Does unconditional love mean to love your partner no matter what? Even when they abuse you?
There are many myths and misconceptions about unconditional love which ruin our chances of actually experiencing it in a relationship.
Unconditional love is presented as the purest form of love, the gold standard, the summit of bliss we’re all trying to reach.
There’s this thing everyone talks about called unconditional love. You hear about it from people who seem to have good relationships. You see it plastered all over Facebook.
Unconditional love is presented as the purest form of love, the gold standard, the summit of bliss we’re all trying to reach. And you begin to think, if I could just learn to love my partner unconditionally, or better yet if I could find someone to love me unconditionally, I would be supremely happy.
Because I want you to be supremely happy, I’m calling bullshit on unconditional love.
I’m not saying it doesn’t exist. But it doesn’t mean what you think it does, nor does your supreme happiness depend on it. So let’s correct some major misunderstandings.
Because if you try to love unconditionally and you get it wrong, you will be miserable.
Supremely miserable. And you won’t be doing your partner any favors either. You’ll be creating a relationship in which you tolerate and enable hurtful behavior that doesn’t serve either one of you.
Here are five things I’ve learned about loving unconditionally that you can put into practice for better, healthier relationships.
When you practice these yourself and expect them from your partner, your understanding of love will change, and your whole life will change with it.
The power to love, to give love, and to walk away from love always resides with you.
1. Unconditional love is not an obligation; it’s a choice.
Loving your partner unconditionally doesn’t mean loving—or staying—no matter what. The power to love, to give love, and to walk away from love always resides with you.
If someone abuses you or is cruel to you or your children, holds you back in life, or consistently trashes your sense of well-being, you’re not obligated to stay or to keep giving your love to that person. You may still harbor a kind of love for this scoundrel in your heart—a love that keeps a safe distance—but you are not required to leave yourself vulnerable to emotional or physical harm.
Saying no to hurtful behavior is not setting a condition for love. It’s simply saying I love myself first, and I refuse to abandon my self-love to indulge in the love of another who hurts me.
Some people do choose to remain in relationships that don’t bring them happiness or worse, bring them harm. Justifying this choice with the excuse of, “But I’m obligated to love unconditionally,” perpetuates powerlessness and a victim mentality.
Choosing to be with a person who respects you, honors you, treats you with kindness and enriches your life is actually the first step to loving unconditionally; it prepares the ground for unconditional love to flourish.
2. Unconditional love doesn’t mean unconditional forgiveness.
Your partner does something that pisses you off—big time. Or repeats the same mistake twice, or five times. Or says something that’s, well, unforgivable.
Unconditional love doesn’t mean you let it go. You can demand—and accept—your partner’s apology, but you don’t have to forgive unconditionally, meaning without defined expectations for future behavior, in order to love unconditionally.
In fact, calling your partner on his or her crap, not accepting lame excuses, and refusing to be a doormat is a higher form of love than forgiving everything to keep the peace.
First, it challenges your partner to a higher standard of behavior, which is in the best interest of the relationship. And second, it enables your relationship to grow by ensuring that you and your partner learn from your mistakes.
Relationship dynamics do not remain static, and sometimes, the way partners interact with each other needs to shift for the relationship to improve.
Unconditional love requires you not only to allow but also to enable that shift by making your forgiveness meaningful and real.