Love is one of the most widely written about topics in the world. It is the impetus for so many of our favorite songs, stories, movies, and art because it is something we all dream of - finding that one special person that makes your heart sing and discovering, as if written in the stars, that they love you too. You'll share a dramatic kiss in the rain or against the backdrop of a rosy, pink sunset, just like in the movies. But what happens after the sunset or the kiss in the rain? They never show us that part of the film.
What we see in the movies is our society's idea of romantic love and passionate attachment between two people. In real life, that is really only the beginning of the story. When the euphoric feeling of new love fades, a more profound love must emerge, called unconditional love.
Here are 4 questions to ask yourself to help determine if you are showing and growing unconditional love:
1. Am I taking responsibility for my own happiness?
We tend to believe that once we find "the one," we will finally be happy, and our lives can truly begin. We often put the weight of responsibility on our partners to keep us happy and then blame them when they aren't able to. It may make us think we're with the wrong person or that they need to change in some way to accommodate us. It's an unrealistic expectation to place on another person that can have a detrimental effect on the relationship.
Ask yourself, "Am I a happy person on my own?" If you are honest with yourself, you will often find that if you are upset, disappointed, or unhappy, a lot of it has to do with you and not your partner. If you are really unhappy, push pause and evaluate the relationship you have with yourself. Take time for your internal work, uncovering your beliefs, stories, and illusions and take responsibility for yourself, your life, and your happiness.
When you shift your focus from finding the one to being the one, that's when profound transformation begins.
2. Am I practicing love by showing it to those around me every day?
If you were to take up a new hobby or skill and wanted to get really good at it, you'd know that you have to put in a lot of time and effort into training and practice. You wouldn't expect to paint a perfect landscape the first time you pick up a paintbrush or to hit a home run your first time at bat. Loving is like any other skill or art – it requires consistent practice to develop.
Ask yourself, "What am I doing to show love to others?" Try making a list of the people you are closest to and thinking of ways to expand your capacity to love for each of them. Then make a list of the people you feel furthest from. What is something nice you can do for each of them? It's impossible to do something kind for another person and not simultaneously expand your capacity to care for that person, no matter how you may have seen them before.
How much are you practicing love every day? Are you spending the amount of time you would practicing tennis or learning to sail? In order to experience true love, you must first expand your ability to love through your actions for others.
3. How often do I show kindness to my partner?
You've likely heard the passage from Corinthians that states, "Love is patient, love is kind." Yet, kindness is often overlooked or underrated in our relationships. Kindness is unconditional love in action. It lets the other person know they are seen, heard, and that they are worthy. And when conflicts occur, they can bring two people closer when they are approached with respect, human dignity, and kindness.
We may think we are kind people but don't intentionally focus on growing and expressing our kindness. Expressing love is more than just saying, "I love you." Grand sweeping gestures are nice but not required. Rather, start paying attention to the small, seemingly trivial things about the other person and consider ways you can celebrate these things.
When you are thinking about your relationship or have doubts or complaints, ask yourself, "How consistent are my actions of kindness towards my partner?"
4. Do I support my partner's personal growth?
Change is the only constant in life. We are changing every second of the day, either proactively in ways we choose or in reaction to something that happens to us. We are each meant to change and evolve, and that can feel scary. How do we know that the person we become will be loved? How can we know we will love the person our partner becomes? The knowing comes from a commitment to growing together and supporting each other in that growth.
We sometimes expect our partners to stay the same over time, but not only is that an impossible demand, it is not what unconditional love is about. Our partners are meant to grow and change individually, just like we are. One of the reasons you are together is for you both to grow. Relationships are at their best and strongest when you're able to grow side by side together and support each other through that process. A relationship can only become as fulfilling and flourishing as it is meant to be if both partners are committed to change and growth and assisting the other in that.
"Love thy neighbor as thyself" is a sentiment shared by many sages, scholars, and teachers. Love is the essence of spirituality and of our souls. It's who we are. If you are in a relationship, know that it can grow to be so much more than it is now. If you are not in one, know that you have the ability to find the most amazing partner and soulmate. Take ownership of your happiness instead of seeking it in others, practice showing love and kindness every day, and remember that change is a beautiful and important part of the journey each person and relationship must go through.