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I’m used to hearing stories about people loving their partners unconditionally. But I don’t often hear about people (healthfully) loving their partners conditionally.
Often, conditional love is viewed as a negative thing. Phrases like, “I will only love you if…” or “I will love you when…” can be weapons in a relationship that can cause us to feel unworthy or not good enough.
But I don’t believe that unconditional love or conditional love is either right or wrong (when practiced healthfully). We can be in healthy, unconditionally loving relationships just as we can be in healthy, conditional relationships. However, it’s vital to our well-being to understand when either type of love becomes unhelpful or even hurtful to ourselves.
Unconditional love is like the ocean—boundless, endless, relentless, and sometimes, dangerous. But, of course, it’s also enchanting, ethereal, tempting, and beautiful. When the waters are calm, unconditional love can feel ecstatic. But what happens when the current becomes furious? We stay. We stay because that’s what unconditional love is. It’s “I will love you…no matter what.”
But what if the waves begin to pull us under and there’s no longer room to breathe? We drown. We drown deep down into the cold, dark waters of unconditional love and that’s where many of us stay. Obviously, unconditional love isn’t always this somber (and can actually be truly beautiful). But we need to understand that any time we love unconditionally it can become this way.
When we love unconditionally, it can fog our ability to discern what’s right for ourselves. Often, we choose what we think is right for them because the last thing we want to do is hurt the person we love with every beat of our hearts. But we need to be able to confidently choose ourselves and pull ourselves out of those unhealthy relationships, even if we unconditionally love them.
Conversely, conditional love can be just as toxic. When we feel that someone only loves us conditionally, it can cause us to feel like we need to be someone other than ourselves, it can drain our energy, and can make us feel incompetent or unlovable.
This is why discernment can empower our relationships. Loving someone unconditionally doesn’t have to be romanticized and loving someone conditionally doesn’t have to be stigmatized.
Right now, I’m in a conditional relationship and it’s the healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in. Why?
Because to us, loving each other conditionally means holding each other accountable. My partner loves me for who I am. He doesn’t love me for what I do or how I act; he loves me for me. He doesn’t want any bullsh*t and that’s how he holds me accountable. He reminds me that I am lovable, worthy, and most beautiful when I stay authentic to myself.
To us, loving each other conditionally means continually choosing ourselves. Choosing ourselves means always putting our mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional health first. It means working on our dreams, choosing to have time alone, and speaking up about what we need. And if for some reason the relationship no longer serves us, we know how to let go with patience, understanding, and compassion.
To us, loving each other conditionally means meeting each other’s needs. We both have certain needs in our relationship and if we can’t meet those needs, why would we hold on? Neither of us wants to be in a relationship with someone who can’t meet our needs. We both know what we deserve. But, of course, it’s crucial to voice those needs because we all need to remember that our partners cannot read our minds (and if you do believe your partner can read your mind, that’s probably why you feel resentful).
Right now, loving my partner conditionally and being loved by him conditionally is what works for us. This is what we value in our relationship. We’ve promised each other to not get lost in each other’s currents and to, instead, swim side by side for as long as the sea allows.
How you choose to be in your relationship is up to you. You don’t have to love your partner unconditionally or conditionally at all—love is so much more nuanced than that (and nothing in life is ever that binary).
But, the most important thing we all need to remember is that we can’t let love drag us down. Love is the most powerful force on the planet and when we can discern whether a certain love is genuinely supporting us or not, that’s when we’ll thrive.