We all know what love is and most of us know how it feels. It feels wonderful, especially when it’s effortless. Over time and often in long term relationships, the loving feelings we have for our partner or our relatives get buried beneath unmet expectations, frustrations and daily annoyances. When our partner has cancer and we become their caregiver, it can impact our feelings of love. How often is it that we choose frustration over love? Or aggravation over love? Or rejection over love?
What It Means To Love Unconditionally
Let’s take a look at the word unconditional. It means “without conditions.” So unconditional love is feeling love without any conditions. Sounds simple, right? How many of us actually practice unconditional love? How many of us are loving the people in our lives even when they do something that we don’t like, or make a rude comment, or ignore us altogether? Can we feel love in that moment? Should we?
Unconditional love means choosing to feel the emotion of love for someone no matter what they do or how they act. For example, let’s say Naomi has been taking care of her husband, who has cancer, for over a year now. Recently he has started to withdraw and hardly even talks to her anymore. Sometimes he is even rude and rarely says thank you. Can she feel love for him at that moment? Does she even want to?
Most likely Naomi feels frustrated, annoyed, even angry. Love is certainly not the top of the list. She does love him, but his behavior is frustrating and feels hurtful. Then she feels guilt because she also knows her husband is struggling with cancer and it must be difficult for him. So she will have this internal dialogue with herself and vacillate between wanting him to behave differently, and angry that he doesn’t, then guilt over all these negative feelings she has toward him.
This is a made up example, but one that is fairly common among people when their partner has cancer.
Love Is An Emotion
Love is an emotion. Like all emotions, it doesn’t just “happen” to us. It’s caused by our thoughts. Which means, we always have the power to feel love for someone by how we think about them. Let me emphasize this point: you always have the choice to feel unconditional love for someone.
Remember, unconditional love means loving without conditions. It means choosing to feel this emotion regardless of what the other person does or doesn’t do. No matter what they say or don’t say.
Why Feeling Love Is Important For You
Love is an emotion that feels good to us. When we feel hate or frustration, anger or annoyance, those emotions don’t feel good in our body. So why do we choose them so often?
When we choose to feel love, we are the ones that benefit from that emotion. We think that feeling anger or frustration somehow makes them suffer, but instead, we are the ones that suffer from feeling those negative feelings. We also think that if we are angry, then we can get them to change their behavior. How often does that work?
When we can find love for someone, without conditions and without changing them, then we have an opportunity to truly connect.
When we come at someone out of anger or frustration, it usually results in further division and no real understanding.
What It Doesn’t Mean
Deciding to feel unconditional love for someone doesn’t mean you have to condone their behavior. It doesn’t mean you give up or give in on things that are important to you. It doesn’t mean you don’t ask them to change or do something different. On the more extreme side, if they are abusive or manipulative, you can still love them and decide to leave them. Choosing unconditional love should never come at the expense of yourself. This is really important to understand. If you decided to love them, no matter what, it shouldn’t ever mean you sacrifice your own wellbeing.
In the example of Naomi, she can still decide to talk to her husband and tell him how she feels when he withdraws. However, if she can approach this conversation with unconditional love for him and herself first, she won’t be trying to control him or get him to change. She will instead be seeking to understand and truly connect with him by telling him what is true for her and being open to hearing what is true for him. Her husband may or may not understand. And he may or may not behave differently. But everything will change for Naomi because out of love, she will be true to herself and find love for her husband no matter his behavior. She may even be able to truly connect with him and their relationship will grow deeper.
Questions To Ask Yourself
In some situations, it can be hard to find how you can feel love for someone. When they are driving you up the wall or they are unhelpful or ungrateful… In these situations, I want you to remember that choosing to feel love for them is for your benefit, not theirs.
Try asking yourself these questions:
Why am I finding them hard to love?
How do I want them to be different in order to love them more easily?
How can I love them right now, even if they don’t change?
What is lovable about them?
How can I identify with their struggle and feel love for them as a human who is struggling?
How can I show love for myself?
Love… No Downside
Unconditional love is not just for our partners. You can choose to feel it for anyone in your life, especially the ones you find especially difficult like an in-law, or sibling, or even the doctor or neighbor. You can choose to feel love because it will feel good to you. And by doing so, you create an opportunity for true connection. As an unexpected benefit, when you can love someone even when they are not their best self, you will find it easier to love yourself, even when you are not your best self. There is no downside to love.
Do you have a partner with cancer?
Are you struggling with all the emotions or consumed with worry and anxiety about the future? Perhaps you just don’t know how to best support them. If any of these situations ring true for you, then I can help! I coach YOU as the caregiver. When you are calm and in control, only then you help those who need you. That way its so important that you get the support you need and learn tools to cope and build up your resiliency.
Book a consultation call today to see how I can help. It’s totally free and the next step toward building your emotional and mental resiliency.