Love

4 Scary Reasons Unconditional Love Is A Dangerous Myth

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unconditional love is a myth

Unconditional love. It sounds so good, so right, so worth pursuing, so righteous.

It sounds like perfection, success, and world peace: Miss America pageant material!

But it’s a trap!

Buying the myth that it’s possible to love unconditionally will keep you perpetually feeling inadequate. 

Can you actually — in real life, within the human condition — imagine being able to accept another adult without him or her having to meet any conditions or to love them completely, irrespective of their behavior?

By all means, give unconditional love to babies and young children.

But beyond that, what about standards, values, morals, justice, legality, and boundaries? Are you ready for them to go?

Because unconditional love dismisses them.

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Here are four very important reasons why unconditional love is not a healthy model for grown-up relationships:

1. Unconditional love is a toxic myth.

It insinuates that non-acceptance is a bad thing.

That boundaries, issues, feelings, and even conflict, are bad because we should accept everything.

In fact, more than accepting, it demands that we blindly love the person AND the behaviors.

What enabling nonsense!

Relationships have issues.

Healthy relationships demand working through those issues in a mature, positive way, negotiating the appropriate, reasonable conditions for a mutually satisfactory experience of love between partners. 

You establish known conditions and negotiate new agreements to create safety and trust, creating a non-manipulative, game-free space to grow together and flourish.

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2. Unconditional love is a like “Get Out of Jail Free” card.

If someone loved you unconditionally, you would be free to treat them in whatever ways you wanted — lie, cheat, manipulate, exploit, abuse — and never be called on it.

How can that be loving? It certainly isn’t healthy.

In my work with the partners, exes, and adult children of relentlessly difficult, disturbing people (I call them Hijackals™), I clearly see the failings and impossibilities of unconditional love.

Hijackals want to hijack relationships for their own purposes while relentlessly scavenging them for power, status, and control.

You believe in unconditional love. They want emotional, verbal, and physical advantages. They want to win, no matter the cost.

You lose…every time. A marriage made in hell!

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3. The term "unconditional love" has a surprising and out-of-context origin. 

Just in case you thought that the term came from some spiritual tradition — it didn’t!

Erich Fromm, a psychologist, introduced the idea in 1934, writing about it in The Art of Loving, in 1956.

He suggested several kinds of love, the first being a mother’s unconditional love for her infant. She has no expectations for it to live up to. She loves it because it breathes!

In that same book, though, he states that a father’s love has to be different, it has to be — believe it or not — somehow deserved.

Fromm says that the father sets the standard a child must meet if he or she wants love.

OMG! That is the origin of the term, unconditional love! 

Now, you see why you must question the whole idea.

In Fromm's work, unconditional love was for infants. And, yes, let’s have more of that.

Generalizing it to all people, in all situations? Bad idea!

Why? Because it is an unattainable myth, guaranteeing you’ll fail, while keeping you feeling small: striving, guilty, and never good enough.

In Kaizen for Couples, I emphasized that mutuality is essential for healthy relationships. I wrote:

“Mutuality is for emotional grown-ups. It is based on an interest in each other as a whole, complex people living in the present. When dependence or co-dependence is consistently present in a relationship, mutual cannot be. Mutuality, then, is a defining condition for a healthy mature relationship.”

Healthy relationships cannot be unconditional.

Because that would call for either continuing masochism or endless self-sacrifice.

Who would want to live like that?

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4. Unconditional love undermines justice.

There would be no sanctions or punishments for those who have hurt others. Crazy, right?

If life has purpose and meaning—which most people believe it does, there can be no such thing as an unconditional experience.

We are creatures of perception and everything has purpose and meaning.

We are confronted by conditions that invite and allow us to learn and grow.

Unconditional love wipes that out and dismisses the significance of ourselves and others as unique human beings. It makes all behaviors OK, and they are not!  

Who wants that?

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Rhoberta Shaler, Ph.D., The Relationship Help Doctor is a relationship consultant and educator and the author of sixteen books. She specializes in helping the partners, exes, and adult children of chronically difficult people.

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