I was recently directed to an October ‘14 blog post (republished last month here) by Seth Adam Smith entitled “Forget About Feelings, Real Love Is a Deliberate Choice.” I agree wholeheartedly with the author’s contention that love is about what you do, not what you feel. I have said the same for years. As a teenager, a wise youth speaker at a church function gave the following definition of love:
“Love is choosing the highest good for the other person.”
I’ve believed it—and tried to live it—ever since. I don’t put a lot of stock in how others say they feel about me. I do put a lot of stock in how they treat me. Most of all, when I care about someone, I try to keep that question at the forefront of my mind. What would be the best thing for this person, even if it isn’t the best thing for me?
But as a survivor of infidelity who is now living life on the other side of a painful divorce, I find myself in disagreement with this part of Seth’s post (emphasis his):
“I’ve heard it said that real love is an unconditional commitment to an imperfect person.
Except it’s not.
There are different types of love out there: the love between Creator and creation, the love between parent and child, the love between friends, even the love we’re called to have for strangers and enemies. These are all different in scope and application from the love that’s experienced between consenting adults. It’s the latter that I wish to address.
Adult love isn’t—or at least, shouldn’t be—unconditional. “Real” love between consenting adults can and should come with conditions, while true unconditional love can be an outright dangerous thing.
I used to believe that my love for my ex-husband was unconditional. I used to believe that there was nothing he could do that would make me stop loving him. My marriage was a covenant with him that I took very seriously, and I had covenanted to love him no matter what. I had covenanted to always choose the highest good for him, to place his well-being above my own when necessary, to cherish and honor him, to make an earnest effort to work out any and all problems that might arise between us. I even believed, until very late into our divorce, that if I could just be loving and kind and patient enough, my love would win him over and fix what was broken in our marriage. It didn’t matter what happened, I had committed to the marriage and unless he insisted on a divorce, I wasn’t going anywhere.
I wasn’t perfect about this. If I could go back in time, there are dozens of things I would do differently. But I made the effort. I chose love.
He chose other women. He chose emotional and verbal abuse. He chose abandonment.
After months of having those elements in my life, I realized that love is conditional. We are allowed to put conditions on our love. We are allowed to have deal-breakers, factors that make it okay for us to stop choosing love.
I think Seth’s post meant well. But I also think it was likely written by someone who has never had to make the difficult decision to stop loving someone. And I think, since the Bible recognizes that there are valid reasons for divorce (Matthew 19:9), my religion is kind of on my side on this one, too.
Seth writes, “Whenever my wife and I run into a problem in our marriage we do our best to choose love.”
That’s all well and good so long as both of you are actively making an effort to choose love. But what’s to be done when your partner isn’t choosing love? Do you stick with it, hoping that your love alone will eventually save the day? Or do you part ways in the hope of a better life?
In closing, there are adults out there who do love other adults unconditionally. And I’m not sure they’re better off for it. They choose to stay in relationships in spite of abuse. They choose to stay in relationships in spite of persistent and unrepentant infidelity. They choose to stay in relationships in spite of illegal activity on the part of their partners. It is not safe or healthy to stay in relationships under these conditions, but many people do it.
My heart goes out to these people. We all make our own choices for our own reasons. I just hope they make these choices while understanding that there’s no shame to putting conditions on your love, or in choosing to stop loving someone whose actions clearly say that they’ve chosen to stop loving you.
My life has been nothing but better since the day I put conditions on my love for my husband and made the decision to stop loving him. Yours could be, too.