Before I could decide on a word fittingly offensive enough to describe my husband's behavior, the kindly old priest smiled at me, a twinkle in his eye. He patted my hand and said quietly, "You know, an important step in your marriage will be learning how to love ALL of your husband, even his imperfections. Sometimes it's not them, but us."
What does that mean, to love all of a person, even his or her imperfections? I pondered this angrily. So, I'm left holding up the white flag? I have to ignore behavior I don't like? I have to accept things the way they are, ne'er a hope of changing or improvement? It's all my fault, eh? Sounded like a bum deal to me.
Fast forward 4 years.
Friday evening marked the beginning of a very stressful and busy weekend. I had schedule conflicts that would leave people I love unhappy. My kids were coughing and sporting green, runny noses. My little brother was leaving to join the Air Force and I was unconsciously trying to process this, grieving his upcoming absence and trying to show support for him. Oh, and zombie ants were slowly claiming my kitchen.
My husband stepped out of the car, a smile on his face, happy to be finished with work for the weekend. I breathed a sigh of relief. Time to tackle the to-do list! Time to be productive! Together we could do twice the work!
He never made it inside. Instead, the kids gleefully ran out to him, clutching at his legs and squealing happily. From behind his back appeared a box full of chalk. "Let's play!"
I admit, my jaw almost hit the floor. "The NERVE! How could he be so....soooo!!!! So...."
Words softly surfaced in my mind, quietly exposing something deeper.
How could he be so attentive?
How could he be so caring?
How could he be so whimsical?
How could he be so fatherly?
Yes, what does it really mean to love ALL of a person, even the "imperfect" parts? Maybe loving completely doesn't mean stoically holding up a white flag or begrudgingly accepting something unpleasant, scrunching your nose as if someone is handing you a bag of dog poo.
Maybe loving all of a person means loving so deeply and thoroughly and truly, that you begin to see something....more. Something deeper.
Was my husband lazy, or attentive?
Was he neglectful, or caring?
Was he impulsive, or whimsical?
Was he unproductive, or fatherly?
Who was my husband that evening, laughing along with our children, drawing Spongebob on the ground and kneeling in chalk dust without a care in the world? Whatever the label, I found another part of him to love unconditionally.
Maybe someday I'll meet that priest again and tell him how it turned out.
"The single most important tactic for short circuiting defensive communication is to choose to have a positive mindset about your partner." ~John Gottman, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail
demanding or holds high standards?
unpredictable or flexible?
loud or zestful?
argumentative or committed?
stubborn or assertive?
nosy or curious?
wild or energetic?
extreme or tenderhearted?
inflexible or traditional?
manipulative or charimastic?
impatient or compelling?
anxious or cautious?
explosive or dramatic?
picky or selective?
whiny or analytical?
distractible or perceptive?
Do you want to be with a whiny, demanding, manipulative toddler or a charismastic, analytical toddler who holds high standards? Which labels demean our children (and partners) and which ones uplift and support them?
Which would make you feel better to hear from a parent or spouse? Which one do you think your child or partner wants to hear from you?
Unconditionally loving someone, baby, toddler, teen or adult, means accepting him as the person he is today, not the person you want him to become tomorrow. A child isn't going to become a person later; she's a person right now. Your significant other isn't going to be Mr. Right later down the road; he's your partner right now. Making a commitment to change your perceptions builds up the relationship instead of tearing it down over imperfections.
Try this unconditional partners exercise: Write down two imperfections you commonly hold against your partner. Now try to find a different label or see the good in them. Is he indecisive, or prudent and cautious? Is she irresponsible, or energetic and filled with a love for life? Consider sharing your findings to promote intimacy.
Try this unconditional parents exercise: the next time someone labels your child negatively, turn the label around within earshot of your child. For example, if your mother in law says, "Timmy is so anxious in public!" Smile proudly and say, "Yes, Timmy is very cautious and prudent!"
Are you unconditionally loving your partner and your child? Join my new page, unconditional partners who are unconditionally parenting:
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