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  • Gary Malone, LMFT

Why You Don't "Love" Your Spouse Unconditionally

You probably don’t love your spouse unconditionally and here’s why that’s ok….

First, it’s important to acknowledge if 25 people are sitting around talking about what love is then there will likely be 25 different versions of the concept. After seeing couples for the last 10+ years here are the 4 elements which make up the concept of 'love' that I believe are foundational for a meaningful lifelong partnership.

The Love Concept - Desire

When most people talk about love, or being in love, what they’re often referring to is the emotional euphoria that comes with desiring another person and/or feeling desired by the other (both sexually and non-sexually). Although someone may say, “love isn’t a feeling”, our feelings play a huge role in how we give and receive acts of love to one another. What people likely mean is, “love isn’t JUST a feeling” and I can get on board with that statement. Feelings come and they go. They go up and they come down. Our feelings of being desired or desiring our partner are not unconditional. They are determined by the quality and quantity of transactions occurring in the relationship. These transactions include how our needs are being met (time, touch, attention, sex, service, conversation, etc.) and they’re different for each individual.

The Love Concept - Commitment

Our feelings aren’t unconditional, but what about our commitment? Our commitment can be unconditional, right?

Maybe. It depends on your relationship needs.

For example, most people aren’t getting married expecting to be hit, cursed out, controlled or treated as less than by their spouse. If abusive behavior is present, can the commitment to an abusive spouse be unconditional? Sure. But, honestly, I don’t believe the brain can operate within such consistent trauma without major impacts on a person’s mental health. In my years of seeing couples, individuals experiencing abusive behavior from their partner have severe levels of depression, anxiety, feelings of low self-worth and suicidal ideation. So, even if you don’t have feelings of ‘love’ (desire) can your commitment be unconditional even in an abusive relationship? Perhaps, but not without distressing consequences.

The Love Concept - Freedom/Autonomy

‘Love’ in a relationship can look a lot of ways, but I think there’s one thing most can agree on…it should be something bringing out the fullness of who we are and not make us less than. This is where having a strong sense of self and healthy boundaries are beneficial.

Boundaries say, “I know my worth and being treated in this manner is not ok with me. If you continue to choose behavior toward me that isn’t consistent with creating a safe, secure relationship then I will need to take action to protect my heart toward myself and toward you.” This could be creating distance physically (ex. going to a different room) or emotionally (ex. not engaging in conversation). If we don’t have these boundaries, then in time, our feelings of love will fade and be replaced with feelings of bitterness and resentment toward our self and our partner.

Healthy boundaries are about giving one another the freedom to fully be and also controlling our self (not the other) if our partner is using their freedom to cause harm. And sometimes, implementing a healthy boundary means deciding to remove yourself from the relationship all together.

The Love Concept - Dependability/Trust

Relationships are incredibly complex requiring a high degree of trust that your partner is going to maintain the same principles and values you’ve agreed on. And when your words and actions are in alignment then security and comfort can be created together.

The concept of unconditional love is idealized, and while perhaps a beautiful notion, it doesn’t align with the realities of human nature or the complexities of relationships.

Nonetheless, ‘love’ can still be profound, deep, meaningful, and enduring even with certain conditions or boundaries in place.

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