The idea of unconditional love in relationships is a noble one. Each of us wants to be loved as we are, without conditions, and to see ourselves as capable of bestowing unconditional love on our partners. However, this type of love, in its narrowest definition, is difficult, if not impossible.
The Meaning of Unconditional Love
Part of the problem with unconditional love in relationships is the lack of understanding of what it means. Most of us will think of a parent’s love for a child, or a child’s love for a parent, as unconditional love. This type of love depends on nothing other than the familial bond and doesn’t break down based on what the child or parent does—at least in an ideal scenario.
In the purest sense, unconditional love is about caring about the happiness of another person without any concern for how it benefits you. Research tells us that the parts of the brain that light up during unconditional love are similar to those involved in romantic love and maternal love, and are linked to the brain’s reward system. This suggests that unconditional love may be rewarding without receiving anything in return.
Unconditional Romantic Love
The question becomes whether adults in relationships can also show each other this type of unconditional love. To feel safe in a relationship, it makes sense that you need to feel as though the other person is not going to abandon you based on a whim. You need to know that person is committed to loving you unconditionally no matter what the future brings.
The problem is that this definition in romantic relationships can break down under numerous conditions and for good reason. As much as you might love an alcoholic, a liar, or a cheater unconditionally, this isn’t healthy for you as a person. This means the definition of unconditional love in romantic relationships needs to be expanded a bit. For love to continue, there must be mutual respect, not an attitude of your partner that “you will put up with me, no matter what I do.”