Unconditional love is a popular phrase, but the people who use it don’t always stop to think what it means. Is it wise to tell yourself you love someone unconditionally? What, exactly, does that mean, anyway?
On the face of it, unconditional love means you love someone no matter what they do. Let’s say that again – you love them, and will continue to love them, no matter what they do.
It sounds very passionate and exciting and loyal and romantic on paper, and the idea can really get your blood pumping, but real unconditional love can exhaust you, can drain your life of all its joy, leaving you unable to do anything else.
An Analogy Showing The Problem
Let’s consider an analogy to help understand this. What if, for the sake of argument, you loved your job unconditionally. What would that entail?
First, your boss would ask you to work after hours, at night. You’d happily do it, even though you got no extra pay. Later, your boss would expand that, asking you to work on the weekends, too.
Oh, and to keep your phone on all the time, and check your email constantly in case there was something important for you to do. Your friends would invite you out, but you’d say no, you were too busy to go out and have fun with them. With no time to get to the gym, or to cook healthy meals, you’d start to gain weight, or have other health problems.
We all know people like this – people who don’t have much of a personal life, or any personal life at all, because they work too much. To them it makes sense – being “on call” every minute of every day gives them a feeling of importance. “My job is so important I am always working,” they think.
But if you do the math, and divide their salary out by the number of hours they actually work, you’ll find their hourly wage gets lower and lower as the number of hours they work rises towards 75 or 80 per week. Eventually, they’re making less per hour than a fast-food burger flipper.
Now, I know this isn’t a perfect analogy. Someone you love is different than a job you do for money. But there is some value in the comparison. Looking in from the outside, you might ask, “How far is this workaholic prepared to go?”
Is Your Partner Asking for More and More?
Consider the equivalent sort of love relationship – one where your partner either asks more and more from you, without giving much back, or where being with them requires you to sacrifice more and more of yourself, to the point where your financial security, happiness and even your health are damaged.
Does unconditional love require you to let yourself go broke or get seriously sick, even die? Think about it.
Well, according to our popular mythology of love and romance, it does. Our Hollywood romance industry pumps out plenty of stories (and it goes back much further than that – beyond Shakespeare) where lovers make the ultimate sacrifice for each other.
The popular music industry cranks out song after song about this same level of unconditional love. My method actually varies. You can still love with all the intensity without having to die or sacrifice too much. This is why I am an advocate of the “No Contact” rule.
I’m not against a good romantic story, movie, poem or song. But I am in favour of taking care of yourself and helping yourself first.
Many years ago, I was watching “Romeo and Juliet” with a friend. We reached the point where Juliet kills herself. My friend, sitting beside me, shook her head and said, “I wouldn’t drink poison for any man.” I never forgot that simple statement. Clearly, my friend had decided for herself that her own health and life took precedence over love.
Maybe that’s not a very romantic attitude. But it’s a good, realistic attitude. If Juliet had stopped herself and not taken that poison, perhaps Shakespeare’s play would not have been such a hit. But it would’ve had a happier ending. If you want your own life to have a happier ending, consider having some boundaries around your love relationships.
The Dark Side of Unconditional Love
Unconditional love, for example, might require you to stay together with someone who constantly cheats on you, or who abuses you mentally, emotionally, or physically. What if your partner is a heavy smoker and it’s affecting your health or your children’s health? What if your partner’s debts, from whatever source, have drained your bank account, maxed out your credit cards, and brought collections agents pounding on your doors?
Do you continue your relationship without protest, without imposing any conditions? Because that’s what love demands?
I’m not saying any of these particular problems mean you should immediately dump your partner. But I am saying you have to draw the line somewhere. What situations are you willing to tolerate and not tolerate? Thinking about it beforehand and being clear – at least in your own mind – about such conditions is a smart and healthy thing to do.
Many people make huge sacrifices for love. That’s not a bad thing. Love does involve sacrifice, and being willing to sacrifice yourself shows your partner that you do, indeed, care about them. But too much sacrifice, a sacrifice that ultimately ruins your own health and happiness, isn’t a good thing.
Remember what they tell you on an airplane. If those oxygen masks drop from overhead, put your own mask on first, before you try to help anyone else, even your children. Why? Because if you fall unconscious, you won’t be any good at helping anyone else.
To be useful to another person, you have to take some minimal care of yourself, first. That’s good advice in a love relationship as well.
If unconditional love means not putting your own oxygen mask on first, then you need to think again about what you’re doing.