- Chapter 11 -
he word "love" is used very loosely in our society. People say they "love" various kinds of food, places, events, and things, as witnessed by bumper stickers. They announce they love Coors beer, or Washington High School, or the famous "I New York." The implication is that the owner of the bumper sticker gets a kind of gratification from the object of devotion, but there is no indication of any return loyalty or responsibility. If gratification ceases, so does the devotion.
For example, if a person "loves" New York and makes a visit there, only to be mugged and to endure several other adverse events, he or she may be disillusioned, come home vowing not to return and rip the bumper sticker off the family car. But that same person would have no desire to demonstrate what was formerly considered "love" by trying to help the city's crime problem, or correcting the adverse factors which caused the unhappy events. This is well demonstrated by the ups and downs of the "love" some local fans have for their professional football team. That sort of love relies on performance. If you win, I love you; if you lose, I don't. In other words, it is a conditional love. It depends on whether or not the gratification is maintained.
Unfortunately, performance requirements exist in many human relationships, and the factor is called "conditional love." As long as one person can generate those warm, fuzzy feelings in another, love prevails, but when events interfere with or eliminate the fuzzy feelings, love disappears. And that is the point; for many, love is just a feeling, sometimes maintained over a period of time, sometimes quite temporary. In other words, it is the feeling that is loved, not the person. If the relationship interferes with one's pursuits or satisfactions in other areas (the "I want to be me" syndrome) it can be scrapped and disposed of.
Deep love, true love, abiding love calls for a great deal more, a sense of commitment, a feeling of responsibility to the other person, and a willingness to work out problems. An example of this relates to the number of parents I know who dealt with alienated children in a loving manner, even children whose performances were very much in conflict with parental values. No matter how much the parents disapproved of the behavior, they kept in touch, continued to express a desire for reconciliation, and expressed their love rather than severing the relationship in anger. Such temperate behavior fostered hope for the future, as clearly love under these circumstances did not depend on performance. Today, many close, wonderful relationships continue between these parents and their previously alienated children, when it could have been otherwise, and was for many others.
The problem of conditional love is even more apparent in marriages. In our current culture, marriage is frequently a union of two independent people, sometimes fiercely independent, which turns into a power struggle, each of them asserting their respective "identities" and "rights." Love is related to the performance of the other person. Each seeks to achieve his or her goals with little emphasis on common goals. These are harsh statements, but they are sufficiently true to account for the high divorce rate.
The concentration should be on the joy of doing things, even simple things which anybody can do, for the person you love. It is particularly impressive when the act is one which the other person could easily have done for himself or herself. Rather than looking upon such events as sacrifices, they are investments in a happy relationship, not a loss of identity. Yes, there are problems: money, health, children's behavior, differences in taste. The old expression "give and take" applies, but it should be done not only with one's personal desires in mind, but also with the aim of helping the other person achieve his or her goals. A happy marriage is worth every bit of effort one can expend.
Perhaps the greatest source of friction between couples is money, as each criticizes the expenditures of the other and defends his or her own. It is an absolute delusion to believe that if there were enough money, problems would disappear. The fact is that money becomes the focal point for disagreement, not the root problem. The real difficulty is skewed values and the lack of realization of the importance of working together. There is also the problem of commitment to begin with. A recent cartoon shows the minister saying to the bride, "The answer is 'I do', not 'It's worth a try.'"
Every enduring marriage has gone through rocky periods, eventually overcome by sacrifice and effort. Many happy couples look back on events which might have caused a split and are grateful they did not let it happen.
It is unfortunate when conditional love and conditional approval are used by one person to control another's behavior. This is particularly well illustrated when one person gives another the "silent treatment," refusing to talk. The implication is: "If you do what I want you to, I will talk to you. Otherwise, I won't."
Withholding or bestowing devotion as a means of control is particularly harmful with children. It is important to communicate the concept, "I will always love you, although I may not always approve of your behavior." The child is not bad, although the action may be. Isn't it tragic how many parents have convinced children for life, "You are bad" or "You are stupid"?
The ideal (and why shouldn't we aspire to the ideal?) is expressed in the Bible (I Corinthians 13: 3, 5, and 7): "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude; it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.....It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."