5 ways to love someone who is acting unlovable

5 ways to love someone who is acting unlovable July 28, 2014

We all can be hard to love sometimes, but I’ve found that people usually need love the most in those moments when they “deserve” love the least. This true story below changed my life and my thinking about love and I believe it could do the same for you.

My Aunt Laurie is one of the most lovable people you’ll ever meet. She has a contagious joy and her laughter fills the room from the moment she walks in the door. Even now, as I’m writing these words and thinking about her, I’m smiling. To know her is to love her, but she wasn’t always so lovable. In fact, there was a very dark time in her life when she was unrecognizable from the warm and joyful person she is today.

Decades ago, she was addicted to heroin, she was a convicted felon and she was involved in a string of dysfunctional relationships with some dangerous men. If you were to meet her back in that season of her life, you would have probably passed by on the other side of the street. You wouldn’t have wanted to get to close. You may have shaken your head in disapproval and labeled her as a “junkee” or a “criminal,” and on the surface, your judgment would have been correct, but there’s always more to the story than what we can see on the surface.

I’ll bet your perspective would change if you knew the rest of the story. She wasn’t always a “junkee.” In fact, the dark path that led her down that destructive road can be traced back to a single moment on a day that tragically changed her life forever. I was only five-years-old, but I remember the moment vividly. I remember it, because it was the first day I ever saw my father cry.

Aunt Laurie and her family were enjoying a beautiful summer day out on the lake. Her daughter, Tina, was leaning over the side of the boat to look at the water below when she slipped and fell in. Her Dad, my Uncle Dean, heard the splash and instinctively did what any father would do; he jumped in after his little girl. Neither of them knew how to swim. They both drowned that day.

A few days later was the kind of funeral you pray your family never has to experience. Dean and Tina were placed in the same coffin, and when my Aunt saw the body of her husband holding the body of her little girl, something inside her broke. It was the kind of pain no human heart could possibly endure. When she made the decision to put that needle into her arm for the first time, it wasn’t so that she could feel high; it was so she could feel numb.

Now, does her tragedy justify her sin? No. But knowing her story changes something. Doesn’t it?

It reminds us that hurting people in this world need our love, not our judgment. They need our support, not our condemnation. It was Mother Theresa who poignantly said, “It’s impossible to judge someone and love them at the same time.”

So, how does this apply to your life and relationships?

Here are a few principles to keep in mind when it comes to loving the “unlovable.” If you’ll apply these to your relationships, I believe you can be part of changing someone’s life in a moment when they may need it most:

1. Don’t treat people the way they treat you; treat people the way God treats you.

The character of God is to give love to unlovable people, and ALL of us have been unlovable people. His love makes makes all love possible. The more you love you love God, and the more you embrace His love and grace in your life, the more capacity you will have to give love and grace to others.

2. Invest into people at strategic “low points.”

Every financial advisor will tell you that if you want to maximize your investment on a stock, you need to invest when the stock is low, not when it’s high. Sure, there’s risk in investing at “low points,” but risk is just a part of life. When it comes to “relational investing,” I believe this same principle holds true. If you want to maximize your positive impact in someone’s life, don’t invest into the relationship only when the other person is on top of the world (high points). Give them your best when their “stock” is low. Serve them when they have no way to repay you. Be willing to rush into their pain and tragedy when everyone else is rushing out. You’ll be part of changing their life while also building a lifelong bond in the relationship. That’s real love.

graph 3 low point

3. Expect nothing in return.

This part is really hard, because we want everything we give to eventually be reciprocated, but that’s not always how love works. If you do good only to those who can repay you, that’s not called love; that’s called “networking.” Real love requires a willingness to serve someone even when they are in no position to repay you. Jesus did that for us and He calls us to do it for each other.

4. Balance “tough love” with compassion.

When someone we love is in a self-destructive cycle and they’re a potential harm to themselves or to others, there may be times to show “tough love.” Depending on the circumstances, this may require interventions or even legal action, but make sure you motives are always driven by a deep and abiding compassion for the well being of everyone involved.

5. Don’t quit on them and don’t let them quit on themselves. 

The Bible teaches that there is nothing we could ever do that could possibly separate us from God’s love (see Romans 8:38-39). God calls us to have that same limitless love for others. It’s a love that’s not based on our own strength; it’s made possible only because of His strength. Once someone realizes that you’re going to stick with them no matter what, it can transform their perspective, and ultimately, transform their life.

For additional ways to build stronger relationships, connect with me on twitter by clicking here and check out our FREE video on The life-changing teachings of Jesus.

And if you’re married or engaged, check out our new book Marriage Minute: Quick and Simple Ways to Build a Divorce-Proof Relationship which is now also available on iTunes for Download on iPhones, iPads and all Apple devices.

hold hands

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com


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  • Heather

    Your posts are incredible! God gave you a wonderful talent for reaching people. This specific post, as well as many of your others, spoke to my soul and is giving me a new perspective on loving people when they are the most unlovable. Thank you for the time you spend on everything you do. I also have 3 young boys. I enjoy and appreciate everything you post regarding boys! Sharing with my husband!!

  • Markus

    Please tell us about what changed your Aunt’s life!

  • Les Ferguson, Jr

    Loved this! I am the most broken guy I know. And I always will be to one degree or another this side of eternity. There is always a story… Here’s mine and it is crazy… http://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/2014/11/22/miss-preacher-rises-tragedy-crisis-faith/19430371/

  • Guest

    I’m having a rough day today and this is just what I needed. My spouse has been pressuring me to quit my job for years yet that is our only source of income. We have two kids in preschool and primary school. I feel overwhelmed by the burden as a woman but I’ve been quiet about it as my husband is busy with his studies. It pains me that he always complains about my job and pressures me to quit and get a better one. We have food on the table and a roof over our heads. Good jobs are hard to come by these days. How to I make him stop nagging me about this?