Monday, March 3, 2014

Unconditional Love: The worst thing you could give your spouse.

"To have and to hold from this day forward,
for better for worse, for richer for poorer,
in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish,
till death us do part."

The vows.
The official end of "happily ever after" fairy tales.
The official beginning of your real life journey.

Now, you've sworn, before God and witnesses, to walk life's journey with this one person. Forever. Death being the only thing that could possibly separate you. You are so ready for the next phase of your life. Yes!!

Happily ever after? LOL


Who made the happily ever after promise to you? Hollywood? Disney? Novels?

Yes, you're well within your rights to expect happiness. You deserve it. If not you, who? You're special, good looking, educated, all that and a bag of chips. And cookies. And skittles. Yeah. We know.

I hate to be the one to break it to you. Nobody owes you. You want to be happy? You've got to be willing to put the work in. Nothing is getting handed to you on a platter. If you're old enough to be married, you're old enough for the truth - marriage isn't for entitled people.

One of my favorite verses of scripture about marriage is Ecclesiastes 4:9 because I think it paints a realistic picture if what marriage really should be like. A mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship.
Whether you've been married for two weeks or two decades, the immense power that your partner wields over you will always be a two edged sword. This one person has the capacity to bring you joy and cause you pain. To make you laugh and make you cry. To take you to heights of passion and depths of despair.

In a perfect world, they'll only use their power for good. Unfortunately... *insert sad face here*.
Intentionally or not, the love of your life will hurt you. And you them. It's only normal that you'll piss each other off. In small ways. And big ways. C'est la vie.

The tricky part about hurting our partners though, is that what seems like a big deal to them might not be to us. You think nothing of a playful jab and they are deeply offended by it. Are they too sensitive? Or are you the insensitive one here?

Each of us has a mental ranking system that we use to assign importance to issues. This complex system, which can differ significantly from person to person, is a function of many factors, social conditioning, age, temperament, culture, race... The list is long.

How does this affect your relationship?
What you consider to be a big deal, say an affair, might not be a deal breaker to someone else who considers being rude to their parents major. It's easy to see why a person who grew up in a polygamous family might not mind sharing their spouse with several others, to you though, it might be unthinkable. However, the same person might not be able to put up with you giving their mum a piece of your mind, which to you, might not be a big deal because your folks let you speak freely.

The nature of the offence is irrelevant. What matters to each person is where it ranks on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being "It is what it is" and 10 being "NEVER!!"

Let me point out though, that while it is important that issues are resolved and not swept under the carpet, making a big deal out every perceived hurt is not very endearing. 1 Corinthians 13 talks about how love is not easily offended. Nobody wants to be with a fault finding nitpicker. Remember the proverbial quarrelsome woman, whose husband would rather live on the rooftop? Ain't nobody got time for that. You'll have to let things slide from time to time. What you choose will depend on your ranking system and you'll know your partner well enough to figure out what works and what doesn't.

What about the big things. The deal breakers. The offences that rank 9 or 10 on your scale. The ones that have you plotting and planning how to exact your pound of flesh and make your partner suffer for what they did, even if it means jail time for you.

What are your options when you're hurt at this level?

A) Unconditional Love
Of course!
You vowed to love them, didn't you?
You've been known to goof too, and they forgave you.
After all, no one is perfect. Love covers a multitude of sins.
Remember your vows. You swore to love this person unconditionally! That means that no matter what they do, you MUST forgive (and forget). Remember, God hates divorce.

B) Revenge.
Refuse to forgive.
Why should you forgive?
They knew what they were doing, didn't they?
Yeah, you've been known to goof too, but not this badly.
You didn't really (really really) mean to hurt them when you did. Really.
But this one that they did?! Unforgivable!! They need to know you're not one to be messed with, so you retaliate. Or revenge. Or leave. You find a way hurt them back.

While "Unconditional Love" might seem like the "good" thing to do, and "Revenge" the "bad", I am of the opinion that they both have the potential to permanently damage your relationship on the long run.

I can already hear you
"Did you just say that unconditional love can damage relationships?
How? I don't agree! God calls us to forgive!
You must forgive you partner no matter what!
Remember that Jesus said to forgive 70 x 7 times!"

Allow me to elucidate.
Yes, God loves us unconditionally and we should love like He does. The bible says that anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

God's unconditional love does not give us a free pass to do as we should without consequences though. He lets us know that we can count on His love for us, then He gives us options, spells out the possible outcomes for each line of action and leaves it to us to choose.

Remember Joshua's conversation with the Israelites?
 "choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve"
God loves us.
Nothing we do, or don't do, could ever change that.
That doesn't change the fact that He has expectations of us. In fact, it is His love for us that makes Him give us the power to choose. Like,

"I'll always be here for you. If you want to enjoy a relationship with me however, I have expectations of you, just as you have of Me."

I do not believe that loving you partner means putting up with everything they do, even when they are hurting you deliberately, while you helplessly endure cruelty, hoping and praying that one day, they'll change and come to their senses. I believe that it not only fosters disrespect, it also sets the stage for resentment and even abuse.

Think about it.

  • If I never have to deal with the consequences of my actions, where is my incentive to behave?
  • If I know that no matter what I do to you, you'll take me back, why will I not take you for granted?
  • If all I have to do is say sorry, whether or not I mean it, only to hurt you again and again and again and you'll forgive me, why would I do better?
  • Does your love for me mean that you should not expect, or demand, to be treated fairly?
  • Does being a "good" wife or husband mean having no expectations of your partner, even though they have expectations of you?

If this free pass to be reckless is what unconditional love is, then it's the worst thing that my spouse could ever give me. I honestly believe that we respect people who hold us accountable and who do not allow us to walk all over them. Boundaries are an important part of a relationship, especially if a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship is what both parties are working towards.

This my version of unconditional love:
"I love you too much to treat you badly. I am deliberate about my choices because I know that the consequences of my actions affect you. I hold you up to the same high standards of love and respect that I hold myself to. I love you too much to let you treat me badly."

What's yours?