When I was 16, my New England, Catholic parents were sure that the woman I babysat for was going to fire me for piecing my nose, and insisted that I call her to tell her "what I had done." As I nervously dialed, she laughed into the receiver saying, "We don't care! It's all unconditional love over here!" Though I no longer fear getting fired over a piercing, her words still remind me of the real meaning of unconditional love, and why it's so important to keep it 100% real with all the people in my life — especially the ones I date.
According to Dr. Gary Brown a prominent couples' therapist in Los Angeles, though some may interpret "unconditional love" to mean never disagreeing with your partner or thinking of them differently regardless of their words or actions, healthy relationships involve embracing fluidity and change every step of the way. "Even in the very best of relationships, there are inevitably going to be disagreements and misunderstandings," Dr. Brown tells Elite Daily. "We are going to make judgments about each other and that is not unconditional."
If your SO cheated on an exam and you feel weird about it, or if they were super rude to their mom at dinner and you think they owe her a major apology, "unconditional love" doesn't mean suppressing your feelings or never calling someone out. In fact, Dr. Brown shares that being able to accept that your partner did something wrong (i.e. "Babe, you were just a huge jerk to that barista, why don't you go apologize?") means being able to really love them — through good times and bad.
"Being able to express our true authentic selves is one of the hallmarks of a great relationship," Dr. Brown says. "When we can trust our loved one with our most vulnerable thoughts and feelings, we are experiencing love in its highest form. We feel loved, warts and all."
As Dr. Brown shares, though it's natural to want and even need love from the people you care about, constantly giving and receiving love is no small task. "Love requires emotions and actions that express kindness, vulnerability, trust, courage, self-awareness, and gratitude," Dr. Brown says. "None of us can provide this to our partners unconditionally, but we can strive to be as loving as possible."
Though you may hope to be your #best #self at all times, Dr. Brown shares that it's literally impossible to be kind, vulnerable, trusting, courageous, self-aware, and gracious all the time, 24/7. A loving or stable relationship doesn't mean that you or your partner pretend to be happy when you're really upset, or that you act like you're OK when you're not. It means that you're comfortable with every version of yourselves and you love them about each other anyway — even the not so cute ones.
Whether you had a bad day at school or work and you need to vent, or you're sick and not feeling like yourself one day, you may not always be the most polished or pleasant version of yourself. Still, regardless of how you look or how grouchy your seasonal allergies make you — you always deserve love and kindness from your partner.
“Nobody should settle for a relationship that is, by and large, not loving and kind," Dr. Brown says. This doesn't mean that there is no conflict. It simply means that even in the worst of times, each of you knows that you love one another and that you are committed to being with one another."
As Dr. Brown shares, "unconditional love" doesn't mean letting your partner treat you poorly or feeling uncomfortable in your relationship. If you started dating someone and it's clear that they're not who you thought they were, or you're no longer feeling fulfilled in your relationship, you don't need to keep seeing them in the name of "unconditional love." And if you feel like your partner only likes you when you're doing things for them or dressing a certain way, it's always OK to reassess your feelings or the "conditions" of the relationship.
If your partner hits on your sister at Hanukkah dinner or if you learn that they've been lying to you about something at their job, your feelings for your SO can change. In fact, it's probably healthy that they change. Having boundaries and knowing your standards and limits is a paramount part of a healthy relationship. Sometimes, you do need to establish something like, "If you're going to keep commenting on my weight, this is over," or "I cannot keep paying for all our dates."
According to Dr. Brown, a healthy relationship means balancing loving someone for who they are, while still honoring your own needs and comfort levels. "I think unconditional love is a wonderful ideal but it is not necessarily something that is achievable throughout even the best of relationships," Dr. Brown says. "Of course, we would all like unconditional love and it is certainly a goal to shoot for."
Like most things in love, striving for unconditional love isn't always easy. But being committed or supportive of someone doesn't mean never growing or changing how you feel about them or your relationship. Unconditional love doesn't mean shoving things aside or suppressing your own emotions, it means opening up your love to change and evolve as you and your partner do. Though it may feel comforting to know that someone is there for you always, no questions asked, sometimes knowing why your partner did something or what they're going to do to about it can ultimately bring you closer together.