BY: T. Franklin Murphy | March 2018 (edited November 23, 2021)
A mature, emotionally stable parent loves unconditionally. Adults can unconditionally love but must enforce personal boundaries.
Finding a willing partner in a disastrous drama isn’t a picture of unconditional love—nor is it healthy. It often isn’t love that keeps the partner from leaving the chaos; it’s fear. Connection isn’t unconditional. Human connection is dependent on connecting behaviors. Selfishness damages closeness by exploiting vulnerabilities. Healthy love doesn’t tolerate a one-sided relationship—all give and no take. Sometimes we must love, by enforcing boundaries and leaving.
What is Unconditional Love?
Unconditional love is love without expectations of repayment. Unconditional love is without bounds or limits. Our gifts of love are given without strings attached. Unconditional love continues through hardships, disappointments, and heartaches. Most of all, unconditional love honors the autonomy of the person loved.
See Autonomy in Romantic Relationships for more on this topic.
Unconditional love is love without limits, not conditionally given.
Unconditional Love Maintains Boundaries
Unconditional love is not unconditionally accepting betrayal or denial of autonomy. Boundaries are essential for intimate relationships to succeed. Unconditional love does not imply our lover can do as they please and we will endure the abuse. One of the toughest decisions we may ever make is to leave someone we unconditionally love. Yet, sometimes, leaving is the absolute right move for our life.
Unconditional Love and Narcissism
Unconditional love is a great accomplishment, sometimes requiring loving from the heart but retreating for safety. Manipulators seek immunity from hurtful behaviors. They preach unconditional love and then act in unlovable ways, without scrutiny, expecting to be absolved by an unshaken commitment.
These broken souls possess a narrow vision of love, disrespecting a partner’s autonomy. Sadly, they impose their will by twisting their victim’s emotions, igniting guilt, magnifying shame, and dominating the victim of their warped version of love.
See Gaslighting for more on this topic.
"Unconditional love is a weighty term for something that most of us don't really understand."
Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT | MindBodyGreen
Respecting a Partner's Needs
If we are unresponsive to a partner’s needs, then true intimacy will evade—forever beyond our out-stretched hand. If we are unresponsive to our own needs, then again true intimacy escapes. Some pathological disorders—whether biological from birth or learned from experience—limit connections, preventing empathy for others’ emotions; these limitations create dangerous relationships. For others, empathy and relationships are natural; they easily bond and fearlessly march through connecting processes.
Most fall in-between the extremes—they have the capabilities for healthy relationships but must develop relationship skills, grappling with a balance between autonomy and belongingness.
"These broken souls possess a narrow vision of love, disrespecting a partner’s autonomy."
Books on Unconditional Love
Healthy connections with trust, mutual kindness and security are possible. Unconditional love is a fable if we believe it grants a license for impulsive selfishness without consequence.
Unconditional lovers are understanding, listening with compassion. However, when continually wronged they may continue to love but may wisely enforce boundaries by leaving the injurious relationships, hoping from a distance that the misguided lover will find peace and recover from their selfishness.
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