On Healthy Relationships: Maybe Love *Should* Be Conditional

When I was younger, the most romantic thought in my head was that someone could love me unconditionally, in spite of all my flaws and faults and myriad poor life choices–so I made that my goal in my endeavors. To be able to love people (friends, family, romantic partners) without conditions.

Two dogs snuggling, showing unconditional love.
The Closest We Get To Unconditional Love: Puppy Love

That road? The road of absolute, unconditional, “I will do anything, put up with anything, sacrifice anything for you” kind of love? That road leads to unhealthy relationships.

There is a difference between a well-intentioned mistake and an incompatible relationship.

Conditions for Healthy Relationships

What are my conditions that ensure bountiful, resilient love–and healthy relationships?

1. Both of our intentions have to remain pure.

Does this person in my life mean well? That answer should almost always be ‘yes’.

However, just because someone means well doesn’t mean they don’t or won’t make mistakes. It doesn’t mean they won’t sometimes do things that hurt us.

Of course, we have to communicate that we are hurt.

A desolate looking street to symbolize the road to hell paved with good intentions.
The Road to Hell is Paved With Good Intentions –
Photo by Damian Barczak on Pexels.com

It’s what we and our partners do after those mistakes have been brought to light that make or break our healthy relationships, that help us set clear boundaries. These actions serve and protect both ourselves and our relationship.

2. We also have to acknowledge our impact on both ourselves and those we love, and work to make both our lives better.

What we and they do when mistakes are inevitably made pave the way for healthy love and relationships.

A Hard Lesson: Loyalty in a relationship is not sticking with someone, no matter how many times they repeatedly choose to hurt you in similar ways.

This is probably where the phrase, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me,” comes from.

I’m the type of person who, once I realize I’m doing something that hurts someone else, will bend over backwards to ensure it never happens again. I’ve learned that doing this for someone who does not reciprocate that is where codependency comes from. It’s how you end up twisting yourself in knots at your own expense, for the comfort of someone else.

A knot to symbolize tying yourself into knots for the sake of love.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Your comfort and safety (emotional, financial, physical, sexual, psychological, and every other form) in a relationship–platonic or romantic–matter too.

3. In a healthy relationship, love must be a verb, not a noun.

Is what this person is doing enough to maintain our relationship?

Love the noun just isn’t enough.

Sometimes, the minimum is enough.

Sometimes it isn’t.

Relationships take two (or more). You both must measure your own impact in not only your own life, but the lives of the people you love.

It’s what we do, not only what we believe, that make us who we are.

Two friends jumping at sunset.
Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

When I promised my eternal love to Jason (and his family), I promised I would never stop trying. That I would show him, his family, (and also you, my friends) that I will do whatever I can to continue to make our lives richer.

I expect the same from him. It’s when one person stops trying, stops making reasonable compromises to boost you both, that people run into problems.

These three conditions are essential to joy in all relationships.

The hardest part about conditional love:

You can’t control the actions of someone else.

You can only control yourself: what you choose to do with and for and around this person.

And if they’re repeatedly not doing the things you need to feel cared for, to help you live the best life you can with that person… it leaves you with the only choices you have: the choice to walk away, to limit your interactions, or stay.

Choosing to do nothing is still a choice.

Someone in my life repeatedly tells me that they don’t mean to do something that hurts me–therefore, I’m not allowed to feel the way I do.

Newsflash: I am absolutely allowed to feel my feelings no matter how well-intentioned someone might have been, and now this person lives in my sphere at arm’s length. This is a boundary I use to protect myself.

You must communicate your needs.

In fairness, people aren’t mind-readers; it’s why you’ll hear over and over that communication is key to healthy relationships. You have to be able to identify and articulate your wants and needs. If you’re like me, you’re the type who already responds to the wants and needs of others.

You must identify what needs you have in friendship, in family, and in love.

A Need: I need this person to demonstrate interest in my life. I have asked them to prepare three questions for me any time we speak. I’ve decided a “nice to have” is if they ask follow-up questions. The former is the minimum I need to feel okay conversing with them; the latter is the change I need to see to welcome them back into a bigger role in my life.

They succeed in enacting my minimum about half the time, though it’s getting better.

“Better” isn’t enough.

Therefore, I do not put myself often in proximity to this person. I wish things could be different, better, or more.

But, as this same person has told me, “Wish in one hand, spit in the other: which one fills up first?”

Water filling up a hand instead of hopes and wishes.
Photo by Samad Deldar on Pexels.com

If at first you don’t succeed, redefine success?

When needs aren’t met, many people take a hard look at their wants and needs and ultimately decide they can get by with less.

To find happiness, don’t ask for more; require less.

…And less. And less. And less.

Until one day, they wake up and realize that, Fuck, I’m absolutely miserable any time I interact with so-and-so.

How did this happen?

Mixing Up “Nice to Haves” with “Need to Haves”

That’s how they got there; they’ve mixed up a “need to have” with a “nice to have” in a relationship.

So, this brings us to the most important question:

What do you NEED to have in a relationship with someone?

In all relationships, I need to know that friends and family will tell me when I inevitably hurt them (so they need to tell me when I stick my foot in my mouth; I shouldn’t have to guess). I need to feel like they care about my life (which requires, you guessed it! Questions!) I need understanding around my autoimmune condition (which means I have to communicate this and have my frequent exhaustion be accepted kindly when I can’t even).

A group of friends with their index and middle fingers touching to make a star, an instagrammable photo.
It can’t all be fun Instagram photos, though those are fun too!
Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

In my romantic relationship, I need physical intimacy (and in case you need to hear it, there is nothing wrong with this.) I need quality time exclusively with my love (see: reasons I no longer identify as poly — love may be infinite, but time is not, and while I have discovered that I am not actually a jealous person, I am greedy when it comes to quality time, since I am frequently under the weather). I need clear and open discussion around our finances and how we will handle them together. I need to be able to trust that my partner will make the effort to take care of me with the same effort that I will take care of his needs as well. Among other things. 🙂

These three conditions–good intentions, awareness of impact, and real action–combined with understanding and communicating my very real psychological needs have led to more joy, more healthy connection, and more love-the-verb than I’ve ever thought possible.

The Key Take-Away:

The time you spend with people who don’t lovingly meet your needs with the equitable effort you spend to meet theirs… is time lost with people who will.

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