Truth, Lies, Shenanigans

Unconditional Love: Is it a Fantasy?

February 13, 2024 Ciara Simonson Season 5 Episode 5
Truth, Lies, Shenanigans
Unconditional Love: Is it a Fantasy?
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Show Notes Transcript

Is unconditional love a real or an idealized fantasy? This episode of Truth, Lies, Shenanigans explores the complexities of love that knows no bounds, diving deep into its biological roots, cultural influences, and societal expectations. Therapist Ciara Simonson joins us to unravel the layers of unconditional love across romantic partnerships, parent-child bonds, and deep friendships.

Uncover the:

  • Science behind unconditional love: Explore the biological and neurological factors that influence our capacity for deep connection.
  • Cultural baggage: Examine how societal expectations shape our understanding of love and set unrealistic standards.
  • Pitfalls and triumphs: Navigate the potential disappointments and celebrate the true power of unconditional love.
  • Authenticity in relationships: Learn how to cultivate healthy love that embraces both flaws and strengths.

Join us and discover:

  • Is unconditional love truly attainable?
  • How can we navigate its challenges and reap its rewards?
  • What does genuine love look like in today's world?

Perfect for anyone who's ever questioned the very nature of love and its place in our lives.

[Listen Now]

Keywords: unconditional love, love without conditions, relationships, romance, family, friendship, therapist, Ciara Simonson, authenticity, expectations, disappointment, reality, truth, myth, debunk, explore, biological basis of love, cultural norms, love dynamics, emotional bonds, parent-child bond, romantic love, deep friendships

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Ciara Simonson: [00:00:00] True. Lies. shenanigans. True. Lies.

Nio Nyx: Welcome to another episode of The truth lies shenanigans podcast. I am Neo Nicks. In this episode, we're gonna be talking about unconditional love. A cohost today, you may remember her from last season, our Valentine's Day episode. I have the amazing relationship counselor And ordained minister, Ciara Simonson.

Hey, ciara. Welcome back. 

Ciara Simonson: Hey there. It's a good 

Nio Nyx: to be back. Yeah.

Glad I was able to get you for another episode with us. You know, last season, your episode was 1 of the most downloaded we had. We talked about Love and relationships then. So how have you been doing since the last time we 

Ciara Simonson: spoke? Well, it's been a lot going on, but I [00:01:00] will say first, I'm just happy to Be back.

This is my favorite time of the year to talk about 1 of my favorite topics, love and relationships. Yeah. It's been some time we've talked. I think I mentioned I was working on, my doctoral degree still in the throughs of Research, and, um, I'm trying to finish this last leg. 

Nio Nyx: Was that on perinatal 

Ciara Simonson: loss?

Yeah. So the impact of perinatal loss on African American couples and particularly looking at black, marriages and the attachment and connection within a relationship. 

Nio Nyx: Yeah. Um, my last episode was about grief, actually. And I talked about my previous experience with, um, miscarriage and grief and dealing with that.

So it was a really poignant episode. So Hopefully, our audience gets a chance to listen to that as well. But, yeah, your, uh, your studies are, I think, gonna be valuable In terms of understanding [00:02:00] how black people deal with those losses. 

Ciara Simonson: Yeah. I'm really excited for it to come out.

Obviously, I've been working on it for over a year, More than a year, and you know, there's not a lot of research that's out there around how black couples Grieve from the lens of disenfranchisement, how both men, black men, Grieve and also how Black women grieve, and not only feeling isolated externally from external support systems. um, how are our couples supported? How are couples who are experiencing grief and loss supported when There's a sense of disenfranchisement on both ends, externally and internal. Wow. 

Nio Nyx: Yeah.

I'm waiting for your study to be finished so I can learn more myself. Alright. So I'm just 

Ciara Simonson: ready for it to be finished. You're 

Nio Nyx: ready for it to be finished. Sorry?

I get it. Alright. So let's get into this concept of unconditional [00:03:00] love. You know, it's it's that kind of love that's supposed to be all in no matter what. Like that love that parents have for their kids, it's just there, like no strings attached, and most couples are striving for that type of love In their relationships.

But here's the thing. So in my opinion, as much as we'd like to believe in unconditional love, The truth is most relationships just aren't like that. You got conditions to love it. I mean, it's not a bad thing. Right?

It's just how things work. Like, In our romantic relationships, you gotta have trust, fidelity, mutual respect, support. Safety is a big 1. Right? And If those things start slipping, so does love sometimes.

And we end up breaking up, moving on, but But there is that special bond that you see oftentimes, like, with parents and children and sometimes between siblings where I feel like no matter what, [00:04:00] this love is gonna survive. You're like, I feel like I have that with my brother and sister. But even then, I'm like, is it really unconditional? Or or do I have conditions? Maybe their conditions or boundaries that just haven't been crossed yet.

Right? Like, what if they stole all my money? Or what if they, like, Abused my child or something. Right? You know, will my love for that person endure?

I don't know. So I was really curious, and you Came up to my mind as the perfect person to ask, is this kind of love only a parent child thing, or is it possible To have unconditional love in our relationships. So what do you think? 

Ciara Simonson: So excellent question, and I love I love your reference in looking at the ideas, uh, associated with unconditional love. In doing this work, there is, um, a theorist named Paul Rogers, he [00:05:00] coined the term unconditional positive regard, and that's how we are to look at Another.

Mhmm. And that is really holding a space for another and looking at them without Without the criticism, without the judgment. And could you imagine if we can live in a world where that Frame of being, of operating, actually exist? 

Nio Nyx: It'd be amazing. That's why I'm like, I don't even believe it's possible.

I'm like, Is it is it 

Ciara Simonson: even possible? Well, according to Rogers, it is. But Okay. Um, and I would say according to Rogers and according to Harville Hendrix. So Harville Hendrix, Who is, uh, the founder of Imago relationship therapy.

And as you know, I am an Imago relationship therapist. Right. So there's, um, great appreciation for the extensive study that that Harville has done And looking at the relational paradigm, there's [00:06:00] 3 stages to the relationship, um, just in all relationships. So you have the romantic stage, which is romantic love. That's the first stage.

And in that stage, it repeats the original joy of connecting. So when you first meet your partner, the original joy of connecting is there. The second stage is the power struggle. The power struggle Is We all know. Reflect the yeah.

Most couples kinda get stuck there. Right? But, um, the power struggle Repeats the original connectional rupture. Okay. So where there is a break or disconnect and even The childhood experience, that's kind of reflected and it plays out in the adult attachment relationship.

And he refers to the third stage, which is real love, true love, or this idea of unconditional love. Within that stage, it [00:07:00] creates and sustains the original joy of connecting. Um, but this idea of real love Comes with a sense of consciousness, right, of what is the joy of connect. What is that joy, and what does that actually Entail. So romantic love is what we all yearn for of someone who, Alright.

Well, love us. Right? Then we would love them for the rest of our lives. But with that, it asks of nothing in return. Yeah.

Nio Nyx: I see. And that's that's 

Ciara Simonson: So we all want that. Right? 

Nio Nyx: We want it, but, really, I mean, how How do you get to a point where you don't expect something in return, at least mutual respect, safety, etcetera? 

Ciara Simonson: Mhmm.

The Imago working definition, love is a decision to make. The total welfare of another person, You're unconditional commitment. [00:08:00] Mhmm. It is a decision. So it's not something that comes to us.

It is nowhere to be found. It's something that we have to create. So the work that we do in the relationship dynamic when we have established, let's say, a connection with our partner. We're creating what we want. We're creating the love that we want to experience.

Okay. And the decision, I'm gonna say the first act is listening. This 

Nio Nyx: it's the hardest part for everybody. Right? Yeah.

Ciara Simonson: And back, Um, there's a theologian. His name is Paul Tillich, and he says, listening is the first act of love. Okay. I would agree with that. First at.

And, you know, are you there? Can do you hear me? Because, really, that's all we want, to be heard, To be seen and to know that we met. It's [00:09:00] true. I would agree with that.

So the quote that comes to mind, and this is Poet J. D. McClatchy, he said love is the quality of attention we pay to things. So knowing we matter, that's The intentional engagement around, you know, the person or 1 that that we love. Yeah.

So listening, paying Tension. You know, we are heard. We are seen. We know that we matter. Yeah.

Real love is a decision. 

Nio Nyx: I just in theory, it makes sense. Let me put it this way. In theory, it makes sense that, hey, we could choose to have An unconditional love for someone else. Right?

Because, of course, I feel like we see it with as I said earlier, Between parent and child. A matter of fact, I think it's part of the reason that that's what we strive for is because that's what we get from our parents In many cases or some semblance [00:10:00] of unconditional love from our parents, I think to some degree, we're just searching for that, And we're searching for that from our spouses or our mates or whatever. But I I just I just can't see how and and on top of that, there's there's biology behind it. Right? So there is some biology.

I've seen some Studies where they were saying that when we talk about love between a parent and child, and there's a part of the brain that lights up. But then when there's Mhmm. A conversation about the love between a significant other, there's a different part of the brain that lights up. I think it was a 2004, they found out that, uh, looking at your kids or your romantic partner lights up similar but slightly different parts of the brain. And it shows that there's a unique blend of feelings different between a child and a parent And a [00:11:00] significant other.

So it seems as though unconditional love is more instinctual Between a mother and child. Mhmm. Whereas, love between a Partner or significant other uses a different part of the brain. It's as though Parents are biologically driven to care for their children. I'm curious.

So are we looking for something that's unattainable in our romantic partners? 

Ciara Simonson: Well, it's attainable, but it really does require an intentional practice, right? So think about when a child enters into the world and a parent locks Eyes with that child and just love the child. Right? Not because the child did anything, not because the child, you know, Yeah.

It's just love exists because the child exists. [00:12:00] Right? And that's the the parent just seeing the child in its fullness of, wow, you're I see you, and that's where that love connection is. So the same type of love exists just really being able to see your partner And the the pure sense of who they are, their humanity, and just for their mere existence.

 I love you because of you, but because of who you are. And just because you are Here, you are connected or engaged. Like, you know, you're a part of me. Mhmm.

And we're 1. So again, I kinda go back to that real love is is a decision, and the decision really starts with 

Nio Nyx: us. So you're saying when you lock eyes with the child, that's a decision. Because like you said, you've never you've never met them. You don't know their personality.

You don't know who they're gonna be in life or So you're saying at [00:13:00] that moment, it's a decision. Okay. I I can agree with that. I can understand that. I still think there's some biological DNA Instinctual things related to that because it's just this driver that's making us feel unconditional love towards A child, but Well, when it 

Ciara Simonson: comes to the adult Right.

It's it's a decision. It's a decision that You make. Yeah. And the decision that you make, um, to create love is becoming love. Right?

Part of that becoming love really has to do with being able to see your partner and their otherness And staying curious about it, being able to show empathy for your partner's experience. Okay. Expressing gratitude for their existence. Mhmm. Again, for their otherness.

So this practice, of making a decision to Love. You [00:14:00] choose to love your partner for who they are. It's a decision, and it requires differentiation. And that's the difference between, let's say, the the baby, right, the child versus the adult. With the child, we don't know.

There's so many unknowns Yeah. To make a judgment on. But with the adult, We can see him and know all of their stuff, and we still choose to love them. That's a decision that Making and that has to do with differentiation. So if you can look at the otherness of your partner And say, okay.

I see you as different from me. And although you're different from me, I still choose to love you. Okay. 

Nio Nyx: So are you saying that because again, as I was saying earlier, I feel like we have conditions like fidelity, Support safety. So are you saying that [00:15:00] examples of unconditional love can be seen in People who stay with someone who is maybe a cheater or going out, you know, messing around or someone who stays with Someone who is violent towards them those examples of unconditional love, like, hey.

Whatever you do to me, I'm gonna love you regardless. 

Ciara Simonson: It's different. Right? And that has to do with differentiation. Okay.

I see you You know, what you've done is different from the position that I take, and I choose to love you. Regardless. So I I'm gonna share this with you, and this is the path of differentiation just to look at it. So the steps On the path is, you know, I acknowledge you as different from me. Okay.

I accept your difference as fact. I appreciate your difference as a gift. [00:16:00] I admire your difference with pleasure. I affirm your difference with encouragement. Advocate your difference as exceptionally valuable.

I adore your difference. 

Nio Nyx: See, this is this is good stuff. I mean, when I'm hearing you talk and and when I hear therapists and people Say these things. I'm like, man, that sounds so achievable. But then when I go to put it into practice, I'm like, what?

That doesn't It doesn't work. Right? I mean, it for me, I mean, I struggle with it. I'm not saying it's not possible, but I try to put it into practice, it just Stops making sense. It seems more difficult than it sounds.

Ciara Simonson: Yeah. It makes that it would seem more Difficult than it sounds in practice. Right? Because, again, when we make that choice and we make the decisions, we I have to remove the conditions. [00:17:00] So the choice to love unconditionally is not based on anything you do for me or on how I feel.

Right? I choose to love you because you exist And independent of any value to me. Okay. And so in turn, I then wonder what can I do for you? Because that's my choice.

Yeah. And loving you and condition. It's not looking at what you're doing for me. And so going back to that whole parent child analogy, the parent knows that there's there's nothing this child can do for 

Nio Nyx: it. Mhmm.

That's a good point. Yep. There's nothing you can do in return. Everything 

Ciara Simonson: Mhmm. Is about what the parent can do for the child.

What can I do for you I see what you're saying? 

Nio Nyx: Without knowing. That's deep. So yeah. You're so you're saying basically that because A child cannot do anything in [00:18:00] return and not give anything back, and the parent goes into that knowing this That that is an unconditional love in itself.

Right? Because you made a choice to give your love knowing that you cannot receive it back in any way, shape, or form, or you may or may not receive it back in any way, shape, or form. You're just gonna give it regardless. 

Ciara Simonson: Exactly. There are no expectations.

Yeah. No disappointments. No transactions. No required reciprocity. Okay.


Nio Nyx: Real love. It's tough because my next question to you was, Is conditional love a good thing? Or even is it a good thing for a period of time? Right?

Because, You know, in these cases, you are walking into situations where it's not a newborn child where it's a clean slate, a Brand new being where you shouldn't have expectations. You're [00:19:00] walking into a relationship where there's a well developed human Who has good and bad traits about them. Right? And it's hard to walk into a relationship and say, I love you unconditionally. Right?

Yes. So is conditional love a good thing at first, I guess? You know, where you're building towards unconditional love as opposed to just walking in and saying, look, I love you unconditionally, and we're just gonna make this work. I 

Ciara Simonson: think that's I think that's the starting point. I'll tell you just my personal experience, you know, in my marriage.

My husband and I had to make an agreement in the very beginning. No expectations. No disappointments. Right? Like, there's no formulas to this.

Go in and let's just kind of find what our agreement is. I love you. You love me. Let's take the expectations off So that we're [00:20:00] not finding ourselves setting up, you know, for the disappointment. Mhmm.

And we can just kind of Find, okay, what's the agreement and just support each other through that, it really takes a lot of the pressure. But when we start looking for, You know, the reciprocity. When we're looking for, like, the transaction, well, I get this view. You need to do this. You know, it becomes very transactional, and that's Where it gets really, really murky and challenging, and those are the conditions.

You take that off the table and identify, well, what's the intention? What's the agreement, what are we agreeing to? Yes. We're gonna make mistakes. Yes.

Things are going to happen. We make mistakes. We're not perfect beings, but it's recognizing that I see, you know, you're different. 

Nio Nyx: Yeah. 

Ciara Simonson: Right?

You are different from me, but I love you Despite our [00:21:00] difference. 

Nio Nyx: I love that you were able to walk into your marriage and relationship saying, hey. I have no expectations. Let's take that off the table because that was difficult for me, because I was walking in having been Assorted by a previous relationship physically and always felt like, hey. I'm always gonna be faithful.

I want someone who's also going to be faithful. So I had deal breakers. And oftentimes, I think that's a good thing to have deal breakers. Right? So because not deal breakers, but Conditions, ultimately.

Ciara Simonson: Yeah. We need boundaries. Yeah. You know, that makes 

Nio Nyx: sense. So I set those, and so, Therefore, my love is conditional in my current marriage because I need to be safe.

I need to be supported. I need fidelity. These are [00:22:00] things that I need to To be in love, to love another. And those are all conditions. And I have I'm struggling with in my head, How do I let those go to achieve unconditional love with my wife?

Because I do love my wife a lot. Right? And she is my 1. Right? And I would love to achieve unconditional love because it's certainly an aspiration.

But it's hard for me to see the path to it because I always feel like I'll always have these conditions of safety, fidelity, etcetera. So I feel like those will always be in place and potentially could lead to me no longer loving that individual, my wife. If those Things were to occur if I were, you know, abused in some way, if I were attacked, or if there was, um, some cheating going on. I just it's hard for me to see how I can [00:23:00] get there. How do we get there?


Ciara Simonson: Yeah. So this is where faith comes into play. Faith is the things hoped for, the evidence of things not Seeing, you know, what undergirds our faith is trust. So, really, to, um, experience this sense of Love without conditions requires a great deal of trust in saying goodbye to the relationship gains.

Right? So I trust you because I love you, And I know, right, beyond a doubt that you love me. And because we love each other, We're not gonna hurt each other with these games, right, these relationship games. So it's already implied that you're not gonna do anything that would hurt me because you love me. [00:24:00] That's, 

Nio Nyx: uh, that's deep.


Ciara Simonson: Yep. I I would say 1 of the turning points, the shift in my relationship, Oh, in my marriage was when I realized, oh, I can't look for my partner. I I stopped expecting him to be the 1 who's going to fulfill this need, and I had to really look for it internally within myself. Have I attended this me?

Mhmm. Right? Mhmm. Within me, and then my love for him it's that unconditional, just like I love him not because of what he's doing for me, but because of who I am, right, and what I'm able to do And we both were able to adapt to that paradigm, and that was game change 

Nio Nyx: for our marriage.

That makes sense. So trust. So basically, you have to trust and be willing to trust That that person loves you [00:25:00] unconditionally. Therefore, you can love unconditionally. 

Ciara Simonson: Right.

And going back to the parent child model, when the child is born, the child doesn't know. Right. It placed into this parent's arm and just like, okay. I guess you are the 1. That child develops trust.

Mhmm. Right? Mhmm. Placed in the arm of This being. 

Nio Nyx: That totally makes sense.

Ciara Simonson: It requires just really being open trust. You love me. You're my partner. You're not gonna do anything that's going to me because you love me. I'm not gonna do anything to hurt you because I love you.

And I'm letting go of the relationship games. You know, look what I do for you, you know, or Oh, you did that thing again. Right? And it's always the same old [00:26:00] thing. Right?

Like, reciting old negative memories and, Um, or or you made me do this. You know, I'm never able to count on you. You're unreliable. I mean, we can kinda go on and on and on in terms of how we point fingers, It's it's really about trust. So, yeah, we have to put boundaries in place as a we're fearful.


Nio Nyx: Yeah. It's it's totally reason I put my boundaries in place. Uh, you know, my my deal breakers was because I needed to feel safe. I was scared.

You know, it's it's a combination of scared to lose something. It's a combination of fear for your life. It's a combination of a lot of things. So I see how fear makes trust difficult, And without trust, it's hard to have unconditional love. Yeah.

Ciara Simonson: And it really begins with self it's a decision that you 

Nio Nyx: make. Yeah. [00:27:00] Unfortunately, we are short on time. Did you have any final things that you want to say? 

Ciara Simonson: I will just add to this.

The paradox of real love is when we're able to create an image of what we want to receive, like, for ourselves Mhmm. And then we're able to give it Mhmm. To another Mhmm. We then, in turn, Receive it. So when we give it, we receive it.

So if we can trust enough, Right? And give unconditional love. Mhmm. We will in turn receive. Wow.

If we can give compassion, if we can give grace, We can then in turn receive that and know it for ourselves. 

Nio Nyx: I will say I think you may have modified my thinking a bit. I don't wanna say change my mind completely. But before we close out, I'm gonna go back to our opening statement. So unconditional love [00:28:00] is a love It can only be had between a parent and child.

Is this truth, lies, or shenanigans? 

Ciara Simonson: Yeah. That's lies. Yeah. 

Nio Nyx: So so you think it's lies.

Okay. So I I'm gonna say I was thinking truth coming into this conversation, but I'm gonna say shenanigans because I really understand what you're saying about 1, it's a choice. It's a choice to trust, and that's really really what it comes down to. So do I think it's achievable? I think it's achievable, or do I think it's very, very hard?

I think it is very, very hard, so I'm gonna go with shenanigans on this 1 because I'm on the fence as to how achievable it is, but is it possible? I believe yes. So you I I agree with you. But this is really good because, uh, this has been a question in my mind for a long time in my [00:29:00] life. 1, I don't feel that I have unconditional love with my parents.

And 2, the only unconditional Close to unconditional love that I have experienced was with my brother and sister. And even then, I felt like there were conditions It might exist. And so, you know, it's really good to hear that it really comes down to a choice That I need to make to choose to love unconditionally and choose to trust that that person loves me back Even if they don't. I've gotta choose to trust that is the case. And maybe that takes a lot of vulnerability That I really don't have or haven't tapped into.


Ciara Simonson: So I just wanna validate what you shared that it's this is hard work. There's nothing easy about it, but it's, you know, it's it's a practice to choose choose love. Choose 

Nio Nyx: love. Alright. [00:30:00] Well, that is all the time we have for this episode.

Thank you so much, Sierra, for joining us and enlightening us, enlightening our audience, Helping us to understand this concept of unconditional love. But can you tell people who are interested how they can contact you and learn more about You and the Imago Center. Yep. 

Ciara Simonson: So the Imago Center, Washington, DC, where we are all trained Imago relationship therapist. We help couples, uh, to heal and grow and find connection.

Yeah. Recreate the love and and and the dream of a romantic and wonderful connecting relationship. 

Nio Nyx: I love that. Is there a website that people can go to? 

Ciara Simonson: It's the imago, I m a g o, center d c dot com.

Amago center d c dot 

Nio Nyx: com. Alright. So if you're [00:31:00] interested in learning more about Imago and Imago Center, that's Imago Center d c dot com. Alright. Thank you again, Ciara.

And I wanna have you back for another episode. So I'm gonna reach out again and see if we can talk more about black love and Communication. I've got so many things I wanna talk to you about. I'm 

Ciara Simonson: here for it. Alright.

Thank you so much. Thank you. 

Nio Nyx: We hope you enjoyed this episode on love and unconditional love. Be sure to check out our previous episodes on grief and check out next week's episode on power and privilege. Our episodes come out every Tuesday Tuesday on pods network, p o d z network dot com or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

Really have to thank Sierra Simonson for joining us As always, thank you, our listeners, for listening to our shenanigans each and every week. Have a Happy [00:32:00] Valentine's Day. We'll see you next week.

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