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Relationships: A Sum of Attention and Time

Relationships are at the epicenter of how we develop, who we are as individuals, and how we relate to society. No one survives completely alone; we all must form relationships to survive – yet not all relationships are created equal. Some relationships are detrimental to our health, while others help us thrive. As foundational to our existence as they are, relationships are incredibly complicated and more often than not, uncomfortable. Now, in this article I will speak to all kinds of relationships: Platonic, professional, familial, romantic, and even relationships that include animals and technology. We relate to many people and things, let’s take a moment to reflect on how we build these relationships.

Our need for relationships stem from our need to love and be loved. While that pursuit of loving and being loved is innocent in and of itself, we tend to bring so much baggage to most of our relationships. We bring past pain, and preconceived expectations, that the love we are willing to give someone or certain people, becomes conditional. And when you have one person who builds the relationship out of conditional love, while the other builds it out of unconditional love, you most often end up with a potentially destructive and abusive relationship. Most people don’t ever stop to think about the intentions behind their relationships. There is not usually a lot of foresight in people’s minds – except that two or more people had something in common and it starts from there. However, this is actually part of the problem of why so many relationships are broken and destructive today. Building healthy relationships are not common sense, as much as they should be. Many of us have to actively educate ourselves on how build healthy relationships.

Relationships are basically the sum of two things: Attention and Time. Connection and love is the foundation, the backdrop, and the purpose behind this equation. You don’t build relationships by simply thinking about someone from afar, or perusing their social media pages. You build relationships with one-on-one attention over time. And typically, the deeper the relationship, the more attention and time has been spent nurturing that connection. You can have all the love in the world for someone, but that love means nothing to anyone else if it is not put into action or in some way. Attention and time relate to one another, but can be mutually exclusive. It’s not only the quantity of attention that is necessary, but rather the quality of attention given to the relationship. Quality attention to the relationship, even in a short amount of time, can easily yield deeper connections and growth.

That seems simple enough, until you realize that we muck up that equation by playing addition and subtraction with the formula for a healthy relationship. We go ahead and form relationships with a fraction of our love, called “conditional love”. Of course, when we remove the bulk of the foundation for a healthy relationship, the equation of Attention + Time will be affected. Conditional love is when an individual only gives attention, time, and love in direct proportion to the attention, time and love they perceive to be receiving. This can also apply to individuals who withhold attention, time, and love only so they can manipulate certain behaviors and outcomes from their relationship. Conditional love produces bad fruits within a good relationship. This kind of love does not love the other person, but is a selfish love that protects the individual with conditional love from being hurt. From a self-preservation perspective, that doesn’t sound all that bad. However, true unconditional love is not self-serving, but rather self-sacrificing.

On the receiving end of conditional love, the effects can be incredibly detrimental to anyone’s mental and emotional well-being. On this side of this kind of love, there is a constant question of “Am I good enough to be loved the way I am?”. There is a constant fear within this person that if they are not giving enough/doing enough for the relationship that this love can be withdrawn from them at any time. There is no real sense of security in that kind of relationship, as this person has been conditioned to receive love only on the basis of doing or saying something that wins approval. These types of relationships affect children, adults, and spouses alike. This even affects professional relationships: When an employer has effectively made their employee feel disposable, unimportant, and micromanaged stemming from a lack of trust on the employer’s part.

Most of us are so used to conditional love, that we would have to actually take the time to learn how to love unconditionally. Because this topic is so important, especially around the Holidays, I’ve broken this article series into two parts. We’ve taken a look at conditional love, and how it can negatively impact relationships – the next part in this series will look at unconditional love. We will look at the tools we can use to tap into the unconditional love we all have within us, and how to apply this to our current relationships. We will also discuss the misconceptions of unconditional love and how people use this as an excuse to stay in abusive relationships. Unconditional love is not love if our (even well-intentioned) actions enable others to inflict pain on ourselves and/or others. I hope you will continue to reflect on conditional love and how you may be experiencing this in your relationships. Changing the world starts with us, one relationship at a time.

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