Recent work with a very-much-in-love young couple in counseling got me thinking about unconditional love. After exploring with the man what he meant by the term, I expressed my opinion about whether it was possible in an adult relationship.
In short, my answer is no, it is not possible for adults to love one another unconditionally. I do believe there is such a thing as unconditional love but it only exists between parent and child (primarily mother), human and dog and human and God.
Furthermore, even those examples above are sometimes not as unconditional as they may seem on the surface, particularly if there are any sort of conditions or expectations included in the contract. If there are conditions, the love is not unconditional. I challenge you to come up with a relationship with any one (divine, human, animal) in which there are no conditions and expectations. I believe you will be hard pressed to name one.
A quote I came across recently said the following:
“Parents were the only ones obligated to love you; from the rest of the world you had to earn it.” (Ann Brashares, Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood).
I liked this idea, despite the fact that even though they may be obligated to love us, parents are not always capable of it. And further, when you have to “earn” love (there come the expectations and conditions again), is it really love or is it more like admiration, trust, acceptance and/or respect.
Many people will be surprised by my opinion and perhaps disappointed. They often have a romanticized notion of what adult relationships can and should be. However, the most successful adult relationships are those with realistic expectations of what the relationship will provide for them, particularly if they are willing to work long and hard throughout its duration.