I was recently having a conversation with my sisters about love. What it is, what it isn’t, how we can sometimes not feel loved when we actually are loved unconditionally. And we came across a distinction about love that has helped me tremendously in recognizing and accepting the differences that I have with the people I love.
We realized quite profoundly that love leaves room for disagreements. In fact, if you can’t disagree with someone respectfully while still supporting them and holding the dear, then you don’t really love them. The connection you have is too fragile to be considered real love. When you truly love someone, it leaves room for disagreements.
My husband and I have some fundamental disagreements and are okay with that. We continue to love each other unconditionally despite those differences. I understand where he is coming from; he understands where I am coming from. We don’t just tolerate each others differences but are compassionate toward each other even when we don’t agree.
Think of James Carville and Mary Matalin. He was the campaign coordinator for Bill Clinton. She was an assistant to George W. Bush. They are passionately committed to their opposing political parties, and have remained married. I always wondered how in the world they could stand to be around each other until I started experiencing some of those moments in my own marriage. And then I understood. Love leaves room for disagreements, even disagreements about very fundamental things.
Guess what else I learned about them? They don’t talk about politics at home. That’s key! Once you have identified a difference that may lead to disagreements, it’s important to not dwell on it or it will just perpetuate tension. It’s important to accept the differences and move on.
My very closest friends are similar to me in their ideologies, and I am able to be most relaxed around them because I know I won’t have to be on guard or ready to debate. But those friendships that I have with people who believe differently from me are the ones that open my eyes to the understanding the why behind what they believe. By opening myself up to listening to them articulate their rationale, I have greater compassion for their point-of-view, and we can move forward in our friendship accepting those differences. It’s very freeing!
There can be times, though, where differences can be so polarizing that it seems a relationship cannot continue. And that is always an option. The difference may be a deal breaker. But it seems that the more difficult, more uncomfortable, ultimately more rewarding resolution is to hear each other out respectfully, vulnerably, tenderly. From that there comes the possibility of actually deepening your love and respect for each other through the differences.
Sometimes differences become apparent after a relationship has been established. For example, my friend became a vegetarian after college, but we were friends long before then. She became committed to fighting for animal rights and later became a vegan. I have the utmost respect for her and understand her passion for this cause. It’s just not as important to me personally as other issues.
It would be unreasonable of her to be offended by my meat-eating simply because her values have changed. Likewise, it would be unreasonable of me to be offended if she didn’t eat the turkey that I worked so hard on for our Thanksgiving dinner because I know her values. If she couldn’t handle that my values haven’t changed with hers, then it could have ultimately ended our friendship. But she and I were understanding and respectful of one another and have simply disagreed on the morality that she attached to being a vegetarian. That’s love.
I know that example doesn’t cut as deep as other issues that arise, but I want to challenge us all to be more tolerant of those around us who have different values or opinions, even when it comes to topics that are emotionally charged or core beliefs that are fundamental to who we are. It is possible to love through these differences even though it may be very difficult. It may be a heartbreaker, but it doesn’t have to be a deal breaker.