You & Your Family

Making tough choices

Recently, I have been reminded of how difficult it is to love and accept others unconditionally.

Realistically, there may be only a handful of individuals whom we can claim to accept in spite of their failings. Even then, we may find our patience tested to the limits when these few do disappoint us. Yet, although the capacity to love unconditionally and be loved unconditionally is difficult (and some may say impossible), it is crucial to our very existence!

Over a span of two weeks, I met four couples who coincidentally were grappling with similar issues. They had either called off marriage plans at the eleventh hour, or were newlyweds with dissatisfied spouses who had unilaterally walked out of the marital home.

The points where these relationships came to grief are many. Reasons cited included frequent conflicts where harsh and hurtful things were said, little real attention – much less affection – paid to each other, few common interests, and one even complained about her spouse’s lack of ambition and drive in his career.

As a Marital Therapist for over 30 years, I found these reasons different from the usual ones that are often associated with a marital breakdown: being wed to a cruel spouse, a compulsive gambler, a serial philanderer, or an alcoholic. By contrast, what these young couples had to face was a set of vastly different issues.

Does this point to couples these days having less ‘staying power’, deciding to quit and leave when the going gets tough? Is the word ‘commitment’ being replaced by relationships that are ‘convenient’? Or perhaps, do couples these days have access to more life choices, and are more prepared to assert themselves? Has the concept of love changed now that marital vows are no longer deemed binding for life?

Even with the increasing number of marriages failing, it is worth noting that being married still appears to be a desired state by many. Research has also demonstrated that being in a happy marriage has definite emotional and mental health benefits. So for some, the quest for a happy life is not only to be married, but just as importantly, to stay happily married.

My work has allowed me to observe a couple of factors that many people hope to see in their life partners and in their relationship, without which they are left feeling dissatisfied.

One of these critical factors is trying to work at loving each other unconditionally. This means not only loving a person when it is easy, or when the spouse is deserving of such affection. Thus the key phrase here is ‘trying to work’, as it involves effort and hard work. Ironically, when one works hard at a relationship, it becomes more valued and something to be treasured. Admittedly, to do this monumental task requires the wisdom of Solomon, the patience of Job, and the compassion of Christ.

A second critical piece is to remain faithful to one’s love. Again, it is not because there is no other person better than your spouse, nor is it based on your spouse’s ability to meet your needs. Rather, it is based on your commitment to the relationship. This means forsaking all distractions. But this commitment should not be a grudging one; it also involves being committed to finding joy and fulfilment with one’s marriage.

Interestingly, these two features of unconditional love and unwavering commitment are also true of the nature of God’s love for us. If this is how our Lord loves us, should we not also attempt to love others as He loves?

As we struggle to love as God does, may it also deepen our appreciation of His love for us. And as we realise our inability to love unconditionally, may we draw on the grace and strength of the Great Author and Perfecter of Love.

Benny Bong –
has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award in 2011 and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.

Picture by elwynn/