Does unconditional love even exist? There are likely many people who say it doesn’t. Ask those whose parents abused them or only praised them for successes. Those people may not believe in unconditional love. On the other hand, we witness parents supporting children who have committed crimes and spouses supporting partners after suffering infidelity. With evidence both ways, let’s assume two things: 1.) Unconditional love does exist. 2.) It requires action. What does that mean? Love develops organically, usually over time but sometimes instantaneously. However, loving someone unconditionally requires effort and the daily choice to do so. It’s telling someone, “Despite your flaws, your mistakes, and even the pain you have caused me, I choose to remain committed to loving you. No matter what.”
Unconditional love is a commitment. It can be incredibly difficult, but the beauty of loving unconditionally is in the choosing. Choosing puts the power in our hands. Other emotions tend to happen beyond our control. We just feel what we feel. However, unconditional love is within our control. But, it does require commitment, diligence, and effort. So, how do we choose to love someone unconditionally?
We learn to forgive. Forgiveness helps us love someone despite the pain they’ve caused us or others. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. It means acknowledging hurt but also saying, “I choose to move past what has happened.” Forgiveness shows grace and frees us to continue loving someone despite the worst moments of the relationship.
We learn to let go of our pain. Even if it’s justified, unrelenting pain is exhausting and will certainly drive a wedge in a relationship. Hand-in-hand with forgiveness, letting go of our pain frees us from continual hurt and leads us to potential restoration. We should not forget the past, but it need not be a continuous part of the present. Unconditional love lets go of pain to restore a relationship.
We learn to appreciate. We appreciate the quirks and flaws of the other person. When we nitpick someone, we abandon appreciation for what they bring to the table. By appreciating another person for who they are, we love them for their true selves. Even when something they do drives us crazy, unconditional love helps us look past the behavior because we see them as so much more.
We learn to find the good. We don’t have to develop overly exaggerated optimism, but we can look for the good in people. Unconditional love makes us look for the good in someone, even if at times the good is difficult to see. It is easier to love someone and care for them if we can see the good in them.
We learn not to ruminate on insignificant flaws. It’s easy to focus on someone’s flaws, especially if they’ve hurt us. Ruminating only causes more hurt and heartache. When we are able to look past someone’s flaws, we avoid getting hung up on the little things. Unconditional love keeps us from getting distracted by the little things, the things that don’t matter as much.
Unconditional love is a gift we give not only to our loved ones, but to ourselves. When present in relationships, unconditional love can create some of the most genuine and authentic forms of connection. It may not be easy, but it can happen if we are willing to put forth the effort.
Michelle Overman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist working as a counselor for students, faculty, and staff at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. She works with athletes, bridging the gap between athletics and mental health at ACU. She is becoming a Certified Mental Performance Consultant in sports psychology. Michelle ran her own private practice in Austin, Texas where she worked with a diverse population, including couples and families. Michelle earned a Master’s in Marriage & Family Therapy and has been working in the field for 6 years.