Direct Answers – Do Unto Others

Do Unto Others

I am battling with the question, when is unconditional love appropriate?

When I was a child, I thought love had to be earned, like respect. I even wrote words to that effect on my wall. Then I grew up and realized it is the right of any child to be loved unconditionally by their parents, though their actions may sometimes be unlovely!

I married before I had this all clear. My first partner was abusive. I tried to stop the abuse by doing anything and everything to earn his love. I loved him too unconditionally before I left and grew and healed and learned.

Now I find myself in a situation where my husband's adult children are critical of him and expect nothing less than perfection, total acceptance and unconditional love from him, no matter what they do. I am in the middle, asked by his ex-wife, who is now a friend, to help him change some of his ways.

I am uncomfortable because while I see that he, like the rest of us, is not perfect, I can't help but feel love and acceptance should be a two-way street. Yet I know they have hurdles from the breakdown of the marriage.

We are each a package, good and bad together. He is a wonderful dad who seeks regular contact with his kids. We came together after the split, but he was a very present dad who refused activities that took him away from home.

He feels he married too young and he takes full responsibility for his actions. He acknowledges the pain he caused his ex-wife and kids. Sadly, they continue to punish him in subtle ways.

When his ex and I last met for coffee, I asked her to tell me their exact issues to see if I could help, as she thinks I could. A month passed and I have done nothing.

My husband feels whatever he says or does will never be enough. This frustrates him. My concern is his children will realize what a wonderful dad they had only after he is dead.

I want to facilitate healing but am hopelessly confused how to do it. It seems to come back to this niggling question about when unconditional love is appropriate.

~ Elsie

Elsie, unconditional love? What a phrase! The modifier lessens love. It doesn't qualify it, it reduces it. Unconditional love is a wheedling phrase. Legalese.

It is not used by a person in love. It's either love or it isn't.

We can love people we can't be with. We can love people who don't love us. We can walk away from someone we love because they don't or can't love us.

Love is a natural state. Not like little blue birds tweeting in the woods or furry creatures in the forest. We love without guilt or guile, rules or tricks, pressure or censure.

Your husband's kids think they can dictate who he is. Beneath it all, they think they are perfect. But if your husband tells lame jokes or wears white socks and sandals to formal events, it's simply the way he is. Perhaps their strongest complaint about the marriage is that it didn't end soon enough.

His children and ex think they have a right to walk into someone's house, change the thermostat and throw things out of the refrigerator they wouldn't eat themselves. Then they want to give away the cat because they don't like cats.

They don't have that right. Tell them to go to the source. Let them make a list of what different things they want their father to do, and let him make a list of what he wants them to do. Because he also has that right.

The ex is not his wife. It is not her place to make demands of you. And the kids? They need to decide whether they love this man or not.

~ Wayne & Tamara

Column for the week of November 3, 2014

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