- Gender and Relationships
Why Unconditional Love Isn't Actually Good for You
We hear a lot about unconditional love. It's romanticized and sung about, movies revolve around it, and many actively seek it out, believing it is the way things should be. Certainly the world makes it sound like it is. But is unconditional love really good for you or your partner? Should you really aspire to love someone no matter what they do?
Do you think unconditional love is healthy in a romantic relationship?
Fantasy vs. Reality
Unconditional love is fine to talk about in an abstract or romanticized context, but in reality it is not only unrealistic and unreasonable, it's almost impossible. Love can be destroyed by treating another person badly, and honestly, it should be. Unconditional love between two adults is not healthy. It is not normal or safe to continue to love someone no matter how badly they treat you. It's self-destructive and dangerous. For a perfect example, look at pathological narcissists. They are the reigning champions of emotionally abusive relationships. Narcissists demand perfect, unconditional love from their partners, but are unable to give respect, consideration, compassion or anything at all in return. Is this fair? Is it reasonable? Is it healthy? No, it's none of those things. It's an unfair situation in which one person is expected to exhaust themselves by giving unrelentingly while the other person simply takes and enjoys it. Unconditional love is a nice concept, but there should never be a situation where a person feels confident that no matter what horrible things they do, you will never reject them.
This is one reason narcissists do not feel "safe" in relationships. They are looking for that perfect, unconditional love they did not get from their parents. This just does not exist in romantic relationships - and it shouldn't. It's not healthy or OK for either person. Relationships need boundaries and limits to be successful. Love without limits certainly sounds wonderful and it is a favorite fantasy for many, but it is not feasible in a real relationship. We do not live in a TV show or a movie. This is real life with real people. We all have limits and we should. It is how we protect ourselves. Healthy people have boundaries and they uphold them. It is how they take control of their own lives and keep others from treating them badly. Healthy, reasonable people do not attempt to bypass or cross your boundaries while still claiming that you should love them anyway. Reasonable people will understand that when they have crossed the line, the relationship cannot continue. Only selfish or unreasonable people claim otherwise.
For example, narcissists are unable to understand that if you treat someone badly, if you do horrible things to a person, if you lie to them, if you smear their character, if you destroy their friendships and turn people against them... that person will stop loving you. Narcissists continue to insist that if you do not still love them despite the terrible things they've done, you are withholding, cruel and unfair. This is because the love they are looking for is the type of love one expects from a parent, which they feel is supposed to be unconditional, perfect and all-encompassing. Of course, all people looking for unconditional love are not narcissists by any means, but narcissists are a good example of why that kind of expectation is unfair. An adult has no right to expect this type of love from another adult.
The Bottom Line
If you are looking for unconditional love, take a minute to think about how unrealistic this actually is. Do you really think it's possible for another adult to continue to love and respect you no matter what you do? Before you dismiss that, remember: it's not about lowering your standards. It's about being realistic. The romanticized relationships we see on television and in other media are not reality. They are fantasy. Real people have real problems, and real baggage, and real hang ups. Requiring unconditional love from a partner is like requiring perfection. It's unfair and impossible. Unrealistic expectations regarding love and partners cause more damage to relationships than probably anything else.
If you are being accused of not giving unconditional love, think about what the person demanding it is actually saying to you. They are essentially saying, "You are required to love me no matter what I do. I don't have to earn that love or do anything to sustain it, and I don't have to reciprocate it. You simply owe it to me." Does that sound fair to you? No? That's because it isn't. Love is not supposed to be a hostage situation where you have to perform according to another person's demands. Most people seeking unconditional love are actually seeking a guarantee, and this is often in the form of a free pass. They want to know that no matter what they do or how they act, they will still be loved. This is not reasonable, realistic or fair. It is in fact unbelievably unfair to insist that something is wrong with the other person if they do not love you anyway in spite of bad treatment. If someone does not give unconditional love to you, it does not mean they've done something wrong. It means your expectations are too high. They are unreasonable. You are expecting too much from your partner and are creating disappointment and pain for both people involved.
Conversely, if you think you give your partner unconditional love, do you really? What if they hit you? What if they shot or stabbed you? What if they hurt your child? Would you still love them in any of those cases? For an overwhelming majority of people, the answer to these questions is no. This is why unconditional love is great for TV and movies but bad for real life. You probably would not still love someone in those situations and you should not. Continuing to love a person in these situations is unhealthy and dangerous. The only relationship where a person would probably still love someone who has done those things is the relationship between a parent and their child. In all other relationships, the love would be damaged, probably irrevocably. And that is as it should be.
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