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The Conditions of Love

Posted: February 18, 2014 by Nani Waddoups

How Do I Love Thee? Well, that depends…..

A couple plans a beach weekend in Manzanita to rekindle their relationship after months of work, family demands, and the holidays. They have heartfelt talks about their relationship, dream together about future plans, walk hand-in-hand, laugh. They both feel their tenderness toward the other grow over the weekend. She loves him dearly. He loves her too. They return, home basking in their love glow, and promise to protect their restored connection from the demands of day-to-day life.

Within a week, one was late for a dinner date, a conversation about purchases turned tense, one got a bad cold and didn’t feel attended to by the other, and the age-old bickering about wiping the counter re-surfaced. The tenderness they felt at the beach turned to harshness, distaste, unkind thoughts, and even contempt.

What happened? Where did their love go?

For most of us, the Valentine’s Day, Hallmark, fairytale influences of our culture have imprinted an aspirational “happily ever after” quality on our notion of love. When we love, it “should be” pure and high and permanent. But as every dog lover whose beloved canine chewed up a chair leg knows, our love can waver. Our ability to feel love is as influenced by the conditions at play as any of our other emotions.

How Do I Love ME? Well, that depends too…..

Our self-esteem, how we regard our own worthiness, how we value ourselves, also blows in the winds of daily conditions. A child may delight in his artistic creations, proud of his stick figure family drawing until a thoughtless parent criticizes his efforts and wounds his pride. Feeling good about ourselves can be changed in an instant by external conditions. How many of us measure our self-worth by such ever-changing metrics as bank balance, fitness level, pants size, or orderliness of the house?

As adults we have a baseline sense of our self-evaluation, created in childhood even before memory. Attachment theory provides the model for our earliest experience of the influences of the conditions at play: did we get noticed as a child? were we valued? were we protected? did we feel we mattered? These conditions set that original baseline of self-love: “They love me, therefore I am worthy. I am loveable.” Or, “They don’t hear me or see me, therefore I must not matter much. I am not worthy.” Or, for most of us, somewhere in-between.

How we love ourselves and how we love others is influenced by the conditions of our childhoods and of the present. Can I see how the low balance in my checking account is bringing up feelings of failure or ineptitude, and overshadowing all of the other things I do value about myself? Can I see that being snowed in the house all weekend is what ruined my plans and made me irritable, not my partner’s lack of voluntary housekeeping?

Love is as influenced by the winds of life as any other emotion. How we love others and ourselves is impacted by what’s in the air. Being aware of what conditions are blowing in the wind around us is a way to be kind to ourselves. Acknowledging all of the conditions at play, and their affect on our ability to feel love, is a loving act in itself.

About the Author: Nani Waddoups, MA, NCC, LPCI, is a Professional Counselor in Portland, OR. You can find out more about her practice by visiting her website or checking out her profile.

Tags: relationship and family

Nani Waddoups (she/her)

Licensed Professional Counselor

Navigating toward existential meaning, and consideration of conditions at play are the roots of my counseling philosophy and style.

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Depression, Anxiety, Loss or Grief, Relationship / Marriage Issues, Coronavirus/COVID-19