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How a Lot of People Misunderstand Unconditional Love

How a Lot of People Misunderstand Unconditional Love

Unconditional love doesn’t happen right away. At the beginning of a romantic relationship, a ton of superficial factors come into play that draw you to another person and make you feel like you’ve fallen in love.

New love is always conditional

The first thing that grabs your attention is probably something like: their beautiful eyes or cute laugh. As the two of you get to know each other you learn that you have the same taste in music or that you both love the same type of food. You can’t get enough of this person and find all of their little quirks endearing.

This excitement makes you feel like you’re in love. But this isn’t unconditional love; it’s infatuation. In fact, it’s conditional love and relies entirely upon these superficial characteristics. As the relationship grows older, it loses its spark. That once adorable snort they make every time they laugh? Now it’s ordinary, maybe even annoying.

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Questioning what kind of love you have is normal

Your personal values come into play at this stage of the relationship. How your partner feels about personal, political or social issues suddenly becomes important. Because if you don’t share intrinsic values, you realize all you have left to keep you together is that laugh.

At this stage in your relationship, you start to really examine what sort of love you share. You might even have some worry or doubts, asking yourself, “is it conditional love or unconditional love?” What most people want at this point is to be absolutely sure they have unconditional love in their relationship. It’s the security of having this unconditional love that will keep the two of you together and help you make big life decisions, like deciding to live together, to get married, or to have kids.

It’s totally normal to start reassessing your relationship and even worrying about the love you share. This is the point in the relationship when you wonder if the two of you should stay together or not. When you reach this stage, it’s important to know exactly what unconditional love is. Unfortunately, most people believe some common misconceptions about unconditional love, which tends to complicate the decision making process.

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Unconditional love is not “no matter what you do.”

Far too many people think that unconditional love means staying with a person no matter what they do. They think that true love means overlooking everything their partner does and never giving up on them. This misconception can actually be dangerous and has led to a number of people staying in abusive relationships. The things your partner does every day affect your life, your feelings, and your well-being. You should never overlook their actions.

Unconditional love means you should love somebody no matter what happens to them. If your partner contracts a serious disease or illness, unconditional love means you’ll stay by their side while they undergo treatment. If they are in a terrible accident and have to go through physical therapy to recover, or if they lose their job due to downsizing, you’ll be there for them. This dedication in the face of adversity is unconditional love. You want to be their support system no matter what happens to them. Not no matter what they do to you.

Unconditional love is not codependency

Now, just because unconditional love means supporting your partner no matter what happens to them, it does not mean that they should take advantage of your love. Your partner shouldn’t rely on you to meet all of their emotional needs. Ultimately, each person is responsible for their own happiness. An unhealthy emotional reliance like this is actually codependency, not unconditional love.

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How can you tell the difference? It’s codependency if either person in the relationship: relies on the other person to feel happy, loses your personal identity, or is no longer an independent party in the relationship. If you have no boundaries with your significant other and you have a hard time telling them “no”, you’re experiencing codependency, not unconditional love.

Unconditional love is not loving everything about your partner

Your significant other is a human and humans are flawed. You are not required to love every single one of those flaws. In fact, unconditional love means you will dislike a few things about your partner and that’s completely normal.

Loving every single thing means you are only focusing on the good characteristics. You refuse to believe your partner could have anything negative about them. That’s not rational, however, because nobody is perfect! Everybody has bad traits! If you choose to ignore them, you’re probably still in the infatuation stage of your relationship and haven’t yet reached unconditional love.

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Unconditional love is not over-protecting your partner

Let’s get something straight: nobody wants to see something bad happen to the people they love. The desire to protect your loved ones is a natural response to your personal relationships. Sometimes, though, being overprotective stands in the way of their progress.

When you have unconditional love for your partner, you want to see them take steps to improve their lives and reach their goals. These steps, however, are often difficult to take and filled with the risk of failure. And with this failure comes disappointment and pain. If you truly love your partner, you’ll understand that some pain can’t be avoided and is even necessary to get them to where they want to be in life. Being overprotective can actually hurt them in the long run.

Real unconditional love allows the two of you to change and grow as individuals over time

When you have unconditional love, it allows the two of you to change and grow as individuals over time. Your love for each other is in your shared personal values and that won’t change over time. As you each develop and work toward becoming a better person for yourself and your future, unconditional love is what keeps you together. In fact, you are together because you want to support the person through these critical changes. You want to see them change and improve themselves. A couple with unconditional love will never “grow apart”. If you find emotional distance creeping its way between the two of you, it’s because your personal values don’t align. As you grow on a personal level, you’ll begin to notice these difference where unconditional love doesn’t exist.

Unconditional love also allows you to be happy without your partner. It means that you can be independent, each of you pursuing your own interests. Unconditional love gives you a certain freedom in your relationship. It’s the freedom to be your own person, to have solo time, to achieve your personal goals, and to live happily. When you are able to achieve your personal goals, you have a better understanding of yourself. Knowing yourself and loving yourself allow you to love another person unconditionally.

More by this author

Anna Chui

Anna is a communication expert and a life enthusiast. She's the editor of Lifehack and loves to write about love, life, and passion.

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Last Updated on October 30, 2019

How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

Change is tough, there’s no doubt about it. Old habits are hard to shift, and adopting a new lifestyle can feel like an uphill battle!

In this article, you will learn about a simple yet powerful model:

Stages of change model, that explains the science behind personal transformation.

You’ll discover how and why some changes stick whereas others don’t last, and how long it takes to build new habits.

What is the Stages of Change Model?

Developed by researchers J.O. Prochaska and Carlo C. DiClemente over 30 years ago[1] and outlined in their book Changing For Good, the Stages of Change Model, also known as the Transtheoretical Model, was formed as a result of the authors’ research with smokers.

Prochaska and DiClemente were originally interested in the question of why some smokers were able to quit on their own, whereas others required professional help. Their key conclusion was that smokers (or anyone else with a bad habit) quits only when they are ready to do so.

Here’s an illustration done by cartoonist and illustrator Simon Kneebone about the different stages a smoker experiences when they try to quit smoking:

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    The Stages of Change Model looks at how these conscious decisions are made. It emphasizes that change isn’t easy. People can spend a long time stuck in a stage, and some may never reach their goals.[2]

    The model has been applied in the treatment of smoking, alcoholism, and drugs. It is also a useful way of thinking about any bad habit. Social workers, therapists, and psychologists draw on the model to understand their patients’ behaviors, and to explain the change process to the patients themselves.

    The key advantages to the model is that it is simple to understand, is backed by extensive research, and can be applied in many situations.

    The Stages of Change Model is a well-established psychological model that outlines six stages of personal change:

    1. Precontemplation
    2. Contemplation
    3. Determination
    4. Action
    5. Maintenance
    6. Termination

    How are these stages relevant to changing habits?

    To help you visualize the stages of change and how each progresses to the next one, please take a look at this wheel:[3]

      Let’s look at the six stages of change,[4] together with an example that will show you how the model works in practice:

      Stage 1: Precontemplation

      At this stage, an individual does not plan to make any positive changes in the next six months. This may because they are in denial about their problem, feel too overwhelmed to deal with it, or are too discouraged after multiple failed attempts to change.

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      For example, someone may be aware that they need to start exercising, but cannot find the motivation to do so. They might keep thinking about the last time they tried (and failed) to work out regularly. Only when they start to realize the advantages of making a change will they progress to the next stage.

      Stage 2: Contemplation

      At this stage, the individual starts to consider the advantages of changing. They start to acknowledge that altering their habits would probably benefit them, but they spend a lot of time thinking about the downside of doing so. This stage can last for a long time – possibly a year or more.

      You can think of this as the procrastinating stage. For example, an individual begins to seriously consider the benefits of regular exercise, but feels resistant when they think about the time and effort involved. When the person starts putting together a concrete plan for change, they move to the next stage.

      The key to moving from this stage to the next is the transformation of an abstract idea to a belief (e.g. from “Exercise is a good, sensible thing to do” to “I personally value exercise and need to do it.)[5]

      Stage 3: Preparation

      At this point, the person starts to put a plan in place. This stage is brief, lasting a few weeks. For example, they may book a session with a personal trainer and enrol on a nutrition course.

      Someone who drinks to excess may make an appointment with a drug and alcohol counsellor; someone with a tendency to overwork themselves might start planning ways to devise a more realistic schedule.

      Stage 4: Action

      When they have decided on a plan, the individual must then put it into action. This stage typically lasts for several months. In our example, the person would begin attending the gym regularly and overhauling their diet.

      Stage 4 is the stage at which the person’s desire for change becomes noticeable to family and friends. However, in truth, the change process began a long time ago. If someone you know seems to have suddenly changed their habits, it’s probably not so sudden after all! They will have progressed through Stages 1-3 first – you probably just didn’t know about it.

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      Stage 5: Maintenance

      After a few months in the Action stage, the individual will start to think about how they can maintain their changes, and make lifestyle adjustments accordingly. For instance, someone who has adopted the habit of regular workouts and a better diet will be vigilant against old triggers (such as eating junk food during a stressful time at work) and make a conscious decision to protect their new habits.

      Unless someone actively engages with Stage 5, their new habits are liable to come unstuck. Someone who has stuck to their new habits for many months – perhaps a year or longer – may enter Stage 6.

      Maintenance can be challenging because it entails coming up with a new set of habits to lock change in place. For instance, someone who is maintaining their new gym-going habit may have to start improving their budgeting skills in order to continue to afford their gym membership.

      Stage 6: Termination

      Not many people reach this stage, which is characterized by a complete commitment to the new habit and a certainty that they will never go back to their old ways. For example, someone may find it hard to imagine giving up their gym routine, and feel ill at the thought of eating junk food on a regular basis.

      However, for the majority of people, it’s normal to stay in the Maintenance period indefinitely. This is because it takes a long time for a new habit to become so automatic and natural that it sticks forever, with little effort. To use another example, an ex-smoker will often find it hard to resist the temptation to have “just one” cigarette even a year or so after quitting. It can take years for them to truly reach the Termination stage, at which point they are no more likely to smoke than a lifelong non-smoker.

      How long does each stage take?

      You should be aware that some people remain in the same stage for months or even years at a time. Understanding this model will help you be more patient with yourself when making a change. If you try to force yourself to jump from Contemplation to Maintenance, you’ll just end up frustrated. On the other hand, if you take a moment to assess where you are in the change process, you can adapt your approach.

      So if you need to make changes quickly and you are finding it hard to progress to the next stage, it’s probably time to get some professional help or adopt a new approach to forming habits.

      The limitations of this model

      The model is best applied when you decide in advance precisely what you want to achieve, and know exactly how you will measure it (e.g. number of times per week you go to the gym, or number of cigarettes smoked per day). Although the model has proven useful for many people, it does have limitations.

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      Require the ability to set a realistic goal

      For a start, there are no surefire ways of assessing whereabouts in the process you are – you just have to be honest with yourself and use your own judgement. Second, it assumes that you are physically capable of making a change, whereas in fact you might either need to adjust your goals or seek professional help.

      If your goal isn’t realistic, it doesn’t matter whether you follow the stages – you still won’t get results. You need to decide for yourself whether your aims are reasonable.[6]

      Difficult to judge your progress

      The model also assumes that you are able to objectively measure your own successes and failures, which may not always be the case.[7] For instance, let’s suppose that you are trying to get into the habit of counting calories as part of your weight-loss efforts. However, even though you may think that you are recording your intake properly, you might be over or under-estimating.

      Research shows that most people think they are getting enough exercise and eating well, but in actual fact aren’t as healthy as they believe. The model doesn’t take this possibility into account, meaning that you could believe yourself to be in the Action stage yet aren’t seeing results. Therefore, if you are serious about making changes, it may be best to get some expert advice so that you can be sure the changes you are making really will make a positive difference.

      Conclusion

      The Stages Of Change Model can be a wonderful way to understand change in both yourself and others.

      While there’re some limitations in it, the Stages of Change Model helps to visualize how you go through changes so you know what to expect when you’re trying to change a habit or make some great changes in life.

      Start by identifying one of your bad habits. Where are you in the process? What could you do next to move forwards?

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Psych Central: Stages Of Change
      [2] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
      [3] Empowering Change: Stages of Change
      [4] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
      [5] Psychology Today: 5 Steps To Changing Any Behavior
      [6] The Transtheoretical Model: Limitations Of The Transtheoretical Model
      [7] Health Education Research: Transtheoretical Model & Stages Of Change: A Critique

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