“I love you just the way you are” is the final line in Billy Joel’s 1970s hit “Just the Way You Are.” The song went on to win Song of the Year in 1979.
If we examined our most meaningful and important relationships, could we say that final line and describe the actions that support it? How would the person on the receiving end of our love describe the reality?
As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, growing our capacity for unconditional love, especially for those closest to us, is a worthy endeavor and it will not be an easy task. When we examine our lives, many of us realize we have layers of experience that have shaped our love as conditional. If we want to be brutally honest with ourselves, we most likely place the toughest conditions on those closest to us in our own homes.
When we look back on our lives, we probably find the simplest examples of unconditional love from children when they are very young. They don’t care about our title at the office, our bank account, how many friends we have, how clean our home is, how many times we have pizza for dinner, or even the areas of darkness in our lives, they just love us. Whether we wear a bad day or a good day on our face, they still reach out and squeeze our neck and say, “I love you.”
Somewhere along the journey for all of us, we learned about expectations and conditions for love. We smile more, reward more, and love more when kids bring home good grades, comb their hair and wash their face, show interest in what interests us, and to expose the most painful reality, become what we want them to be.
As adults, we drag those experiences into our relationships and we find most of our love is built on conditions; what we do for others, how much money we make, how organized our home is and how elaborate we make our holidays. Inevitably, those expectations and conditions are not met and the cold, hard reality we face is many friendships and close relationships lack the love we displayed as children.
Conditions on our love hold us back from experiencing the simple, pure love we all desire in our close relationships. Here are a few steps to help grow our capacity for unconditional love and display “I love you just the way you are” to the people that matter most in our lives:
- Overcome Fear: We fear that our love will not be returned. We offer our love unconditionally and fear that nothing will be returned. This fear is built on an unhealthy view that relationships should be measured by a ratio of love given compared to love received. Measurement is not an act of love. Giving is always better than receiving in building healthy relationships. If we are feeling unloved, most often, it is not because we are not receiving our “fair share” of love, it is because we are withholding our love. Love unconditionally.
- No Retribution: Many times, when the actions of others do not meet our expectations or when real-life shatters our fairy-tale version of life and love, we hold back and deal with our pain by withholding our love from those closest to us. We are so ready to describe our hurts and how we have been wronged. However, the act of withholding our love out of retribution is much more serious than someone close to us falling short of expectations. Love unconditionally.
- Keep It Simple: Love is first and foremost about being present…mentally, physically, and emotionally. We don’t need to fret over saying something brilliant, sharing our experiences to make us feel relevant, or making sure everything is perfect before we act. Just being present is a great foundation to build upon. Love unconditionally.
When we grow our capacity to act in manner that demonstrates “I love you just the way you are” to those closest to us, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to support building strong and healthy families that can positively impact our world.