Most of us grew up on the myth of happily ever after — that image of the perfect couple riding off into the sunset. We’ve seen the blaze of passion, those lights that dim to mark the beautiful end of the film. And we’ve felt the relief that all is well with the world.
That kind of love is easy, pure, and unexamined. It leads us to believe that unconditional love cannot live side by side with our needs, our imperfections, and our fears of being abandoned.
How can we reconcile this contradiction? And, really, what is unconditional love?
The first step to understanding true love is to separate the myths from reality. We can do this by viewing unconditional love in a grounded, real-world way, instead of the fantasy that’s presented to us through our screens.
True love is attainable, but only if you see it in a realistic light. To get you started, here are some of the biggest things we often believe about unconditional love that are actually complete lies.
If we look closely into our cultural relationship myth, we find three lies that must be confronted in order to really understand unconditional love:
1. If you really love each other unconditionally, your relationship shouldn’t be this hard.
Love is a process, not a static condition. It’s a commitment to do the work and come back into your relationship with each other. It’s about moving through whatever gets in the way of your love for one another.
You can start improving your relationship by deciding to learn new communication skills. Begin to take responsibility for creating distance between you and your husband. And when you can’t fix things on your own, look for help elsewhere.
2. If you’re sexually attracted to someone else, you don’t really love each other.
Many times when you see your spouse’s attraction to someone other than yourself (or vise versa), you may worry that they no longer love you and you become scared of losing them.
You must realize, however, that if that attraction isn’t acted upon, it’s not the defining factor of his love for you. His behavior is the criteria for love, not a short-lived feeling of attraction.
3. If he really loved me, he would make me happy.
Instead of assuming that your spouse must give up a part of themselves to make you happy, take time to listen deeply to one another about your concerns and feelings.
Making each other happy is not a criterion for love. The criterion for love is listening to each other with empathy and expressing your needs in a skillful way, so that problem solving can create what works best for both of you.
When these lies about unconditional love begin damaging your relationship, then it’s time to think more deeply about what love really is. When you do, you’ll begin to discover that love is a process of equally committing to hard work in an effort to constantly reconnect with your partner.
Dr. Shana Parker is a psychologist in Boulder, CO. Find out more about connecting on a deeper level with your spouse by visiting her website.