Wow–I wrote that headline, but as I read it, even I think that it sounds a bit harsh. I feel like I need to insert a disclaimer here to explain just how much I truly do love and adore my husband. He is my rock and I absolutely, fully intend to spend the rest of my days on this earth loving him and only him. I love him completely, faithfully and absolutely. I do not however love him unconditionally.
Now, before you label me as cold hearted (I’m not) or decide that I lack an appreciation for romance (I don’t); let me explain to you why I think that my relationship with my husband is better because we don’t love each other unconditionally and why hearing someone say that they love their significant other unconditionally makes me want to cringe.
The word “unconditional” doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room in its definition–it means “without condition”. So, if we say that we love someone unconditionally it means that we will agree to love them…no matter what. Let me repeat that last part…NO…MATTER…WHAT. Ummmm…I’m sorry, but that kind of love when used to describe a romantic relationship isn’t love–at its best it is co-dependence and at its worst it can set the stage for abuse, manipulation and the erosion of one’s sense of self.
As much as I love and cherish my husband and our marriage (more than words can say); there are things that he could do that would kill that love–just as there are things that I could do to kill the immense love that he feels for me. If there were instances of abuse, infidelity, manipulation, deceit, neglect etc. in our marriage, the love between us would die and we would part ways. Staying in a relationship that is fraught with these types of issues does not demonstrate unconditional love for one’s partner; it instead shows a complete disregard for one’s own self, personal boundaries and emotional well being.
According to Laurie Phun, J.D., author of Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship (Rodale 2010), healthy love is absolutely conditional. “To put it clearly,” explains Puhn, “when certain actual conditions are missing in a relationship, the love disappears and the relationship will dissolve.” Puhn also asserts that in order for a mature, healthy love relationship to survive and thrive, the conditions for supplying five essential human needs must be met. Those needs are: appreciation, respect, compassion, trust and companionship. “If any of these is compromised by lies, neglect, rudeness, unnecessary criticism, stubbornness or secrets, for example, then the love is no longer grounded,” says Puhn.
Sadly, I’ve experienced this in my own life. When I married my first husband, I thought that I loved him unconditionally and I fully intended to stay married to him for the rest of my life. However; I learned the hard way that granting unconditional love in a romantic relationship poses a genuine threat to one’s individual emotional health. By loving him unconditionally, I created an environment where boundaries were consistently violated, irresponsible behavior was tolerated, controlling and manipulative behavior was the norm and my entire sense of self eroded as I ignored my own needs and desires so that I could fit into his version of the ideal wife. I allowed this toxic relationship to go on for FAR too long until I eventually had a complete emotional breakdown, was diagnosed with a dangerous and debilitating eating disorder and finally got the help that I so desperately needed. It was only then that I realized that I no longer truly loved my husband and that I was just holding on to the relationship out of a sense of obligation and a feeling of guilt over having failed at the unconditional love bit. The trauma from the relationship had killed any feelings of love that I had once felt and the hard fact of the matter was that trying to love unconditionally had in fact, led to the demise of our relationship.
After a great deal of soul searching and even more therapy, I finally came to the understanding that unconditional romantic love is always unhealthy. In order for a mature, romantic relationship to truly thrive, both partners must feel that the relationship is mutually beneficial and that boundaries will be respected and standards of behavior will be met. This is not to say that partners have to be perfect (they don’t) or that forgiveness of wrongs isn’t sometimes necessary (it is). What it does mean is that two mature, emotionally strong individuals are able to fully love each other without fear of that love being twisted into something ugly. It means that each partner’s expectations are met and respected without infringing upon the other’s individual values or expectations of the relationship. It also means that both partners genuinely respect the other and understand that each one is individually secure enough to leave the relationship should it become toxic.
It might not sound flowery and you won’t find any Valentine’s Day cards touting the value of conditional love, but I for one would much rather be involved with a partner who has enough self esteem to love me completely while also holding firm to his individual standards regarding behavior, than to be with someone who will weakly love me without regard to his own well being or the overall health of the relationship. This is why I am 100% convinced that my relationship with my husband will continue to deepen and thrive despite the fact that we don’t love each other unconditionally. We love each other deeply, completely, honestly, faithfully, passionately and FabYOUlously…I’ll take that over unconditional any day.