Is Love Unconditional?
We often hear that real love should be unconditional, and not depend on any contingencies, or circumstances. Unconditionally loving someone generally means not wanting anything in return and accepting and loving everything about the person we care about. It is considered the highest form of love, and is something many of us strive for, but is love really unconditional? Is unconditional love really possible? And is this truly a healthy way of viewing love?
In some cases, the assumption that love is always supposed to be unconditional can lead to complex problems. For example, if there is any kind of abuse in a relationship, verbal, physical, or otherwise, this is one condition that is important not to overlook. “In some circles, unconditional love essentially means love no matter what,” writes Eve Eschner Hogan, a relationship specialist. “As we can witness in countless homes and families, this is not actually true. Parents don’t welcome their kids home no matter what. Kids don’t have to embrace their parents no matter what, and spouses don’t stay married no matter what. It is my observation that unconditional love may still have conditions. We tend to think that unconditional love is the love of family members and of married couples. In fact, when we say “I do,” we are essentially saying, “I’ll love you no matter what—for better and for worse, in good times and bad.” My personal philosophy is that there is a difference between unconditionally loving someone and unconditionally living with them, staying in close proximity to them, or remaining in a relationship with them. We can love someone unconditionally from a distance while having conditions for how they treat us. We can pray for them, wish them well, and want the best for them while maintaining boundaries about how we are treated. Unconditional love in its purest sense doesn’t mean allowing someone to repeatedly abuse or harm us, no matter what.”
Besides confusing us about what we should be willing to live with, the idea of unconditional love can infuse our lives with a good deal of guilt and self-doubt. For example, when we find something about a person we love that we don’t like or cannot fully accept, we begin to think, “If I can’t accept something about you, does that mean I don’t love you unconditionally? And If I don’t love you unconditionally, does that then mean my love is not real?” These troubling questions overlook that love is always real, in all its shades and colors. Fake love does not exist, because love is not a thing at all. In the words of Byron Katie, “love is an experience in consciousness, that is why it cannot be stolen, broken, buried, killed, taken, or destroyed. It is an experience!”
We learn from society that we are not supposed to want other people to change. We are told to accept them as they are. Love them, or leave them. Yet loving someone sometimes means helping that person change. When it is not pushy and riddled with selfish motives, supporting the growth of a loved one, and encouraging him or her to aim higher in life, branch out, and become stronger, is a powerful act of love.
Yet how much can we really help another person? Can we love someone and still choose not to live with them? Is it better to put up with hurtful behaviors in the name of love, or to love ourselves enough to end painful or unhealthy relationships? It is up to each and every one of us to figure out when to stay and work it out, and when it is time to leave. Regardless of what we decide, it is important to put learned ideologies aside in order to clearly see with our own eyes, for only then can we evaluate our lives judiciously.
Eve Eschner Hogan. When Unconditional Love is Conditional, Spirituality and Health. February 1, 2014.
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