Unconditional love is a way of loving the other person entirely, of accepting him or her as he or she is, without reserve and with his or her faults and qualities. This love is often cited as the love we reserve for our children, so rare does it seem to be to be able to offer such love to a person, within a couple. What is love without limits? Is it beneficial? What are the risks of imbalance?
How can we define unconditional love?
First of all, there are several types of relationships in which love can be expressed:
- parent-child relationships
- brother-sister relationships
- couple relationships
In all these relationships, two kinds of love can occur: conditional love and unconditional love.
In conditional love, you give your love in "exchange" for something, consciously or unconsciously. This may be a perceived extraordinary quality in the other, or material comfort, or affection, attention, time spent. The quality of this love is much lower than that of unconditional love, since here, love is "monetised", even by unspoken words. Much of the beauty of love, which is normally free and without expectation of return, is lost.
In unconditional love, one gives one's love without any limits or expectations of return. It is much more difficult to apply, but much richer to live and fulfilling. It is about accepting the other person as a whole, with their faults and qualities, without trying to change them. We can love someone for their intelligence, their kindness, their generosity... But loving this person unconditionally also allows us to love their unattractive stoutness, their propensity to remain slumped on the sofa, or their little daily obsessions. When you love someone unconditionally, you are much more forgiving, even of bigger problems, such as infidelity, or other moral faults.
This is generally the love that we have for our child throughout our lives, but it can exist between a man and a woman in a couple.
It is a love that is absolute, devoted, intense and can hardly be broken. It is a romantic love. Nothing is expected in return, and therein lies the beauty and purity of this love. However, there can be suffering in this lack of limits, especially if the loved one abuses this unconditional love.
What are the limits of unconditional love?
How can we love unconditionally without suffering?
Psychiatrists and psychologists seem to affirm that unconditional love towards a person who is not one's child would reflect a lack of love and self-esteem. Indeed, to forgive a person everything without limits and to want to fulfil all his or her needs without asking for anything in return shows a deep disrespect for oneself.
Love without limits is then very destructive, since there are no barriers to guaranteeing respect for one's own esteem, one's person. When we allow the other person to make moral mistakes or treat us badly, without distancing ourselves from them, we show them a devaluing image of ourselves. By letting the blatant reasons for breaking up in love pass in the usual cases, we unconsciously send this message to the other person: "Do me all the bad things you want, I'll always stay with you. This type of relationship is very unhealthy and often turns into a perverse relationship between the persecutor and the persecuted.
What balance should be given to unconditional love?
Without necessarily entering into a perverse relationship, there will always be an imbalance in a couple's relationship when one of the two people loves unconditionally, while the other does not.
This asymmetry will lead to suffering on both sides: the one who loves more intensely will suffer from not being loved at the same level; the one who receives unconditional love will suffer from being "smothered" by the other's love, from being the only source of contentment.
There is then dependence, and the beginning of the destruction of the relationship, when the unconditional lover is unable to grow and find other fulfilments outside the relationship.
To remain balanced, a couple must therefore love each other equally and respect each other's independence.
Our brains are initially designed to love unconditionally. And this is what happens at the beginning of a love relationship: it's passion, we are in the absolute, the purity of the bond, we literally "take" the other person completely, even his or her small defects. Then, a few months or years later, our "rational" brain takes over, and if we can't stand our partner's now very visible flaws, we break up.
On the other hand, long-lasting love affairs show us that, even when we see the other person's faults, we are indulgent towards them, and sometimes even have tenderness for them. However, the limits are clear: our brains make sure that the other person does not overstep the mark. A moral fault that is too serious would lead to a break-up.
Unconditional love is therefore a stage to be lived and crossed in a couple, a spark that allows the beautiful beginnings of a love. But to live a healthy and balanced love, this love must evolve, thanks to communication, empathy and respect.
How to get out of unconditional love?
Those who remain in the state of unconditional love remain in a very infantile state: they refuse to grow up, and to evolve in their way of loving. Indeed, to become dependent on the other person by offering him or her all of one's devoted and loving being, resembles the devotion of a small child to his or her parents, without whom, he or she cannot manage.
The unconditional lover must then work on himself, possibly in therapy, in order to dive into introspection on the level of his childhood, or to redefine his needs and his lacks in love. One then learns, by coming out of unconditional love, to have mature exchanges with others, to communicate, and to love without invading or smothering the other in a love without freedom or shared fulfilment.
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