Unconditional Love: The Key To Lasting Relationships

Unconditional Love: The Key to Lasting Relationships

“Love… What is love? Love is to love someone for who they are, who they were, and who they will be.” ~Chris Moore

Have you ever been in a relationship where you felt it was the other person’s job to make you happy, to meet all of your needs, to understand you and know what you want without asking?

Or have you been on the other side of this scenario? You were the partner expected to fulfill the other person and manage their happiness.

Either situation is perpetually frustrating. One partner never feels happy and content in the relationship because they are looking to the other person to perform the impossible.


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And the other partner feels unappreciated and overwhelmed by the inexhaustible emotional demands and needs of the other.

Sometimes this situation plays out where both partners expect the other to fulfill them and “make” them happy. They are in a perpetual stand-off of neediness and frustration leading to disengagement in the relationship.

Lasting relationships simply cannot be built upon a partnership in which one or both people are seeking a host organism to provide emotional and psychological nourishment.

Lasting relationships require unconditional love.

The term “unconditional love” might imply that one does attempt to meet all of the needs of the other, to read their minds, to accept and overlook all of the partner’s behaviors and actions no matter how selfish or demanding.

But this is not unconditional love. This is co-dependent love. It’s not grounded in a healthy foundation of self-respect and respect for the unique individual sharing the relationship with you.

What is unconditional love?

Unconditional love in a relationship begins with oneself. To set the foundation for a lasting, healthy relationship, you must first have a strong sense of self-esteem and self-confidence. This doesn’t mean you never have emotional difficulties or don’t need support and extra attention at times.

But you do need to feel generally good about yourself, to like yourself, and to recognize the positive qualities you bring to a relationship. It also means you can stand on your own two feet as an individual without requiring a romantic partner to define you or complete you. You can be together with someone and still remain fully yourself — as a person you like and respect.

If you need to improve your self-esteem or don’t feel confident in yourself as a capable, valuable person, then your relationship will suffer. Your insecurities will have an impact on your partner and on your mutual happiness. The best thing you can do for your relationship is to learn to love yourself. Offering unconditional love to yourself means you are able to view yourself as lovable and worthy — in spite of any perceived flaws or past mistakes. You can read more about self-love in this post.

Within the relationship itself, unconditional love is the ability to love the other person as they are in their essence. If you have fallen in love with this person and want to build a lasting relationship with them, then you must view them as a unique individual — not as an extension of yourself.

When you find someone who loves you as you are, and you are able to love them as they are,  it is an amazing experience. They may be different from you in many ways. They may view the world differently and have habits that you don’t share, but you can embrace these differences because they are part of this unique person you love.

But is love enough to build a lasting relationship? And does unconditional love mean that no matter what your partner does, your feelings don’t change?

The answer is “no” to both.

Unconditional love within the context of a good relationship is a dance in which both partners participate. You begin with the essentials of self-love and mutual love and respect. You see and embrace the core of the other, their innate personality and worldview. You acknowledge the influences of their upbringing, life experiences, and ingrained behaviors.

But . . . unconditional love within the context of a lasting relationship requires lots of wiggle room. As part of self-love, you know your own personal boundaries and the limits of what you find to be acceptable and healthy behaviors and reactions from your beloved.

According to Dr. Jeremy Nicholson, personality psychologist and relationship consultant, it is your job in the relationship to “use your influence in a caring and disciplined manner to create a balanced exchange with your partner. Such skills are not exercised to ‘control’ or ‘manipulate’ for selfish gain, but rather to maintain a mutually-beneficial and satisfying partnership.”

When both partners are aware of their personal boundaries and are committed to communicating them in loving and non-threatening ways, then the relationship can continue to recalibrate and grow ever stronger over the years.

With the ability to communicate openly, negotiate willingly, and compromise and make adjustments, you can build a strong relationship in which unconditional love develops and grows more satisfying over time.

For both partners, unconditional love means putting the health of the relationship above all else. This is a conscious decision made by both people, and it requires . . .

  • regular and open communication;
  • a willingness to calmly express concerns or hurts;
  • a willingness to make behavior adjustments that don’t compromise your boundaries;
  • a willingness to communicate boundaries;
  • the ability to accept and even embrace personality differences that don’t compromise the health of the relationship;
  • a willingness to continue to work on your own self-awareness and self-esteem;
  • complete trust that your partner “has your back” and you have theirs;
  • the ability to forgive and forget, especially when forgiveness is requested for flaws and failures and there’s a real effort to make change;
  • the firm commitment never to withhold love (or sex or money, etc.) to get what you want or need;
  • the desire to express your love with small daily actions and words;
  • the decision to let go of the “small stuff” that might bug you so you can focus on the best aspects of your partner;
  • the willingness to show extra love and have patience with your partner when they go through periods of difficulty, sadness, or disconnection, knowing it’s a short-lived condition;
  • loving the other for the joy of loving, without thought for what you will get in return.

Unconditional love is more intricate and complicated than simply loving your partner “no matter what.” Unconditional love requires stepping back and seeing the bigger picture of your partnership and how to maintain the health of the relationship so that love can continue to thrive and grow.

The first step toward loving your partner unconditionally is learning to love yourself unconditionally. It requires understanding and communicating your own boundaries and limits, yet being flexible enough to adapt and compromise when possible.

And most of all, it requires a daily mutual commitment to maintaining the health of the relationship and nurturing the bonds of love that brought you together in the first place.


How are you expressing unconditional love in your relationship? Where do you need to focus more attention in order to nourish the relationship and the love you share with your partner — and yourself? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


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Comments

  1. Another great post Barrie and just what I needed today. Unconditional love was far from my response to my beloved.

    I really like the idea of “loving the other for the joy of loving.” That feels really good and leads to an ability to respond in a much more expansive manner. Time for me tp practice loving for the shear joy of loving!

  2. I am currently struggling with my relationship. We love each has other but are in a state of disconnectedness from my view point. .

    “unconditional love within the context of a lasting relationship requires lots of wiggle room. As part of self-love, you know your own personal boundaries and the limits of what you find to be acceptable and healthy behaviors and reactions from your beloved”.

    My wife over the past year has discovered her sense of true self, and that physical connection (touch, phone calls, sex) have become a dramatically less expressive way for her to express her love. This withholding is not acceptable but in essence I either accept this or leave. We are in therapy, but I am not sure this change can be used to strengthen the damage already done.

    • Barrie’s article hits on so many points about how a functional relationship looks like that we sometimes overanalyze our past and current relationships by picking them apart and trying to figure out how we could have or how we can “fix” them based on the knowledge she has just given us. What we end up doing is falling right back into the pattern of what she said earlier in which you are seeking someone to provide your own emotional and psychological nourishment.

      When we meet people the concept of “falling in love” I believe is by choice from each person. If you are attracted to someone you choose to love them. Of course in the beginning it is superficial and over time you develop unconditional love. The same happens when in a relationship over time if one person’s needs are not met and fulfilled they choose to no longer love.

      I’m not saying that you’re wife does not love you but she is conflicted and on the border. I think it is very possible for someone to choose to love again, especially if you are both working at it. However, I don’t think it is going to happen just in counseling, I think one of the main points Barrie is trying to make is to work on yourself and find out who you are, accept yourself, share your boundaries openly and impeccably, and you’ll both either gain a new perspective on your love for each other and how you relate or you will come to realize it is not meant to be and it is time to move on.

      • Barrie Davenport says:

        Hi Gina,
        Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts. I agree that we can really undermine a relationship by picking at it and over-analyzing. When you reach the state where you can relax and just enjoy the other person and accept them as they are (for the most part), then your relationship has reached a wonderful place. Of course there will be issues to sort through, but learning healthy ways of communication and negotiation can make those times bumps in the road — not huge landmines.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Dov,
      I’m so sorry you and your wife are going through a hard time. I’m glad you are in therapy, and hopefully you can both be open and real enough to get to the bottom of why she’s holding back. Relationships go through so many phases, and people can change at different points in their lives. Hopefully as a couple, you grow and change together. If there is desire on the part of both people to make it work, forgiveness is always possible and you can move forward, maybe even stronger and better.

  3. I agree. A good relationship is about two people and that have a common purpose, that is to maintain a good loving respectful relationship. Most of the times I see co-dependece. It’s important that both sides are indipendent and first of all respect themselves. Self esteem is the basis to have a good relationship with your partner otherwise insicurities might ruin the relationship. Expecting your partner to fill your gaps is a huge mistakes. We are first of all human beings with our own mind, desires and passions. We should first respect and love ourselves. If we’re unsatisfied, this feeling will damage any relationship. It’s like having a bad day and connecting to people in the wrong way just because we’re mad or stressed. And it’s also important that the commitment comes from both sides. You can’t perform the impossible. We need healthy relationships for our own good.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Beautifully stated Deborah. We are each individuals who should come together with mutual respect and love, allowing the other person to be who they are. Our biggest challenge in a relationship is working on ourselves, not the other person.

  4. Barrie,

    This is an excellent primer on how to have a healthy relationship! If it’s truly unconditional love, I think it continues no matter what, even if it comes time to leave the relationship.

    Unconditional love for ourselves and our partners is an important first step to extending unconditional love to others beginning with friends, moving on to those we feel neutral toward and even learning to develop unconditional love for people who irritate or harm us.

    • True Sandra! Unconditional love is certainly most important thing for any relationship. If we are able to develop the same for people whom we dont admire that much, we can certainly achieve the Nirvana!

  5. Hi Barrie

    What I so appreciate about this post is the way you have defined (or perhaps redefined) unconditional love. So often, as you said, we think unconditional love means we’re supposed to love “no matter what”. When we can’t, we can end up doubting our loyalty or wondering if we’re really able to love, when we should be questioning the unrealistic expectations we have. All this, of course, will make us feel bad about ourselves and make us want to pull back out of self-protection.

    I’ve discovered in my marriage that the clearer I am about my boundaries, the steadier I am in myself and the more open and generous I can be. Counter-intuitive isn’t it?

    This took me quite a few years to discover.

    Thanks.

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