughts on this, see my post titled “Motivation”. It’s always helpful to keep the end result in mind too, whatever that may be. And of course, thinking about how you will feel once you have achieved success or reached your goal should also help with motivation, whether it’s the sense of pride, satisfaction, fulfillment, accomplishment, a job well done, or knowing that you made a positive difference somehow.  Earning your success through hard work and dedication is a feeling that only you can achieve for yourself.  And if you have a happy and successful relationship because you have made a commitment to it, you should feel an even deeper connection to that person because of it.  Commitment, or lack there of, can either make or break relationships or other successes.  It’s a wonderful trait to have in your back pocket when you need it.

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Being A Minimalist

This is something I end up talking to my kids about every so often because they are all minimalists.  Most of the time they only want to do the bare minimum when asked to do something.  Fortunately, this doesn’t apply to their schoolwork but rather times when they are asked to do something around the house and in other situations.  For example, if there are three books on the floor that all go on the bookshelf in the same spot but my son only read two of them, he will only put those two away when asked (and reminded) to clean up and will leave the third on the floor.  They often moan and groan at being asked to do simple chores like bring in the recycling bins.  If I ask them to throw a food wrapper away that was left somewhere right near where they are sitting, I usually get, “That’s not mine.” or “I didn’t put it there, so why should I have to clean it up?” as a response.  When there is a large amount of stuff in one room to be cleaned up, I sometimes get asked, “What is the minimum amount I need to do right now?”  They want to get back to or don’t want to be pulled away from what they want to do.

I realize this is pretty typical for kids because I was also a minimalist when I was a kid. At some point though I started to think about what I could do to be helpful to other people and how it would make them feel, rather than always thinking about how it would impact me.  I think of doing something for someone else as a way to make their life better or easier and make them feel good, rather than think about how much more work or time it is going to involve for me.  I know how good it feels to have done something that I didn’t have to do for someone else, which is the pay off for me.  I am trying to help my kids experience that and hope they will remember how it feels so that they will want to do it more often.  I also have the self-initiative to just get things done that need to get done.  Sure, I would rather do fun stuff too, but I try to find a balance.

Unfortunately, my husband is also a minimalist, and the kids seem to be following his example so far.  He’s not the type of person who offers to do things for other people on his own unless he knows he will benefit somehow. He rolls his eyes just like a kid and moans and groans about stuff that he needs to do.  Meanwhile, I have friends like me who will do things like offer to paint their neighbor’s house for free or who are always offering to lend a helping hand in other ways.  And they do these things not expecting anything in return but just out of the kindness of their hearts, knowing how much it will be appreciated.

I do wonder how different my kids would be if they had two parents who thought along these lines and enjoyed doing things for other people instead of having one parent who expects people to always cater to them.  I keep trying to impress upon the kids that it is always easier to give to people who are givers themselves.  They may continue to be minimalists for a while longer, but I hope that someday they will not be so self-absorbed and will be willing to not only do more than the bare minimum but will be willing to go the extra mile for anyone without thinking about how it will benefit them.  I figure my work is extra hard in this department with having a minimalist for a husband, so I started talking to the kids about this a long time ago.  I’m crossing my fingers it will pay off someday.


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Love Does Not Equal Lust

I think the line between these two things gets more and more blurred every day.  Each generation gets increasingly bombarded with messages and images that say being sexy and having sex are what it’s all about and that having sex with someone is THE one and only real way to express love.  On the other hand, we are also bombarded with the message that you don’t need to have feelings for someone to have sex with them. As long as you are physically attracted to someone, that’s all that matters.  My teenage daughter tells me that most of the people she knows who are having sex are just doing it because it’s something to do.  I’m sure many of them believe that’s what they need to do to let the other person know how they feel.  And of course, there are plain old hormones coming into play.  It is hard enough to fight those off without the messages I just mentioned thrown in there too.

So there are obviously a lot of purely physical relationships going on, as well as plenty of loving relationships where physical intimacy is involved.  The problem I see is that not enough people know how to have a loving relationship WITHOUT being physically intimate or even think that it’s possible to do so.  There’s this expectation that shortly into a relationship it will move in the direction of being sexual, and if it doesn’t, then there’s something wrong.  It’s almost as if reaching the point where you’re intimate is the goal.  The problem with that is where do you go once you get there?  And the quality of relationship is then judged on how frequently you are intimate.  Once things start to wane a little, one or both people may begin to question the relationship.

There are so many other ways to show someone that they really mean something to you, that you value them as a person, that you have strong feelings for them, that they are your one and only, that you can’t imagine your life without them, or whatever other message you wish to convey to that special someone.  It can be done with words, kind gestures, smiles, eye contact, affection, gifts, and so on.  And if you don’t understand that these things need to be part of a relationship whether it is an intimate one or not, then it may not last.  Meaningful relationships cannot be built on intimacy alone.  In fact, they should be sustainable without the intimacy, in my opinion.  If you know the other person respects and admires you and will always have your back and find ways to remind you how special you are to them, then the intimacy is just the icing on the cake because it will only be that much more meaningful and special.

lust vs. love

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Like all animals, we are born with certain instincts that are necessary for survival such as knowing how to nurse, and these instincts evolve as we grow older and we need different ones.  Our bodies react instinctively to certain stimuli such as blinking when we have something in our eye or blocking our face with an arm if something is thrown towards us.  We may learn to trust our instincts or gut feeling, which to me is really intuition and not so much a physical instinct.

Some instincts are involuntary and may or may not be controlled, while others are learned by example.  There are plenty of good instincts that we develop, like offering to help someone else or give them a hug when we encounter someone who might need that, or jumping up to help someone who is injured or in danger.  I know whenever I have to hit the brakes harder than usual, my arm automatically reaches out to hold back anyone who might be sitting in my passenger seat from falling forward, even though there is usually no one sitting there.  That’s definitely an instinct.

We might instinctively respond defensively or sarcastically to people or swear when we are frustrated, if that is the example that has been set for us.  Some people instinctively respond very emotionally to various situations, and some people are instinctively very controlling.  When other people treat us poorly, it is difficult for many people to not instinctively treat them poorly in return, rather than treat them how they themselves would like to be treated.  Then there are those people who instinctively respond physically when they are angry or frustrated and want to throw something or hit something or someone.  It is these types of instinctual responses that we must learn how to keep under control, which can be very difficult to do, especially if we have been doing them for a long time.

It is easier said than done, but it can be done with a conscious effort.  The first step is realizing and admitting that one needs to make that change.  That in itself seems to be a challenge for many people that I know, never mind actually trying to change anything.  It’s all about control and will power and finding alternative reactions that are more appropriate or less hurtful.  I wish I had all the answers on this one or could wave a magic wand and make all of my negative instincts go away, or better yet, make all of the negative instincts of my immediate family go away.  If only instincts weren’t one of the few things like love that are just so very difficult to control.

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Being Centered

One of the things that yoga helps with is being centered and grounded.  Pertaining specifically to yoga, this means focusing in on your own body and needs and being in the moment, trying to rid your mind of any other thoughts.  It can also mean feeling connected to the earth below us.  Feeling centered and grounded doesn’t need to be reserved just for yoga class though and can have broader meaning in our everyday lives.

To a child, being grounded has an ENTIRELY different meaning (lol!), but to the rest of us, being grounded probably means something along the lines of having a good foundation of values and morals with which you live your life.  And being centered might mean being able to look inward to those core beliefs about what it means to be a good person and what is truly important in life and letting those thoughts and ideas guide you.  Many people have a more spiritual definition and may think of being centered and grounded as being able to focus on what God has in mind for them.  I’m sure there are many other ways to define it as well.

I think it’s worth a little time to think about what those things mean to you, regardless of how you end up defining them, and then make some time whenever possible to reconnect with your inner self, God, your ancestors looking down on you, your own thoughts and reflections, or to meditate or do whatever is right for you to feel more centered and grounded.  It’s easy to get caught up in all the details of our never-ending “to do” lists, our busy schedules, our job responsibilities, our family demands, and whatever else fills our day or may cause stress and frustration.

We all need to feed our own souls every so often, and that means different things to different people.  I find just closing my eyes or being in a dark, quiet room and then taking a few deep breaths thinking nothing but positive thoughts while I purposely smile (to signal the rest of my body to relax) does wonders.  (I discuss some other benefits of smiling and laughing in my post titled “Not Just A Smile“.)  I just need to remind myself to do it more often, and I may have found a way to help with that.  I just recently taped the following meme to my computer monitor so that I see it early in the day.  I’m finding it very helpful to do all of these things each morning.  Throughout the day I see it as well and may stop to smile and take those deep breaths, or maybe even just one deep breath.  It is all helping me to be more centered.  Perhaps it will help you, too.


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Following Directions

This is something that is challenging for several people I know.  Now, I’m not talking about just remembering to do what they are asked or actually understanding the directions, which I know can be difficult for some people.  I am talking about it being a challenge because of the need to do things on their own terms and when they choose.

Again, I will use my husband as an example.  Not only does he not like people suggesting when he should do something, but he can never seem to do it the way he was asked.  He always has to do something differently so that he got to make some decision about how it was done.  For example, if I ask him to set up the card table and chairs in a particular spot or orientation for company, he will always do it differently and tell me he thought it would work better that way.  If I ask him to put food from the grill in a particular sized dish because that’s all I have room for on the buffet table, he will deliberately go get a different plate that won’t fit on the table, which means I have to swap dishes in front of all the guests, and then he gets mad because I made him look bad.  It’s like he thinks he always knows more about something than I do or has a better way of doing it.  Even when he agrees with me about something, he has to make it sound like he is coming up with a better idea.

That’s the underlying issue. I can never be right or know more about something than him.  And I think it’s very much a control thing.  I think he sees following my instructions or suggestions as him relinquishing control or power to me and that he is “whipped” if he does just do what I ask, as one of his friends would say.  He also says that checking with me about something or asking how I would like something done is “emasculating” to him.  So apparently he is less of a man if he has to ask me about something rather than do it the way he thinks it should be done or make the decision himself because men are supposed to know everything and make all the decisions.  I chalk that up to how he was raised and his lovely friend.  I would really like to see him work for a female boss sometime and see how that goes.  I’m guessing not well.

Unfortunately, this has trickled down to our kids, all of whom like to do things according to their own terms and schedule.  They are not cooperative team players, which makes things rather stressful for me trying to coordinate everyone’s schedules and responsibilities and teach them about time management and so on.  I know this is partly because they are kids, but I’m sure they have learned by example, and perhaps it is in their DNA, to not want to do things when and how they are asked.  I have actually been told several times, “Well, now that you have asked me to do it, I won’t.”  Guess where they have heard that.  I am hoping this will all change as they grow older and wiser and have more experiences with other people who don’t like hearing this. Hopefully, they will be more willing to change their behavior than their dad.

I know there are reasons why he doesn’t like following directions, but those reasons are not there for others who have this difficulty.  Following someone’s directions is not a sign of weakness or relinquishing control but rather shows that you are willing to do what it takes to make someone else happy, make their lives a little easier or less stressful, or any number of other positive outcomes.  And should you need to deviate from the given directions or have an opinion on the matter, it never hurts to check with the other person first.  They may have reasons for wanting things done a certain way that you haven’t thought about.  It also shows you are thoughtful and value their opinion and thought process and trust their judgment.  That’s a lot better than making the other person constantly feel like their thoughts and decisions are invalid.

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