Sunday, 12 February 2012

Unconditional love without conditions – a life limiting belief – LOSE IT

Note: In Clarissa and my opinion, addressing this belief is important to both maintaining the health of a functional relationship and also making the best of a dysfunctional relationship.  

In this post I speak from experience and try to create some advice for myself and other people. Please note I don’t have experience or qualifications in a relevant field, so you need to think things through yourself and decide on your own approach. If things blow up - you need to take responsibility! 
I suggest a new term “life limiting belief “. It’s similar to “self limiting belief”, but is a belief about life rather than oneself and one’s own capabilities.

The two co- related life limiting beliefs I address are:
1.      People naturally regulate their own behaviour.
2.      Marriage means unconditional love – you give everything and do everything for the spouse no matter what they do for you or for themselves.

I argue, if you really love someone you should help them become the best person they can possibly be and this may mean speaking out, working with them to achieve improvements or eventually withdrawing your support if your support is reinforcing their dysfunctional behaviour or seriously reducing their quality of your life. In some cases, when all other avenues are exhausted, you may need to threaten divorce.  However, I hope that a sensitive proactive approach will mean coercion is never needed.  

1.      People naturally regulate their own behaviour.

It may seem pretty obvious, but I took a long time to realize that many people don’t self-regulate – they need other people to motivate and even coerce them. Also, in general behaviour that is rewarded is reinforced. Hence, if your partner crosses a serious boundary or fails to make an equitable contribution, and you don’t call them on it and keep on rewarding them for the undesirable behaviour, they will continue to do it and even become worse.

Note: You need to be sensitive to the situation when addressing behaviour and demanding your standards are met. Some people are ill or for some reason cannot achieve a standard, e.g. a woman in menopause may not be able to keep up with both her job and housework or and may not be able to lose weight however much you threaten her. Also, someone who is clinically depressed cannot just ‘buck up’ and may need support to seek treatment.     

On the other hand, strong self-regulators respond very badly to attempts to tell them what to do and even worse to coercion. Of course they need to respect your boundaries, and most likely will because they know how affronted they are when someone crosses their boundaries – Billy is a strong self regulator and has laid down his boundaries firmly!! In these cases, when absolutely necessary, you need to make them aware of your needs and situation and make suggestions as to their behaviour based on firm evidence while firmly setting and defending your own boundaries.   

2.      Marriage means unconditional love – you give everything and do everything for the spouse not matter what they do for you or for themselves.

The first thing I did when considering the feasibility and desirability of unconditional love is wonder what God wanted. I’m not an expert theologian – so I put two thoughts in front of you – Does God love unconditionally? Would he create a structure where by someone could exploit and abuse someone for life? Would God create a situation whereby someone could develop and be rewarded for very bad and sinful habits? I think not! Perhaps people with expertise in this area could comment.

Given the above discussion on self-regulation and rewards reinforcing undesirable and dysfunctional behaviour, you can see how unconditional love can create serious issues for both parties.

Let me provide my example - my ex had to quit work due to illness. I should have suggested and possibly pressed him to seek medical help and then to make and implement a plan to rehabilitate and enter the workforce – at a level appropriate to his capabilities of course. Instead I thought he would organize himself and I worked harder, made more money and did all the housework even though he was at home all day. I spent so little time on myself my appearance suffered, I put on weight and I did not have the clothes and shoes I required to keep up my professional appearance. He on the other hand became fat, depressed, sicker, lazy and addicted to video games. He still complains about lack of help and support - so you can see misplaced "best efforts" and self sacrafise can be totally unappreciated!

As the partner with the greater capability and the stronger internal locus of control, I would argue it was my role to make him aware that he was not making the best of his life and that he needed to work and contribute if we were to make something of our lives together and reach our goals. If he put in insufficient effort while I was Miss Nice Mouse, I should have moved to harsher measures to kick him out of his complacency and spur him to action.  

Note: Exhaustively gather information and carefully formulate a strategy, including consideration of and control of risks (i.e. risks to them and you and any vulnerable others arising from the strategy or their response), before you bring up sensitive issues or try to force a dysfunctional partner to change. For example, if they are suffering from an illness, you should seek medical advice.  

So the summary – we should encourage our partner to be the best possible person they can be and as well police our own boundaries and have high expectations for the behaviour of all our family members.  If we believe in “unconditional love” and thus accept and reward laziness, irresponsibility and downright bad behaviour, the dysfunctionality will continue and likely get worse.  This is not the right thing to do and also it is unlikely God would think it a good idea!
Have high expectations and reach for the impossible - this dramatic flower grows tall and reaches for the sun against a clear blue Brisbane sky!

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