By Lidia Ryan

What is unconditional love? Is it possible (and realistic) to expect from our spouse? My interview with @Brides shares the full scope of this question. #marriage #unconditionallove #expecations #relationshipadvice

Lydia writes, “The Backstreet Boys once sang, “I don’t care who you are, where you’re from, what you did, as long as you love me.” This romantic notion of unconditional love is something that many people grow up dreaming of finding. But relationship experts and therapists say it may be a myth—an ideal that is not only unattainable but actually undesirable.

Before hopeless romantics tune out, that’s not to say that a fairy-tale type of love does not exist. It’s about really defining what a healthy love looks like and not taking the term “unconditional” love so literally. In fact, marriage and family therapist Yeshiva Davis of K&S Therapeutic Services, Inc., likes to use the term “unconditional regard” instead, which means “treating your partner with love and respect while maintaining boundaries and having love and respect for yourself.”

Relationship expert and author Susan Winter says, “Unconditional love is a spiritual and romantic ideal. It’s something to aspire toward in disposition and character. Unconditional love is the act of perpetually putting your partner’s wellbeing and happiness above yours. It involves sacrifice of the ‘self’ for happiness of the ‘other.'”

Is Unconditional Love Attainable?

While all or parts of those definitions sound lovely, experts agree it’s not a completely realistic way of looking at relationships and marriage. “Unconditional love negates the ‘self,’ and in doing so, would be at cross purposes in a mutually satisfying relationship. A better option would be to prioritize your mate’s happiness while also attending to your own wants and needs,” admits Winter.

Practicing forgiveness and wanting your partner to be happy just purely because you love them are good things. But, there are also some aspects of true “unconditional” love that can be problematic.

“Love doesn’t need to be self-repressed or self-sacrificing to be worthy,” says Winter. “A healthy love can be rewarding and generous—giving and receiving. True love doesn’t need to negate the individual for the sake of the couple.”

Signs of Healthy Unconditional Love

So, how can you achieve a healthy type of unconditional love? Winter says it is about each partner accepting the other as a flawed human being. “It’s the ability to forgive each other and start anew while learning to better handle life’s challenges as a couple,” she explains. “This type of unconditional love asks only for the willingness to be fair, rational, and compassionate.”

At the same time, conditional love is a problem as well. You don’t want to get into a “tit for tat” situation, as Winter puts it, in which you are keeping score. “Conditional love can become the norm in relationships that have sustained ongoing thoughtlessness, betrayal, and dishonesty,” she goes on to say. “In the honeymoon period, unconditional love feels effortless. But as time goes on and resentments build, conditional love may become the more dominant strand.”

Healthy love is a delicate balance that may seem complicated, but it really boils down to mutual respect, trust, understanding, and well, love. Some signs of healthy unconditional love include”….

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