Unconditional love is NOT what you expect and can hurt your relationship! | Rhoberta Shaler, PhD

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

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

But it’s a trap!

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

Can you really – in real life, in the human condition – imagine being able to accept another adult without them having to meet any conditions, or loving them completely, regardless of their behavior?

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

But beyond that, what about norms, values, morals, justice, legality and borders? Are you ready for them to leave?

Because unconditional love rejects them.

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

1. Unconditional love is a toxic myth..


He insinuates that non-acceptance is a bad thing.

Limits, problems, feelings, even conflicts are bad, because we should accept everything.

In fact, more than accepting, it requires blindly loving the person AND the behaviors.

What empowering stupidity!

Relationships have problems.

Healthy relationships require resolving these issues in a mature and positive way, negotiating appropriate and reasonable terms for a mutually satisfying love experience between partners.

You establish known terms and negotiate new agreements to create security and trust, creating a non-manipulative, no-games space to grow together and thrive.

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

If someone loved you unconditionally, you would be free to treat them any way you wanted – lying, cheating, manipulating, exploiting, abusing – and never being called out.

How can that be affectionate? It’s definitely not healthy.

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

Hackers want to hijack relationships for their own ends while relentlessly coveting them for power, status, and control.

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

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

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


Just in case you thought the term came from a spiritual tradition This is not the case !

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

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

In that same book, however, he states that a father’s love has to be different, it has to be – believe it or not – somehow earned.

Fromm says the father sets the standard a child must live up to if he wants love.

OH MY GOD! This is the origin of the term, unconditional love!

Now you see why you have to question the whole idea.

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

Generalize it to everyone, in all situations? Bad idea!

Why? Because it’s an unattainable myth that guarantees you’ll fail, while making you feel 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 adults. It is based on an interest in each other as whole and complex people living in the present. When dependency or co-dependency are constantly present in a relationship, mutually cannot be. Reciprocity is therefore a determining condition for a healthy and mature relationship.

Healthy relationships cannot be unconditional.

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

Who would want to live like this?

4. Unconditional love undermines justice.

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

If life has purpose and meaning, which most people believe, there can be no unconditional experience.

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

We face conditions that invite and allow us to learn and grow.

Unconditional love erases that, rejects the importance of ourselves and others as unique human beings. This makes all behaviors OK, and they are not!

Who wants that?

Rhoberta Shaler, PhD, The Relationship Help Doctor, is a relationship consultant, educator, and speaker. The author of sixteen books, she helps partners, exes, adult children and co-workers of the relentlessly difficult and disturbing people she calls “Hijackals™” to save their sanity and stop the craziness. Get his free ebook, How To Spot A Hijackal, at Hijackals.com Visit his website: ForRelationshipHelp.com

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