Questions for Cathy #18: Unconditional Love – Or Is It?

As Valentine’s Day approaches, romance is vastly promoted and seemingly unconditional with all the love-joy in the air.  Chubbity cupids are slinging arrows; velvety, red roses abound and life’s boxed chocolates are happily received. No doubt, love is a beautiful thing. It should be celebrated.

Along with love comes the term “unconditional.” This has been a staple when referencing romantic relationships. We tend to believe it without reserve or question: Love your mate unconditionally. Yet, with every new relationship and ongoing personal growth, I question this phrase. In theory, it’s a lovely sentiment, in the application, not so much.

I have concerns that people think they must put up and shut up because “unconditional” has echoed for years on end. If someone feels confined, dissatisfied and unhappy, but believes they can’t leave the relationship due to constraints stemming from that word: Guess what happens? Infidelity, for one.

I decided to address this topic with the ever-informational Cathy Chambliss, LMFT. Her simple yet defined breakdown gives voice to the realities of this oft-recited phrase. Turns out, we’re on the same page.

EML: What are your thoughts about unconditional love?


Unconditional love is defined per

affection with no limits or conditions; complete love.

It seems like all people in romantic relationships long to experience this with each other and become frustrated when they don’t.  I think there is a huge distinction between unconditional love and the ability to work well in a relationship. Many people love their partners but are not able to have a healthy relationship, so they leave the partnership.

For example, you may love and adore your husband, but he has a drinking problem and he won’t seek help. As much as you love him, you don’t want to live with a person that has unhealthy habits that negatively impact your life. Another example might be; you adore and love your wife but she is verbally abusive when angry, behavior she learned growing up in an abusive home. She refuses to go to therapy or to learn anger management techniques. As much as you love her, you also have to take care of yourself and set boundaries so that you can remain healthy.

Relationships require effort, communication, give and take, anger management, and daily loving gestures shown towards your partner. While you may feel unconditional love for someone, you also can’t allow yourself to be treated badly and suffer in the process. It is equally important to practice good self-care. And sometimes that means leaving someone you love.


Words are powerful. How they are interpreted and applied makes all the difference. Cathy’s answer gives a reasonable view of this particular perceived absolute.

Addictions are best acknowledged, addressed, and hopefully worked through. Abuse shouldn’t be tolerated for numerous reasons. Of course, we do what we can to help our mate through struggles, that’s also a component of love. Tolerance levels may differ, but there comes a time when it’s best to say no to the detrimental conditioning of the “unconditional.”

If you can’t stay with the one you love, send them unconditional love from afar. It’s okay. Send them every positive thought for their betterment, if possible. You don’t have to fully sacrifice yourself for an idealized version of what “should” be. We can’t continually be someone’s emotional support system without receiving the same.

Better to throw love in their direction from afar, rather than lose sight of your own.

* Sidebar: Days leading up to, and the day after Valentine’s Day, are also some of the busiest for infidelity. Read through my other V-Day blog posts for more on this.

**(Cathy Chambliss: 310-303-9132)



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