By Eve Hogan

I was once working with a group of teenagers discussing “integrity agreements,” which I described as “either spoken or unspoken agreements not to hurt each other.” These integrity agreements are the fabric of our society. This belief, that we won’t harm each other, is what allows us to walk down the street without worrying about getting shot or intentionally run over. I discussed with the teens how every time we break integrity agreements with each other—every time we cheat, lie, abuse, or  harm—we weaken the agreement and create unstable relationships.

Their families might keep taking them back after a breach of the agreement, I explained, but there could come a point in time in which the integrity of the relationship has been so severely damaged that it cannot be repaired. Some of them, from experience, knew exactly what I was talking about. But one of the teens said, “But my mom and dad love me unconditionally. They have to take me back.”

We can love someone unconditionally from a distance while having conditions for how they treat us. We can pray for them, wish them well, and want the best for them while maintaining boundaries about how we are treated. Unconditional love in its purest sense doesn’t mean allowing someone to repeatedly abuse or harm us, no matter what.

As we have witnessed in countless homes and families, this is not actually true. Parents don’t welcome their kids home no matter what. Kids don’t have to embrace their parents no matter what, and spouses don’t stay married no matter what.

It is my observation that unconditional love may still have conditions.

“Unconditional love” is aspired toward in the realm of personal and spiritual growth as the highest form of love. But what is it exactly? How do you do it? And is it really possible? Is it maintained regardless of integrity?

In some circles, unconditional love essentially means love no matter what. We tend to think that unconditional love is the love of family members and of married couples. In fact, when we say “I do,” we are essentially saying, “I’ll love you no matter what—for better and for worse, in good times and bad.”

My personal philosophy is that there is a difference between unconditionally loving someone and unconditionally living with them, staying in close proximity to them, or remaining in a relationship with them.

We can love someone unconditionally from a distance while having conditions for how they treat us. We can pray for them, wish them well, and want the best for them while maintaining boundaries about how we are treated. Unconditional love in its purest sense doesn’t mean allowing someone to repeatedly abuse or harm us, no matter what.

I’ve often thought that if marriage vows really reflected the truth of how people were going to behave, they would say, “I’ll love you forever in my heart of hearts, but I’ll only stay married to you until you cheat, lie, or become irresponsible with time or money.”

So my invitation is to contemplate this concept—and feel free to share. What does unconditional love mean to you? Can you love someone and still choose not to be around them? Is it more “spiritual” to put up with behavior in the name of love, or to love yourself enough to draw boundaries?

Your thoughts?

“When Unconditional Love Is Conditional” by Eve Hogan was originally published on Spirituality & Health. To view the original article, click here. Eve Eschner Hogan is a relationship specialist and author of several books, including The EROS Equation: A SOUL-ution for RelationshipsIn Real Love with Eve, she shares skills, principles, and tools for creating healthy, harmonious relationships—with friends, family, lovers, co-workers, and the world at large. Her uncommon approach to common sense will help you sail away from ego battles and into the calmer waters of real love. Learn more about Eve’s Heart Path retreats here.

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7 Comments

  • Pamela
    Posted April 2, 2014 9:50 am 0Likes

    I love this article so much. It expresses exactly what I believe about boundaries and relationships.

    • Beth Jones
      Posted April 16, 2014 7:42 am 0Likes

      The author is correct. Unconditional love is not congruent with accepting abusive words or deeds. Absence abusive behavior, it is congruent with speedy forgiveness with no need to retaliate. Why? Because i want others to quickly forgive me my mistakes. However , when malice is present, unconditional love is best practiced from afar.

  • Joan C.
    Posted April 8, 2014 8:20 am 0Likes

    I would have to say “I’ll love you unconditionally in my heart” there is but so much a person can take mentally and physically.
    Outstanding article!

  • Tammy
    Posted April 8, 2014 8:29 am 0Likes

    What an exceptional article and perfect title. It really leads you to think, how much is too much?

  • Cindy Baker
    Posted April 8, 2014 1:36 pm 0Likes

    Very thought-provoking and excellent article. Thank you for sharing.

  • Will Peter
    Posted November 19, 2015 11:43 am 0Likes

    Highly interesting article that left me thinking about the love I have for my wife. I will bring this up to her at dinner, I’m curious about how she thinks about this.

  • Madilynn
    Posted November 20, 2015 3:43 pm 0Likes

    Great article! It’s strange that even when we want to love unconditionally it doesn’t come so naturally.

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