The idea of unconditional love is so egalitarian, enchanting and appealing. Most people would like to be recipients of unconditional love. We do tend to look at our relationships which are functional and flourishing and think I am capable of loving someone unconditionally. But is there really something like unconditional love between two adults and should it be there at all?
Children are completely dependent on parents and need that unconditional love for nourishment and growth. If a child is denied love because he said something inappropriate or she did not behave as expected, it hurts the child. Withholding love as a form of punishment for children is never recommended. They need to be loved no matter what they do because their mind is still not mature and they may be doing many things without realizing the consequences of their actions. It is the significant adults, most often parents, who can guide the child through values, morals, ethics and rules of cooperative living. At times even when the child openly says, “I don’t love you”, the parent bears through that knowing the child is temporarily upset.
But when adults expect unconditional love from other adults, it leaves me a bit squirming. What do they mean, ‘Love me unconditionally?’ No matter what they say, no matter how hurtful they are, no matter how abusive they are, we should love them? Our love for another adult may not depend on how successful/abject failures they are, how their physical appearance is, how materialistically rich/poor they are, how functional/dysfunctional they are, how old/young they are and on many other such similar parameters. We may not measure everything in a good relationship, we may give more than we receive, but we can still love the other person if there is mutual respect, affection, care and some form of reciprocation.
But can an adult demand unconditional love no matter how obnoxious their behaviour is? Can a parent still have a deep love for their children if the children are physically/mentally abusing them? Can a spouse still totally love the partner if there is continuous violence in the relationship? Can we love our siblings even if they continue to heap unwarranted abuse on us? If you find a friend just using you continuously and giving you nothing in the relationship, can you still love that friend unconditionally?
The question more than ‘can you’ is ‘should you?’ As an adult should you love another adult no matter how they treat you just because you share a bond with them? Should one adult take the abuse under the mistaken notion of unconditional love? Wouldn’t that encourage the other person to continue their abuse knowingly or unknowingly? We might still have affection for such people because of a shared past but it cannot be unconditional love. Expectations (expressed or unexpressed) are a part of every adult relationship. If the expectations are constantly let down, can there still be unconditional love?
To be loved unconditionally is a child’s right, but as an adult should you expect to be loved unconditionally or love another person unconditionally in vital relationships?