Do you want to fight less and love more? Author and conflict resolution expert Laurie Puhn suggests the very first principle involves believing “Love Is Conditional,” even though “many of us are brought up to believe that romantic love should survive ‘no matter what.'” She explains how a belief in unconditional love is “one of the biggest saboteurs of relationship success.”
Well, she’s partly right. However, a solid scriptural viewpoint can acknowledge the value of her insight while pursuing a stronger and healthier approach to love.
Laurie arrived at her conclusion by working with couples. She observed how someone’s unfulfilled expectation of unconditional love from another can lead to disillusionment, resentment or anger.
She has a valid point. If we do not expect unconditional love from others, we can avoid setting a trap for ourselves. However with a little more digging, an even brighter path about love emerges promising greater rewards and insight.
Romantic love, if we are referring to our feelings, is fickle and conditional because it is dependent in part upon our circumstances. Pleasant conversation along with a candle lit dinner can fan the flame of romance. Disrespect and maliciousness withers it. Because our circumstances which surround us like air lie beyond our control, our feelings of romantic love cannot be unconditional. They surge and ebb.
There is another form of love, however, that is not dependent upon the surrounding situation. The Greeks called it agape. Agape, the dominant word for love in the New Testament, involves the decision to actively seek someone’s well being. For example, husbands are to love their wives and Christ’s followers are to love others (Ephesians 5:25; 1 John 4:11-12; Romans 13:8).
To illustrate how agape soars above one’s circumstances and can be offered unconditionally, Jesus commanded the crowds to love (agape) their enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). This would be an impossible teaching if agape depended upon a warm glowing feeling welling up within us. Rather, Jesus was instructing the crowds to choose to do good and to seek the well being of those who desired to harm them. Because agape can thrive even under hostile conditions, it can be offered unconditionally.
Before we discard Laurie’s observation as a result of realizing that agape is unconditional and a person ought to be able to expect unconditional love from their Christian spouse, let’s look deeper into the New Testament. Scripture focuses the disciple on what he or she is to give, not what the disciple should be able to expect to receive.
Since a belief that love is conditional would seem to warrant dumping a relationship during a hostile period, scripture presents the healthiest and strongest notion of love. The mindset of the disciple should be riveted upon offering agape to others. The Christian’s focus, as Jesus revealed in his Sermon on the Mount, is upon being the person God wants him or her to be. Scripture is mute regarding disciples setting lofty expectations for others.
When a Christian husband and wife are focused upon giving each other agape, they will create the environment where other forms of love can also thrive. And if they will avoid the expectation of receiving unconditional love but simply maintain their own focus upon offering it, they will also side step the disillusionment, resentment and anger Laurie described.
If we hope to discover an enduring love, we had better not look for what lies in the air surrounding us, but for an unrelenting determination to do good. God gave it. Now it is our turn.