Let’s Be Honest — 'Unconditional Love' Is ALWAYS Conditional

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Love has limits.

I think the term “unconditional love” is funny.

It’s a wonderful ideal, I’ll say that, and I definitely understand the emotions behind it.

I’ve been with the same woman for two decades now. She’s my wife. I love her. No, you don’t understand… I LOVE her. She’s my world, my happiness. Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone.

If you asked me if I loved her “unconditionally,” I would respond almost immediately, “Yes! Of course! Are you mad? YES!”

But, if you were a good enough friend and I was being honest enough, eventually I’d say, “Well… I mean… what are we talking about here?”


I’m not saying I doubt my love for my wife at all. I am saying, however, that human beings thrive on rhetorical situations. We love them, we’re obsessed with them. So, when you ask me if I love my wife unconditionally, OF COURSE, my mind immediately asks itself, “What could she do to make me place conditions on our love?”

Because — be honest — we do have certain expectations when it comes to love.

For example, if tomorrow, my wife suddenly decided that she was going to scream at me for five hours every day about what a loser I am, that would have an impact on our love. That would make me say, “Hey, if we’re going to stay in love, I might need you to stop openly hating me so much.”

And I think that would be a fair request. It wouldn’t mean that our love wasn’t “true” to begin with, but it would mean that it’s probably hard to love and accept everything about a person when they blatantly despise you.

Granted, I do like what the phrase “unconditional love” implies. It implies that the other person should feel free to be as open and honest with you as possible. That you don’t love them only because of their exterior appearance or the current version of themselves, but that you accept them so completely that they can be 100% natural with you.

They can reveal, they can fail, they can evolve — and you’ll still love them. That’s beautiful.


But, c’mon, no love is completely unconditional.

Love needs to be a two-way street. It’s all too easy to imagine a scenario where a loved one can push you past a point where they can reasonably expect that you’ll accept them.

What if they cheat on you and exhibit no remorse? What if they learn to enjoy hurting people you care about? What if they’re a thief? Or a sex offender? Or a serial killer?

I realize we’re getting into some crazy “would you rather” scenarios here, but the point is — yes, we can ALL imagine what someone we love could do to make us stop loving them. And, thanks to phrases like unconditional love, we shouldn’t pretend that a realization like that speaks to some weakness on our end. It doesn’t.

Love SHOULD be conditional. Love should be open, accepting, and kind, but it also should have some limits.

Otherwise, you start getting into Giving Tree territory, where the other person uses up all of your apples, leaves, and branches and expects that, even after they’ve shredded you down to a stump, you’ll still give them someplace to rest their weary ass on.

(If you’ve never read Shel Silverstein’s children’s book The Giving Tree, it is one of literature’s best examples ever of a destructive, co-dependent relationship.)

Yes, “unconditional love” sounds amazing, but, personally, I prefer to think of love as something precious, as a living, breathing thing that my partner and I have to nurture together. Because that makes us take some ownership of our love. It makes us take responsibility for it, rather than just blindly declaring to the world, “Our love can handle ANYTHING!”


Love isn’t lessened because it has conditions.

It just makes it more honest, which isn’t a bad thing. So, you go ahead and pretend that you’ve never imagined “What would I do if I found out my partner was secretly my biological sibling?” and I’ll be over here, loving my wife for as long as she loves me back.