The Fallacy of “Unconditional Love”

ImageI don’t want to only write about affairs.  I want to branch out into more thoughts on relationships in general.  And this is a topic I’ve often thought about:  Unconditional Love.

Unconditional love is a phrase that is thrown around often. It sounds good, it feels good and for all intents and purposes it IS good, but does it exist?  How often do we hear this in the media, on the web, among friends that “my husband(wife) should love me no matter what!”  or something like one partner saying to the other, “I love you unconditionally”??  You hear it all the time.  And it’s of course a big lie.  The closest thing in the world to unconditional love is that of parent for children. I’m really talking about “unconditional romantic love” though.

In my experience and from my observations of humans and their relationships, romantic love comes with a great many conditions!  There is no “unconditional love” — there are, in fact, only degrees of “conditional love.”

But what does “unconditional love” really mean? Put simply, and as the words would imply, unconditional love is love that is given without the expectation of anything in return.  Unconditional love is an aspiration as a devotion to someone without restrictions or boundaries – a type of love that won’t alter due to distance, temptations, or miniscule details including bad habits.  How many relationships do you have in your life — especially romantic ones — where nothing is expected in return? Image

Those who do claim to love another unconditionally essentially claim that they cannot imagine not loving him or her, but this is inaccurate.  One trouble is the limitations of imagination:  imagining conditions and genuinely experiencing them are quite different–and what one imagines may not account for all possibilities in the first place.  The other, more significant trouble is the nature of the claim.  What does it mean to love someone no matter how much he/dhr changes? Would you still love them if they became a raging, abusive alcoholic?  Would you still love your wife if she turned into a self-interested, classless, loud twit like Snooki?  Or would you still romantically want and desire your spouse if they put on 50 pounds? Or 100?  Doubtful.  I think my wife would certainly desire me a lot less if I let myself go, and since desire is an important component of romantic love, I would expect her love for me to have diminished to some degree if I did

Or cheated on you?  That’s the biggie.  Where’s the unconditional love then?  It doesn’t exist.  Fidelity is often a make or break “condition” of love for many people.  If your partner or spouse changes into someone completely different from the person you fell in love with, chances are your love for them will erode or disappear entirely.   That’s life. That’s human nature.  If I see anything on the blogs, is that there is a sincere deficit of “unconditional love” among the Betrayed Spouse community. Quite the opposite, actually.

The truth is that “love” for someone despite massive and negative chance in their behavior or personality is merely attachment to an idea of him or her that no longer corresponds to who he or she ctually is.  It might produce the same loving behavior, it might feel the same, and it might even lead to genuine love, but it is not the same.  It is delusion.

But it’s more than that — love, at its core, really is about “gratitude.”  We appreciate the way the other person makes us feel about ourselves.  We feel gratitude for the things they do for us, and how they treat us.  And therefore, in the absence of gratitude, love does not really exist romantically.

And everyone comes to a relationship with “expectations,” and stays in them because of expectations — which are “conditions.”  Which largely translates to, “How you treat me will determine if I stay or not.”  Crass, but accurate and to the point.  The extent to which our partner meets our expectations of behavior largely determines how much we love them. In fact, most humans tend to love their partner in the same proportion they feel loved back.  Romantic Love is LADEN with conditions.

But, I’ll go further than that —  love does not need to be unconditional to be lasting and meaningful.  If fact, it loses its meaning when it loses all of its conditions.

And so it is unreasonable to say that we must always love our family and friends or never divorce a spouse.  We should be patient and forgiving, yes, and we should prefer to put effort into making a relationship work over expecting everything to fall into place naturally, but we should neither support bad changes with our love nor persist in delusions that the people we once loved are the same people for the rest of their lives.  To say otherwise is to claim that we are obligated to live a lie and thwart both our own and others’ desires for the sake of the ideals of relationship longevity and loyalty.  These ideals are only valuable when the relationship itself is worthwhile.

You can love yourself unconditionally because it is you after all. You can love your children unconditionally because they are part of you, they are you. Parental love is often unconditional. It is possible to love your children even if they don’t return your love. But unconditional romantic love seems to be impossible. It is like a mirage. We think our love is unconditional for some time and then we find it is not.  Expecting unconditional love from your partner and yourself is an extremely high bar to set, at best, and delusional, at worst. It’s a set up for failure – for yourself and your partner.  Strive for perfect love? Absolutely.  Focus on the positives and not the negatives — yes, you should.  But to say, “you should (romantically) love me no matter what?” — absurd delusion.


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6 thoughts on “The Fallacy of “Unconditional Love”

  1. Very good article as usual! My husband’s affair has forced me to take a serious look at how I see, define and interpret the concept of love. Before the affair, we both agree that we had a good marriage, we loved each other, we were happy. But the problem is, we were also lazy. We rested on our laurels. We assumed that our love for each other was like some sort of invisible force field and protected us from even the possibility of an affair. After all, we had spent almost thirty years together without one hint of infidelity so we were immune, right? Ha. We believed some very “fairy tale” notions: love conquers all, etc. When hard times hit, and things beyond our control stressed us both to the breaking point……we hunkered down and waited for the storm to pass. Instead, we should have been actively fighting. Taking the emotional temperature of our marriage. Checking the pulse of our vulnerabilities. We should have been on guard. It would have changed everything.

    I definitely would have thought we had unconditional love before the affair. But after the affair I think I could tell you that we are working on something even better. I have been broken beyond imagining by what he did, but I still love him. I still am willing to not only “stay” but work hard for a better relationship and a better future. For his part, I think he would tell you that he has a new appreciation for our marriage and our family. He realizes what he almost gave up for something that was shallow and false. In many ways, I think as we continue to heal and grow, our love will be better and stronger than ever. That is my prayer for all of us.

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