Unconditional love is something a lot of people have heard about. I can pretty much guarantee that everyone reading this article has heard of it, and at least thinks they know what it means. Unlike that very common term, another term that you most likely have not heard of (or that very few of you have heard of, or considered) is the term unconditional relationships. Though these two terms hold similar meaning, they are not identical. The concepts that create these terms are actually less alike than you’d think. So, what do these terms really mean?
Ironically, when most people think of unconditional love they assume it means unconditional relationship. They most likely imagine the traditional “love of your life” scenario where the two people can’t live without each other and are each other’s true loves (or soulmates), yadda-yadda-yadda. In this imagined reality there is absolutely nothing either of them could do in order to make the other leave them. They are bound unconditionally in a romantic relationship, forever, regardless of what may come their way. This is true whether or not one of them tends to be abusive, or a drug addict, or their love is tearing their families apart. It can often be a really toxic situation, but nonetheless, their love (and relationship) persists throughout it all.
Okay… where can I even begin to explain why this is so not what unconditional love means? The scenario I just mentioned is an example of an unconditional relationship. This means that there are absolutely no conditions on what the relationship entails, how it progresses, etc. A lot of people see conditionality as a bad thing, but in reality… conditions in our relationships are what keep us sane. I’m not at all suggesting that you need to be excessive with planning and organizing and rules or have no flexibility when it comes to the way your relationship unfolds; but you definitely need to be able to tell your partner (or potential partner) “this is what I’m wanting out of this relationship, and if that doesn’t work for you, then maybe we are incompatible.” Regardless of how much you love each other.
Why Conditions In Relationships Are Important
Let me be very clear – relationships NEED conditions. They thrive on conditions. The only way to make a relationship truly unconditional is if you throw all your wants, needs, goals, boundaries, and anything else out the window. Unconditional relationships hold no room for people to have feelings or opinions or the ability to make choices, because no matter what – you have to stay with that person. Basically, an unconditional relationship traps you and makes you a prisoner. Whether one partner becomes the prisoner of the other, or they both become imprisoned within the relationship, it is never a pretty sight.
Unconditional relationships reek of co-dependency and toxicity, as well as many other tragic attributes. Agreeing to be in an unconditional relationship (the traditional “til death do us part” with no possibility of divorce, for example) is literally consenting to not having to give consent. You have absolutely no say one way or another – you are with that person and that’s the end of it. For better or for worse, no matter how much worse things might get. You have no ability to leave, no exit route, you are where you are always going to be.
So What Is Unconditional Love?
On the other hand, we have unconditional love. This is a concept that encompasses the fact that you can love someone endlessly and forever, but just because you feel that love doesn’t mean anything specific has to come of it. Unconditional love does not require a relationship of romantic, or sexual, or even platonic nature. It requires absolutely no relationship, at all. There are times when you may love someone unconditionally, but because of extreme circumstances you have to agree to just let them go (or not pursue things with them in the first place). Maybe you reconnect in 10 years, or maybe you never see each other again. The love may never fade away – but it does not force you to keep that person in your life in any capacity.
I have a few people I love unconditionally. First off would be my children. Sometimes I hate their guts because they are so infuriating, but at the same time… I will never stop loving them. Even if one of them murdered the other, and I was forced to send my child to prison and mourn my other child’s death, I would still never stop loving them. It would be painful and awful, just really friggin horrific, but it wouldn’t make the love go away. In an unconditional relationship scenario, I wouldn’t be able to distance myself from my other child, at all. I’d have to keep them close and be loyal to them, no matter how much I was hurting inside. No matter how much it pained me to see their face each morning. I’d have to just deal with it. However, unconditional love allows me to love my child – no matter what terrible things they may do, or not do – without having to keep them unconditionally in my life. Just as with other toxic family members… perhaps you will always love them, but if they are toxic or abusive – you deserve to let them go and get some space.
The Tragic Side of Unconditional Love
Luckily, I doubt I’ll ever have to face something as graphically gut-wrenching as one of my children killing the other (but it does happen). I don’t see myself ever having to push my children away, but you never know. There is, however, someone I hold dear to my heart that I have had to push away… many times… and perhaps have done so for the last time, as I’m unsure I’ll ever again let them back into my life. It’s hard when you have to make tough decisions like that. When you love somebody so much that you never want to have to let them go. When no matter what they do, or how much they hurt you, you just can’t stop loving them. But you know that it isn’t right. That you’ve given them chances and they won’t change. Not now, not anytime soon, and maybe not ever. It fucking hurts having to let them go.
But you can still love them from afar. And maybe you don’t want to. Maybe you hate thinking about them. Maybe it makes you cry or makes you sick to your stomach knowing that you still love them, or that you had to push them away, even if you know you did the right thing. Sometimes love haunts you – because it really was unconditional. And you hate it! You wish you didn’t love them after all the things they’ve done. You wish you could stop loving them, but as the years go by you just can’t. Unconditional love can SUCK! Or, perhaps that’s just me.
Placing Conditions while Loving Unconditionally
In brighter scenarios, or at least less dramatic ones, you may have an instance in your life where you have to decide between a big career path or staying with your partner. Or a couple of your partners hate each other and they won’t be with you anymore if you continue to date the other (which is completely up to them, but super shitty), and you have to decide who you still want to be with (maybe neither of them, idk). There are choices around family, and friends, around romantic and sexual relationships, and work relationships, and any other kind of relationship you can think of, where you may get to a point where a decision needs to be made. And it might really suck. It might suck a lot. Of course in romantic comedies the partners always choose each other over any other life goals, responsibilities or possibilities; but life isn’t that easy. Sometimes it makes more sense for you to choose something else.
Sometimes you have to let friends, or partners, or family go – even though you don’t want to. You’re just doing what is best for you, or for your kids, or for your future, etc. Tough choices abound…life is hard. Knowing that choosing something other than the person you love doesn’t mean you don’t love them anymore, can sometimes be a comfort to you, or them. It can get you through tough times, even though sometimes it can create those tough times. Knowing that you can hold love for someone and not act upon it. It’s a tricky one. Love is a tricky thing. But there is another love, self-love. That love you should always make sure to be true to. That should be your compass for figuring out what other loves should be tended to or ignored. It will help you find your way through the world. It will help you decide what conditions to place where. Because no kind of love is more meaningful, or more powerful, than the unconditional love one can hold for oneself.
I’ll leave you with this: Unconditional love does not mean you can’t have boundaries, or take breaks, or live separate lives, or be platonic, or be family, or choose you over them. Unconditional love is you accepting your love for others without having to attach any strings to it. Unconditional love is you taking the right steps for you, regardless of the love you feel for others. And unconditional love is loving yourself without reason or rhyme or purpose, but nonetheless, loving yourself fully. Where unconditional relationships leave you weary or broken and feeling helpless… unconditional love picks you up and takes you where you need to go. Never make decisions about your life, or your relationships, unconditionally – but nothing can stop you from feeling the depths of your emotions, no matter where your road of conditional choices may go.