Unconditional love proves elusive in romantic relationships

StaceyNHerrera

Unconditional love is one of the most beautiful things in the world. Sadly, it’s also relatively rare in romantic relationships. The myth of unconditional love is something we read about in books and see in movies, but love is often conditional in real life.

For most people, love is more like the barter and trade system — they give in direct proportion to what they get. So if you‘ve had the opportunity to experience unconditional love in this lifetime, consider yourself one of the lucky ones.

The idea of being with someone who will always be there, no matter what, and that this person will never harbor feelings of anger or resentment toward you is great  — in theory.

“For better or worse, mature love can only thrive under certain conditions. Just as a rose needs ample sun, water, and nutrients to survive and flourish, we cannot expect love to thrive under sterile or hostile conditions. There needs to be (enough) mutuality.” — John Amodeo Ph.D., MFT

Why is unconditional love elusive in adult relationships?

The truth is, love changes because people change. We all change as we grow older. You could have changed since your last relationship, and your partner might have changed since the last time you saw them.

Then, of course, there are so many things that put strain and pressure on love in relationships, such as infidelity, addiction, and even emotional or physical abuse. If unconditional love were as common as we thought it was, these problems would not derail a relationship. But contrary to popular belief, you don’t need unconditional love to have a healthy, long-lasting relationship.

Here are three myths about unconditional love that can be harmful in romantic relationships:

Unconditional love means never having to say you’re sorry.

“Unfortunately, loving unconditionally may set us up for disappointment and shame when our ideal doesn’t match the reality of how difficult — or perhaps impossible — it is to love unconditionally.” — John Amodeo Ph.D., MFT

We’ve all heard the saying, “ unconditional love means never having to say you’re sorry.” But is this a realistic contempt romantic relationship? No.

Being in a relationship often means saying you’re sorry — a lot.

There are many reasons why you might need to apologize to your partner. Maybe you hurt their feelings, or you were rude to them. Perhaps you neglected them or made them feel unimportant. No matter the reason, making up is a good thing.

A healthy relationship requires that you and your partner apologize for mistakes and forgive each other. Saying sorry isn’t always easy, but it’s essential in any relationship. If you can’t apologize to your partner when you’ve done something wrong, then it will be impossible to experience the rare moments where unconditional love appears.

Unconditional love means being there.

“Loving doesn’t mean always supplying what another person wants, being tirelessly accepting, and having no needs of our own. An immature view of love saddles us with the obligation to satisfy every need, soothe every sorrow, and comply with every request — and we wind up berating ourselves for not being spirituality evolved if we fall short of that ideal.” — John Amodeo Ph.D., MFT

Another common myth about unconditional love is that it means always being there for your partner, no matter what. But this isn’t always the case.

Life can be unpredictable, which means there will be times when you cannot be there for your partner and vice versa. Maybe you’re too busy or don’t have the money to help them out. Perhaps you’re dealing with problems of your own, and you don’t have the energy to help.

No matter the reason, sometimes you won’t be able to provide the kind of support your partner needs. Sometimes just knowing that someone would if they could is enough. The important thing is to keep the communication lines open and support them the best way possible.

Unconditional love is the same thing as acceptance.

“Embodying a consistently loving, accepting presence, we create a climate for safe attachment. As adults, we also desire and need safe relationships. Opening our hearts, we want to trust that a beloved partner or loyal friend will be there when we need them.” — John Amodeo Ph.D., MFT

Unconditional love is not the same thing as acceptance. Acceptance means taking your partner as they are, for who they are. Acceptance also requires that you are conscious that your partner will change and evolve, and so will you.

Unlike the myth of unconditional love, there is space for duality in acceptance. It’s possible to accept something your partner has said or done, even when it’s a deal-breaker. Acceptance does not require that you stay in uncomfortable or harmful situations. When you accept someone, you can choose whether who they are or what they do is suitable for your life or not.

Learning to accept your partner for who they are, warts and all, is definitely not always easy, but if you can get there, it’ll be worth it in the end.

While unconditional love is a beautiful and powerful thing, it’s not about never having any conflict or disagreements with your partner. It doesn’t mean you have to be there for them no matter what they do — that would simply be enabling bad behavior. And finally, unconditional love isn’t the same as acceptance — you can still set boundaries and expectations for how you want to be treated in your relationship.

What does unconditional love mean to you? Is it something you strive for in your relationships?

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Intimacy & Relationship coach, writer, and creator of The Sensuality Project. I specialize in Relationship-ing (it's a verb).

Los Angeles County, CA
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