The essence of our nature is unconditional love and there is a drive within us to want to circulate that love back and forth, without putting limiting conditions on that intimacy. Love in its deepest essence knows nothing of conditions and is absolutely logical and reasonable – contrary to what many people believe. Unconditional love does not confuse the person with their behaviour and it seeks to understand how it is that a person needs to engage in behaviours that can either be threatening to one Self or to others. In seeking to under-stand, to get below the defensive stand of oneself or another, the person is not only unconditionally loving of the person but also, is unconditionally and, thereby, non-judgementally, responsive to the threatening responses of another, for example, verbal aggression, violence, sulking, blaming, judgement, controlling, passivity, manipulation. What is important here is that the person who experiences the other’s behaviour as threatening will seek to provide opportunities for that person to seek and resolve the sources of his or her defensive behaviours. Equally, when a person becomes conscious of his or her own defensive responses, for example, personalising another’s behaviour, then he or she will seek by whatever means are available to understand and resolve within him or her self the sources of these shadow behaviours.
Ultimately, the origins of all defensive behaviours are disconnections with some or all aspects of one’s true nature. I cannot resolve these inner disconnections for another but, certainly, by providing unconditional love for his or her person and unconditional understanding of their defensive responses, I create the emotional safety for the person to go within to identify the disconnections and to begin to make re-connections. The paradox is when I reconnect with my Self then I re-connect with the person with whom I have been in conflict and vice versa. However, unconditional understanding of behaviour does not mean that I have to live with the defensive behaviours of another or, indeed, even where there is unconditional harmony, to live with the differences in values, beliefs, likes and dislikes, preferences and ways of living that exist between us. Indeed, I may love someone deeply but the differences between us may mean it would not be sensible to live with each other.
Certainly, when the defensive responses of another are a source of threat to my wellbeing, I will follow through on my unconditional care of myself. What counts is how I do that. My safeguarding actions need to be of a nature that they are done for me and not against the other. For example, if my partner is being regularly verbally aggressive and judgemental, I can work to stay separate – not personalise – his or her responses – and choose to assert that ‘I do not feel safe and that I am removing myself from the threatening situation in order to be safe.’ The distinctly ‘I’ messages imply an ownership of my need to take responsibility for my own wellbeing. Furthermore, such a mature response has no ‘you’ content, no judgement, no attempt to read the other person’s mind, no assumption and no attempt to change the other. One’s unconditional love of the other and unconditional acceptance of his behaviour remains intact, but what also remains intact is one’s unconditional regard and responsibility for self. As long as this stance is maintained a person can still love the other but choose not to live with him or her.
Sadly, so many relationships that become defensive in nature end up with even further defensive responses developing between the unhappy couple. When the latter is the case, the individuals themselves suffer and, regrettably, where there are children, they also suffer. If at least one of the duo come to a conscious unconditional love of self, then considerable pain can be offset. When both parties are stuck in a defensive and painful place, neither one is yet consciously seeing that the source of all the pain being experienced actually lies with some present unconscious disconnection from self. Until that inner relationship is resolved emotional pain necessarily and creatively persists – without it we would not know what essential human task we do not consciously understand. Ultimately, in any couple conflict situation, the critical issue is not so much ‘how can I live with you?’ but ‘how can I live with myself?’
Dr. Tony Humphreys practices as a clinical psychologist, is an author and national and international speaker. His books Myself, My Partner and Relationship, Relationship, Relationships: The Heart of a Mature Society is relevant to this article.