Saturday, September 18, 2010

Conditional Love

A discussion over on FMH really got me thinking about some of the choices I've made in the last decade, as well as how relationships and love work. They began talking about unconditional love in conjunction with some discussion on marriage and divorce. Some thoughts came to me which I felt were worth reproducing here.

Everyone’s love is conditional in one sense or other. True unconditional love in the sense that most people mean it—that I can do anything I want and not suffer loss of intimacy—CANNOT exist. That’s one thing I learned from my experiences in my marriage. I stayed with my ex-husband through some pretty scary times over the years because I believed in unconditional love like that.

But true unconditional love does not exist without boundaries or limitations. Conditions on love are different than boundaries. To set a condition on love means, “I will only love you if you do this.” That was something I experienced up close and personal in my marriage. Unconditional love really looks like, “I will always love you, but I’ll not be close to you if you engage in behavior that is destructive.”

I still love my ex, in the sense that I want what is best for him. I would love it if he would repent, become a good father and maybe even a good husband some day to someone else. But to the extent of my power, I will not let him hurt me or the children any more.

So I love him unconditionally, but I will not stay close to him unconditionally.

I think most of us have a pretty twisted sense of what real love is. I imagine this is what makes it hard to understand a God who wouldn’t just forgive all and let us all come back to live with Him no matter what we do. We conflate love and intimacy. I imagine that God will always love us, but we cannot be close to Him if we engage in destructive behaviors.


  1. Well said. We can love always and even forguve but as you put the concept so correctly, we make righteous choices to protect ourself from bad behavior by enforcing consequences. Consequences can also help use grow and make better choices in the future.

  2. Great post. As parents we sometimes feel guilty for not liking our children -- or at least not liking what they do.

    Elder Nelson taught that Divine Love, while universal, in not unconditional. And he cites multiple times in the scriptures where the Lord's blessings (as a sign of his love) are contingent upon our performance.

    The fact is, we are conditional beings. And being unconditional is not a Christlike attribute to which we should aspire.

    A better parent learns to use wise consequences, administered with gentle fairness, to teach his or her children the boundaries of acceptable choices. Our Father in Heaven does this with us all the time.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Anonymous—I removed your comment because it was agenda-driven by something that had nothing to do with the original post.

    There are posts on my blog which would be more appropriate for that comment. You are free to reproduce it on one of them, if you wish.

  5. Awesome insights.

    I've been interested in how many boundaries situations show up in the BoM. I once read with just that topic in mind (and have been doing it again) and have been astounded at how often that principle shows up.

  6. I agree. I don't think that unconditional love is the same as intimacy, marriage, approval, or even *liking* someone. I don't think God likes a lot of His children a lot of the time. But His love extends towards them endlessly, with an open invitation to repent as long as they haven't placed themselves so far out that the road back becomes impossible--for them, not for Him. I'm sure He loves even those who have cut themselves off eternally from Him, and their rebellion pains Him (e.g., Satan)--because of His love for them.

    I view unconditional love the same way--it pains us when those we love hurt themselves, us, or others, because we love them. If we didn't care so much, it wouldn't hurt so much. When we love someone unconditionally, we never stop hoping that they will have the best life they can, to fulfill whatever capacity for joy they have, no matter how much they have limited that capacity--even if we really don't particularly like them, or felt the need to distance ourselves from them for various reasons.

  7. I came over from FHW and I want to thank you so much for this post. My spouse has always made me feel guilty because I started placing boundaries to protect myself. He rants and raves that if I really loved him I would accept him as he is. He talks about how I just need to love torn I am (was). But I have never thought of the love Heavenly Father has for us. Thank you again.

  8. That's great, Cam. I'm so glad it could help.


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