What is unconditional love? When I was younger, I believed that relationships should be unconditional. I thought that was what “real love” was all about: loving your person beyond their flaws, forgiving your significant other for their mistakes, and showing up no matter the obstacles.
As I’ve grown, my definition has shifted. I don’t think unconditional love—especially when we use the phrase as a benchmark of expectations—is necessarily healthy.
Should we strive to love others with our full selves, no matter what happens? Yes. Should we be willing to accept people for the things that make them who they are, even when they make mistakes? Yes. But should unconditional love be something that guides us, even if and when this is unhealthy? No.
We can’t hold ourselves or others to unrealistic expectations in relationships.
We should always try to be and give our best. We should always strive to be selfless as someone does the same for us. And we should always move with an open heart. But this doesn’t mean we should sacrifice our own happiness, mental wellbeing, or purpose for the sake of “love.”
That’s not love.
Love is NOT conditional, but that doesn’t mean it should be perfect.
Love shouldn’t have rules or boundaries. Love shouldn’t come with a list of expectations or a checklist that you must meet. It shouldn’t be “I’ll love you when you do this,” or “I’ll love you if…” because that’s not love.
You should be loved for who you are and love the person you’re with for who they are—there are no ifs, ands or buts—there is simply love.
But that doesn’t mean the journey will be easy.
We must understand that we are human—and humans make mistakes. We are inevitably going to let one another down, hurt one another, or cause a rift in our relationships.
It’s silly to expect the people we love to be perfect, especially because we won’t be perfect ourselves. And while we shouldn’t let this lower our expectations or standards in relationships, we should give one another grace. No one is perfect.
Yet, we shouldn’t give up.
We should strive for unconditional love, strive for putting each other first and accepting each other for who we are without fears, hesitations, or “rules.”
Because if each of us is doing this, we will meet one another in the middle. We will compromise on a foundation that’s built by sacrifice and shared commitment. We will know that no matter what happens or comes our way, we have decided to be there for one another, through thick and thin.
And isn’t that what unconditional love REALLY is?
As we navigate relationships, we have to understand that holding ourselves and others to this grandiose idea of “unconditional love” is unrealistic. It’s impossible to be so selfless that you love someone wholly, fully, completely, perfectly.
Yet, we can strive for that type of love. We can strive for that type of commitment. We can try our best to put our selfish needs aside and be someone that our significant other can count on while they do the same for us.
So how do you spot this type of love? You look at the potential partner’s willingness to put you first—not all the time—but when it counts. You look critically at yourself and ask the same question: Am I willing to be a true partner? To shelter life’s storms with you? To be perfectly imperfect—together?
You commit yourself to doing the best you can while acknowledging that neither of you will be perfect, and that’s okay.
You decide to grow, to move together, and to keep going even when the road gets tough. You commit to choosing one another, over and over, regardless of what happens or what tries to pull you apart.
There is no such thing as perfect love, but there is real love.
And real love is enough.