Keith: Love yourself before your significant other

Since childhood, we’re taught that unconditional love is the highest form of love there is. We regard it as an ideal and strive to achieve it with our families, friends, and significant others. Unconditional love is usually applied to family and pillars of faith, but when we apply those same ideas to romantic relationships, that love can come at a terrible price.

Some of my friends on Facebook frequently update about how much they love their husbands, boyfriends or whatever and how perfect they are. They say they love them so much and will forever. Then I think about my own boyfriend. I love him, but what I feel is not unconditional. My feelings for him have boundaries. And so should everyone else’s.

But when you’re caught in the moment of a great relationship and not nearly as much of your week is devoted to thinking about dating as mine is, love can leave you blind and lead your brain astray — literally.

In fact, according to scientists at the University College London in the United Kingdom reported in the journal NeuroImage that romantic love suppresses brain waves associated with critical social assessment of other people and negative emotions.

In other words, once you get close to a person (i.e. falling in love), the brain has a reduced need to evaluate the nature of said person and nearly stops harboring negative emotions towards him. And in the end what we’re left with is a skewed sense of our partners that can lead us to at least aspire to love unconditionally.

It may be cynical, but the best thing anyone can do in a relationship is imagine his life without his partner and be honest about the conditions in which he should no longer love the other. I got over the ideal of unconditional love five years ago when my first love ended, and as far as dating is concerned, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

The breakup with unconditional love can be difficult, but we all need to do it. If we don’t it could wind up leaving us crushed in the end. They say breaking up is hard to do, but here, it’s a must.

To make a relationship work in the first place, we have to master the art of compromise, tolerance, and respect. But if we don’t address our own needs and expectations of our partners first, the desire to maintain unconditional love in and of itself can become compromising.

According to Laurie Puhn, author of “Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship without Blowing Up or Giving In,” when certain nonnegotiable factors are missing in a relationship, love does (or needs to) dissolve. To love unconditionally is to put oneself at risk of being taken advantage of or abused.

Puhn advocates that the five factors in a relationship that are essential to all people are appreciation, respect, compassion, trust and companionship. And when one of those is not provided, the relationship is destructive and can leave those in it wondering how unconditional the love they share really is. Your needs have to be met first.

Most days after work I like to get into my happy place by watching “Sex and the City.” Twice in the entire saga, Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall) utters a variation of “I love you, but I love me more.” The line is genius, and last week, it got me thinking about unconditional love.

Many viewers may find Cattrall’s character selfish, but her message is too important to miss. After all, in a world in which we can’t always count on our romantic partners to pull through and give us everything we need and more, unconditionally loving them can be poisonous.

Finally, like many students at the University, I’m a firm believer in the beauty and power of a great relationship, whatever kind of relationship that is. But what I always believe in first is unconditional love for the self first and significant other second.

And when we maintain that ideal, the conditional and healthy love that we share with others can finally begin to really fall into place.

Keith is graduate student in education from Wichita. Follow her on Twitter @Rachel_UDKeith.

  • Updated Oct. 15, 2012 at 8:32 pm
  • Buttercup456

    My love is like a storybook story.

  • Romeo

    Unconditonal love doesn’t mean that you don’t ever harbor negative feelings towards your significant other, it means that you love the person in SPITE of those feelings.