There is probably no subject in history addressed more often than love. It is desired, celebrated, cursed and mourned…often in the same breath. Romantic love, the euphoric rush of hormonal joy that washes over the start of most relationships, will not last. Fortunately, it is not meant to. It’s the delicious hors d'oeurve to the predictable main course; and man (particularly) cannot live by appetizers alone.
The period between the wedding and forever, will hopefully be a long one, and even more importantly, a loving one. For women entering into the blended family experience it can be especially challenging to understand and meet the needs of each member. They will differ and they will change. Likes, dislikes, personalities and habits will impact every relationship and how it is formed and maintained. In the early stages, mutual love is our greatest hope and therefore often our greatest disappointment.
What do you do when your most sincere attempts to love someone are rejected? Rejection is the biggest emotional fear we can have and love is the thing that makes us most vulnerable to it. Reaching out in love to another individual, with no agenda or requirements for reciprocating, is what is known as unconditional love.
Unconditional love is perhaps the most difficult kind of love for us to extend to another human being. While all love is associated with the heart, unconditional love really comes from the head; the part of the brain where decisions and commitments are made. The reason we cannot depend on our hearts to give unconditional love is because our hearts change. They are controlled by emotions and reactions to situations and therefore cannot be trusted to keep a commitment. The heart tends to rise to our defense whenever we are hurt or rejected. It withdraws love in order to protect us. It is unreliable when it is not getting back the love it gives out. The choice to love without expectations must be made by the rational, intentional, thinking parts of us.
I believe most women begin the stepmother role with fairy tale expectations. We are still awash in the glow of romantic love and we envision that to be sufficient for creating our happy ending. As the dynamics of becoming a family unfold, so does the need for a strong commitment to love. This means being kind, patient and forgiving and not basing it on what someone deserves or whether it’s fair. This is a very tall order because it is unnatural for us to be in a one-sided relationship; and that is precisely why unconditional love obligates us to make a choice and not to act on feelings. The guiding principle must be a steadfast faithfulness to our decision with no assurance that we will be appreciated, revered or loved in return.
In The Love Dare, Stephen and Alex Kendrick call us to love our spouses, unconditionally, for 40 days and to not take the commitment lightly. I would suggest that we consider extending that to our blended family members, as well. When you choose to love purely for whom someone is and not for what they do, it will be reflected in the ways you discipline, reward, teach and influence them. The changed heart will be your own.