All of us have heard the term unconditional love. Whether we grew up in a religious house hold, or we read it somewhere in a book, all of us have heard the phrase at some point in our lives. And though many of us desperately want to live a life of unconditional love, it is incredibly hard to put away our egos and allow ourselves to do so. There are three main points to loving unconditionally: selflessness, forgiveness, and acceptance. All three of these challenge our egos, because our ego exists simply to protect us. It has no concern for those around us, and it certainly doesn’t care if it hurts the people we love in the process, so loving unconditionally suddenly becomes much harder than it sounds.

Selflessness is probably the hardest trait to learn when it comes to loving unconditionally, because we are hardwired by society to believe that our needs and opinions are more important and valid than others. But love is not selfish. In fact, it demands that we silence our needs so that we may meet the needs of someone else. It sounds easy. Many people even believe that they are selfless, when in reality they’re not completely sure what that means. You can give gifts, and still be selfish. You can compliment someone and still be selfish, because often times we’re doing those things because we feel obligated. Selflessness does not act in obligation. To me, selflessness is thinking about what you say before you say it, because it may hurt the person you’re talking to. It’s choosing your actions and words in a way that honors the people you love. It’s about choosing their needs over your own. Does that mean your needs should go completely unfulfilled? No. But it does mean that you’re just as concerned about their needs as you are your own. I’ll be the first to say that I struggle with this. I like to think of myself as a selfless person—and in some ways I am. I’m humanitarian in many ways, but that does mean that I treat my significant other with the respect and honor he deserves. I’ll be the first to say that my words and actions can cut deep. I know that I tend to focus so heavily on my own needs—most likely because they were never met in my previous marriage—that I tend to have the mindset of “I did this for you, why can’t you do that for me?” And that’s the very opposite of selflessness. Selflessness demands that we love without expecting rewards. Does that mean you should stay in a toxic, unhealthy relationship? Absolutely not. It does mean that you can love your spouse even if they don’t say thank you every time you clean the house, or even if they don’t compliment you on how pretty you look after getting all dolled up. It means that you don’t take everything as a personal attack against you, and that you give your partner grace to be the individual they are.

Then there’s forgiveness. This is a quality I’ve always had and never truly struggled with, but there are many people who harbor bitterness for days or weeks or even years. Loving unconditionally means that you forgive your partner when they mess up. Maybe they snapped at you because they’ve had a stressful week, or maybe they didn’t take the trash out even though you’re asked a hundred times. Maybe they got upset with your waiter at a restaurant for getting their order wrong. Maybe they don’t always like your cat, or maybe they sometimes don’t know what you need and your sour mood goes unnoticed. Whatever the case, forgiveness is the ability to look at them with understanding and grace. It’s realizing that we are human, and as humans we are incredibly flawed. There is never going to be an instance where your partner is perfect. They’re probably going to yell at you because you folded the towels wrong. They might get jealous at times, or maybe they become insecure. It seems easy to forgive them in that moment, but true forgiveness completely lets it go. It doesn’t bring it up in future arguments. It doesn’t harbor bitterness for days afterwards. It simply says, “You’re human, and I love you anyway.” This doesn’t mean allowing someone to call you names, or be mean to you, or belittle you. There is a fine line between being walked on and healthy forgiveness. But if you see your partner truly working to change and they slip up every now and then as all humans do, love them anyway. Love them with forgiveness, the kind that completely lets it go and moves on. Give them the grace to mess up, because they’re going. Give them room to make mistakes so that they can grow, without becoming bitter that they aren’t growing as quickly as you would like them to. Remember that your partner changes and grows at their own pace, and that may mean they take baby steps. Instead of becoming annoyed, forgive them and love them through it.

And then there’s acceptance. This is probably something we all struggle with. We get into relationships and we see that they’re messy, or they never put the toilet paper back in the bathroom when they use it all, or they play video games all the time. We know all of these things going in, but then somewhere along the way we expect all of that to change. Some things do need change—we as humans are always evolving and changing. But to accept someone is to accept them through all of those stages of change. It’s loving them to their core. It’s loving them despite their flaws. And more than that it’s loving them as an individual and not as an extension of yourself. Too many times in relationships we expect our significant other to act and react to things the way we do. We expect them to show love the way that we do. But they’re individuals, and they have different needs, and they show love a different way. This circles back to being able to love them the way that they need. It’s being able to accept that may show love by giving gifts, while you show love by snuggling. It’s compromising. It’s having the ability to look at them with love and admiration even though they don’t wear deodorant sometimes, or they chew with their mouth open. But more than that, it’s accepting all of those deep rooted fears inside of them. It’s looking within their soul and seeing the good and the bad—all of the things that aren’t superficial, every day things—and trying to understand why they act or do the things they do. And it’s accepting them anyway. It’s accepting that sometimes they yell. It’s accepting that sometimes they become sarcastic as a defense mechanism. It’s accepting their passions, their dreams, the very being of who they are without expecting them to act and thing the way that you do. This is so incredible hard for us as humans. We see things from our own perspectives because that’s all we know, but true acceptance comes from being able to see from the other person’s eyes. It’s putting yourself in their shoes and really trying to understand them, rather than expect them to change.

Loving unconditionally takes work. It takes a conscious effort to put away your ego and let the other person be exactly who they are. It’s not something we’re born with. I truly believe it’s something we learn over time. Some days you won’t be able to. Some days you’re going to forget that the person in front of you is an incredible, flawed, beautiful individual that you love. No one is perfect, and there will be days that you fail. And that’s okay. If your partner is also practicing unconditional love, then they’ll give you the grace to stumble and help you back on your feet. And as you walk together in a journey of love and forgiveness, you’ll find your relationship flourishing in a way it never did before. By giving each other the acceptance to be exactly who they are, you’ll fall more in love with each other than before. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. And I believe in you.

“There is no greater power in Heaven or earth than unconditional love.” -Wayne Dyer

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