May 7, 2022

How “Unconditional Love” might Keep us Stuck in Toxic Relationships.

Unconditional love was something I romanticized for a long time.

It wasn’t just a notion I had believed in; I actually lived it and practiced it with different lovers.

The beginning of each and every love story was unique and undoubtedly different. However, the ending was always the same: me wanting out but never finding the exit.

I stayed in a relationship for almost two years with someone who had constantly cheated on me. I couldn’t leave nor take a rational decision. In my mind, I loved him “unconditionally,” and leaving just because he was cheating on me sounded silly.

I stayed in another relationship for more than five years with someone who was emotionally unavailable and unable to commit to me. In my mind, I loved him “unconditionally,” and pushing him to make up his mind or giving him ultimatums sounded childish.

I crossed oceans for another man who had emotionally gaslighted me. In my mind, I loved him “unconditionally,” and cutting him off scared the sh*t out of me.

Although these anecdotes work perfectly as examples, sadly, they are mine. The notion of unconditional love was the highlight of my 20s, and although I thought it would grant me the relationship I had always dreamed of, it led me astray and kept me stuck in relationships that were toxic and extremely destructive.

Don’t get me wrong. Unconditional love exists. I love my dogs unconditionally. Even when they flip their bowls of water on purpose or ruin the garden, I do love them unconditionally. I know for a fact that my parents love me (and my sister) unconditionally, and I, for sure, love them unconditionally too. The relationships we have with our families and pets could be slightly easier and smoother to navigate.

However, I don’t believe anymore that unconditional love exists in our intimate relationships. And no matter how much you’d try to convince me otherwise, I will always believe that practicing unconditional love with our partners is dangerous—and we need to stop romanticizing it.

What makes any relationship healthy, good, almost perfect, and long-lasting is not how much we put up with our partner when they treat us poorly—it’s what we can do to prevent poor behavior in the future.

Staying when we want to leave doesn’t equal love. Keeping our mouth shut when we have so much to say doesn’t equal love either.

Romantic love can never be unconditional. The core of our intimate relationships is (and should be) based on conditions. Without conditions, there will never be true commitment. If we accept everything from our partner unconditionally, we put ourselves in an extremely dangerous and vulnerable position.

Ask yourself, would you accept your partner cheating on you on a weekly basis? Would you accept your partner physically or emotionally abusing you? Would you accept your partner ghosting you or gaslighting you? The truth is, we won’t accept any of these things if we truly love ourselves. Self-love is what prompts us to put limits and boundaries when it comes to love.

But when we love unconditionally, without asking for anything in return, we remove all kinds of boundaries and values. And what is love without boundaries, really? Our boundaries define us and what we want. Boundaries are what keep our relationships stable and firm. Yes, we’ll still get hurt now and again, but hurt won’t define what we have with our partner.

No conditions means no boundaries. No boundaries means endless suffering. 

The better we are at expressing what we want (aka conditions), the better our relationship can get. Yes, it takes work. Unconditional love is easy. We don’t have to do anything except for loving this or that person without asking for anything in return. But true love is never easy. True, conditional love is trying and doing the necessary work to keep the relationship going.

It is because we love our partner that we discuss with them our needs and desires. It is because we want to maintain a strong relationship that we consider the ways that could make it work. It is because we want the relationship to grow that we don’t take part in unwanted behavior.

Although we might deny it, unconditional love within our intimate relationships might sometimes signal a lack of self-worth from our part. While we think that we don’t want our partners to meet any conditions because we “love” them, the ugly truth is that we might not know how to set healthy boundaries.

This is why unconditional love can be bad—vicious.

It insinuates that love is blind. But those of us who have been in long-term relationships or have been married for a long time know that love requires diligent awareness because no one is free to treat us badly under the name of love.

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