All Love Is Conditional

Category: Weekly Columns

Our beloved dog, Tache - who died about a year ago - we still miss her terribly!

In my opinion, many sayings and much conventional thinking is just plain wrong. One such example is that all love is unconditional. Could you love the Colorado shooter unconditionally after what he did? I couldn’t, even if he were my son. There are implicit and explicit conditions in all our relationships.

Note: I choose NOT to use the name of the vile killer of the Colorado shootings. His name doesn’t deserve recognition of any sort.

When we marry we exchange vows. Every ceremony, whether secular or religious, involves some sort of vows. Those vows explicitly express conditions expected and hoped for in the forthcoming marriage: fidelity, love whether life is good or bad, etc.

Further, we bring expressed or implicit additional conditions to most marriages. They include who will do what around the house, who will stay at home with the kids or not, whether the couple will have kids or not, who does the yard work, who is mostly in charge of the social life, etc. As already mentioned, there is a strong expectation of fidelity. Will a spouse just unconditionally excuse a lapse or worse, an affair?

When we extend the notion of conditional or unconditional love to our kids, it gets more complicated. I do have conditions with my kids about goodness, though for the most part if they err from those conditions, my love doesn’t wane. BUT, if either of my sons were to hurt another human being for no apparent reason, I doubt I would unconditionally support and/or love them the same.

The love, at the very least, would be severely tarnished. If mental illness were involved, it would probably not diminish but I’d feel mighty responsible for any damage if I’d not done everything in my power to seek help prior to any incident.

Our family therapist has repeatedly expressed to my wife and me that marriage is a business deal. Women, in particular, may not like looking at it that way, but most women – my wife included – have very strong expectations of the deal involved, much of which has been expressed already in this column.

With a second marriage such as mine, the degree of the “business deal” is usually more detailed and even may include a legal document such as a pre-nuptial (which we do not have, btw). Second marriages often bring with them the proverbial “baggage,” including exes, kids, emotional damage, heartbreak, and certainly not the innocence most of us bring to a first marriage.

When I began dating after my divorce, I was a middle-aged man with primary care for two emotionally stunned young boys. My parents were ill and my plate was quite full.

I expected to date only divorced women with kids of their own and similar emotional issues of their own and their own kids, likely in a shared custody arrangement. And, that is mostly what I did. The irony of meeting and marrying my present wife is that she did not fit that expectation (no kids), but it’s worked out very well for our family. Nonetheless, she brought reasonable expectations/conditions to our marriage.

One of them is sort of funny, but I think quite valid. We both share a love of exercise, specifically skiing, and staying in shape. We presented each other an image of fitness and looks, to be frank, which continued into our marriage. I then suffered a bad head injury just six months after we married.

It resulted, for whatever reasons and the reasons are complex, in my gaining a bit of weight that I’d never carried before. My wife said, “You broke the deal.” She never stopped loving me but I actually took to heart her comment. How would I have felt – being a slug of a guy – if she had gained a similar proportion of weight so soon after our marriage? How would I have felt if she were carrying around a small bowling ball in her belly, like I was?

Not happy, for sure. Would I have been as gracious as she was and so honest? She expressed her dissatisfaction with a sense of humor, but she was right. I broke the deal.

Now, I’ve gone vegan in an effort to get back to my fighting weight and stand by the conditions implicitly understood between us. And, after several years of fighting that weight gain, I’m finally heading back in the right direction.

But, let’s go back to the Colorado shooter or any other mass-murderer or perpetrator of a heinous crime. Would you still unconditionally love him or her? Would you spend all your money on hiring the best defense lawyer to either minimize the punishment or get them off? Would you defend OJ Simpson?

I sure as hell wouldn’t. I’d publicly apologize to the victims. I’d set up a memorial fund and/or something – anonymously – to help out the families and survivors. I’d live in shame the rest of my life and want to “do good” as penance.

Final Note: My wife read and approved this column – as I have her do whenever she is referenced – and she said the only unconditional love is with our pets…

We lost Charlotte - my wife's beloved dog - earlier this year.

  • dadblunders

    Love is a very tricky thing especially when it comes to our children. Since I have never been in that situation I can only speculate based on myself and prior reactions. If it were my son I would still love them. Just because I love them doesn’t mean I have to like what they did. It doesn’t mean I have to respect what they did. In my opinion, if I turned my back I would be no better than they were. I would be showing hate, cruelty and anger. I have already seen far to much of that in the world and its effects on families. I wouldn’t want to add to it.

    I was a social worker and have seen things most people will never understand but I don’t hate the people that did the acts. I can dislike all I want but I will never hate. Young children taught me something…I would work with children that had been everything from beaten to molested and they were still able to laugh. I have had them tell me they don’t hate the person that did it to them…. they just didn’t like that it was happening. Adults have a much harder time with this concept because we are grown. We have seen life, bitterness, anger and sorrow. A young child has the ability to look past all that and not hate. We teach them to hate. I just don’t want to be apart of that anymore.

    My three-year-old recently started in on “I hate.” I can’t say where he got it from but every time he makes mention of it I explain to him he can dislike but hate is forever. Hate is binding and gives power to things that shouldn’t have power. I want my son to have a better world. A world of hope and the only way those type things happen is by examining first and making positive changes. Once I have done that I go forth into the world and lead by example.


    • Bruce Sallan

      Beautiful comment, Aaron. I dislike the word “hate” also except those cases where it is truly deserved!

  • Michael Q Todd

    Unconditional love is unconditional love. It is ALL that there is and one day you will embrace the joy that it brings Bruce. Everyone is deserving of it no matter what they have done and everyone is capable of rehibilitation.
    As for saying that someone does not deserve legal representation where do you get that from?

    • Bruce Sallan

      I didn’t say people didn’t deserve legal representation Michael – just that maybe a parent may not want to bankrupt themselves hiring expensive defense in certain cases…

      • Renee Malove

        Dear Bruce: First, PLEASE change the color of your reply/comment buttons, as they are impossible to see on this green background!
        Second, I agree. If a child is guilty, the consequences must be paid. I would help with therapy costs, however. And working and knowing people within the prison system, I do know that prison rarely rehabilitates. The number of repeat offenders is staggering. Sadly, Lewis Lawes is no longer running our prison systems. So if there are other options besides prison, I support those as well.

        • Bruce Sallan

          Yeah Renee – it’s the new UPDATED Disqus and I’m not sure I like it…no place to easily hit share with Twitter until after you post a comment! #Disqus – why did you make this change?

          The other option besides prisons in 1st-degree murder cases is the Death Penalty.

          Miss you Renee – where ya been? Come to #DadChat Thursday, please?

  • MimiBakerMN

    hmmm you bring up some interesting questions. Would I love my kids if they had done a grievous act as you referenced? I think there’d always be a mom part of me that loved them, but would be utterly heartbroken and devastated by what they were capable of. Like you, I’d to something for the victims and I can’t see myself helping with defense costs. They’d have to reap what they’d sewn.

    As for marriage, that’s another tricky subject. I’m more concerned about someone’s character, their heart than the physical part. Yes, I want to be attracted to a person of the opposite sex, but if they started being dishonest or disloyal, their appearance wouldn’t count for crap. lol I don’t even want to think about deal breakers! UGH!

    • Bruce Sallan

      Just the smart thoughtful response I’d expect from you, Mimi! “Deal breakers?” – we all have ’em, don’t we?

  • Josh

    Bruce, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this very profound and complicated subject. I think you might first define what love means to you. I believe that pure authentic love can only be unconditional. Any love that is conditional is not really love but an illusion. I’m afraid you might be confusing love with something else if in fact you are placing some type of conditions on it. Please keep in mind that I’m using the word “love” as a starting place for how we see and experience the world. I’m not using the word “love” as in “I love Corn Flakes”.

    Keep this in mind, if your love is conditional then by definition it MUST be met with fear. There is only one question you ever answer with any response or action you take and that question is “Love or Fear?” If you are placing conditions on love then that is fear stepping up to the plate and blocking love.

    To help you consider whether to allow fear in your life consider the following: Love is akin to light, with infinite possibilities and potentiality. With love there are no limitations to what is possible and you are able to fully embrace living in the now (present time). Fear on the other hand ALWAYS lives in the past or is based on your imagination of the future. Fear by definition MUST then disable you from living fully in the present (the now) and therefore restrict and limit your choices, and worse of all your fully expression of your authentic self.

    Loving others, like murderers, doesn’t mean you allow their actions to go unpunished. Loving people like this allows you to not limit your full potentiality as a self actualized being.

    Finally Bruce, I would invite you to consider loving yourself unconditionally. Your ability to care, show kindness, LOVE others is directly in relation to how you hold those qualities for your own self. Perhaps starting with how to love yourself unconditionally will help you entertain what that might look like for the rest of the world. Too often we try and find answers to life’s great questions (like the one you presented) by looking outward. Instead I invite you to look inward and choose to love yourself unconditionally. Doing so (in the most authentic way) can ONLY lead you to love others the same.

    Namaste Brother!

    • Bruce Sallan

      I had a discussion with a friend about #Love yesterday, Josh and she made a great point – similar to what you’re suggesting – that there should be more than one word for “love” in the same way that eskimos have so many for snow. There are so many different kinds of love…this post just touches the subject and hopefully opens up a discussion. We will continue this at #DadChat on Thursday, August 16. I hope you’ll join us!

      • Michael Q Todd

        What Josh says! Have you read “The Breakthrough Experience” by Dr John DeMartini Bruce? I believe it will change your life right around it did mine

        • Bruce Sallan

          Michael and Josh, it’s clear this is a topic that brings out passion so we’ll be discussing it at #DadChat probably on Thursday, August 16. I hope you’ll come to represent your points-of-view!

  • Renee Malove

    I disagree that love, support and approval are the exact same thing. It’s possible to love someone and not support them if they’re making bad decisions.
    That said…lol! I don’t know what kind of conditions I would place on my love of my children. That’s pretty deep. And there are days I love them, but don’t like them very much. (My oldest will be a teenager soon. I’m sure I don’t have to explain that.) Then again, while I can see at least one of them throwing a swing, I can’t see them grabbing a gun and going nuts in a crowded theatre. I can’t even imagine it, which makes it impossible to imagine how I would react to it.
    As for everyone else, however, I recommend you pick up a copy of “His Needs, Her Needs”. It explains the concept of a “love bank”-our love for others depends on their ability to make deposits into the love bank. When they stop making deposits, our love for them starts to wane. Relationships must be managed by continuously making deposits based on each other’s needs.

    • Bruce Sallan

      We are going to be speaking about this on my Radio Show Thursday…it will be posted in the Radio Show tab here Thursday afternoon. Also, THIS topic will be the #DadChat topic on Thursday, August 16. I love the “Love Bank” idea…I believe and have used the “Moral Bank” notion before…really the same thing. If a person has demonstrated loyalty, love, and integrity for years and messes up occasionally, there should be forgiveness…of course, I’m talking about the smaller things like showing up late for a lunch!

  • David Weber

    Bruce has raised several very important ideas here. Perhaps one way to think about unconditional love is that it is a GOAL to pursue in a loving relationship, as opposed to something that must be part of a particular relationship.

    I also am thinking that love that is unconditional may cease to be that and later resume its unconditional nature. I suppose that technically is NOT unconditional love in the first place…but only if U.L. is defined as existing in perpetuity once it blossoms. That’s something to reflect on: Is unconditional love REALLY “unconditional” if it goes on hiatus, to return as unconditional at some later point?
    In my opinion, the issue of unconditional love intersects with the concept and practice of forgiveness…that is, it seems to be difficult, and not necessary, to think about the first without bringing the second into the reflections.
    i remember reading a an article several years ago about a mother whose young daughter was killed by a certain man, and I also believe that there was rape before the murder. He was caught, tried and sent to prison for the crime (in a state that did not use the death penalty). Because she wanted to know why he had committed this that took her beloved daughter from her, the mother visited the criminal one day not long after he had been sent up the river.
    That was the first of what turned out to be an extended series of visits. As a result of the visits, the two ended up building a friendship. The mother subsequently forgave the criminal. He in turn felt a deep sense of remorse and shame–emotions he had never experienced in his entire life–and could never feel sorry enough that he had brought so much horror into the life of this person who had come to be his friend.
    That last two sentences of Bruce’s
    I can see many arguing that this mother was in some way mentally or emotionally defective–how could she forgive this fellow? Others would argue that she demonstrated a sublime, perhaps even saintly, capacity to transcend tragedy and make good from it. The article was published slightly before the phenomenon of interactive online publication, which is too bad because I would have loved to read comments that would have been posted in response to the story and the unimaginably complex emotional journeys recounted in it.
    Either way, it is in any case difficult to think about that friendship without inferring that somewhere along the way the mother became willing to feel and demonstrate unconditional love, or something like it. She spoke of how seemingly impossible it was at first, but she, as a religious person, was determined to transcend her hate for the man and be his friend, because he had no one else in the world who would stand by him that way.

    Finally, to “go meta” on this whole topic: if in a certain relationship, love is unconditional, the “unconditional”-ness of the love is in fact conditionality…! (Or maybe I’m wrong about that?) In other words, if “x” loves “y” unconditionally, the expectation either or both have that the love will remain unconditional for whatever period of time (i.e., perpetuity or only to an end point closer in) IS actually a condition…!
    In any case, a very useful topic effectively handled by Bruce in his post.

    • Bruce Sallan

      THAT is a great idea – having the GOAL of unconditional love, David. Really appreciated the story you shared. Quite something. I have mixed reactions to it BUT I never judge a victim’s choice of grieving and healing so I’m glad it worked well for that mom!

  • David Weber

    Just a short addendum–I realized I wrote “That last two sentence’s of Bruce’s” and never finished.

    What I wanted to write was:

    The [not ‘that”!] last two sentences of Bruce’s post were not clear in meaning to me. In the what-if scenario Bruce proposed, I’m not clear who is doing what. Regardless, it would seem that someone who spent money defending someone (e.g., a son or daughter who did something horrific) could ALSO donate money to the fund that Bruce describes. Perhaps technically that would have some bearing on the defense strategy…I don’t know. Or it could be done after the trial or appeals. Anyway, I’m just saying that it is not necessarily one way (defend the criminal friend or relative) or the other (support the victims and other stakeholders).

    • Bruce Sallan

      Agreed. This topic clearly has LOTS of nuances just as #Love does – it is NOT simple and I wish, as stated before, that we had as many words for love as the Eskimos do for snow!

  • Jason Ramsey

    Love it Bruce, I totally get it.

    • Bruce Sallan

       Thx Jason…we will be discussing this topic in one of the next couple/three #DadChats!

  • Margie Analise

    I agree Bruce, I don’t believe we are equipped to love unconditionally; we are only human and bring our strengths and frailties to every relationship.  I believe it’s vastly important to communicate our expectations and what we need from each other.  It is not productive or positive to ignore or pretend it’s ok through any ‘deal breakers’, and with a loving reminder giving opportunity for the other person to turn things positive, I believe we can grow the conditions of respect, pride and love.  But as humans, in my opinion, unconditional is impossible.

    Great post as always – thanks for sharing your heart with us!

    • Bruce Sallan

       Great comment, Margie – I expected more blowback than this has gotten, especially from women…yet, it’s been the opposite to a small degree. So much for my sexist stereotyping! lol…

      • Margie Analise

         Ahhh, the joy of being unpredictable! 😉

        • Bruce Sallan

           Just makes YOU more interesting, Margie!

  • MarkSherrick

    Even unconditional love has its conditions. Its kind of like the chickens above. There is nothing that my child could do at this point in her life, at two years old that would make me not love her. Could there be? Probably not….but like Renee stated below, love is different than like, which is different than support and so on.

    Now, could a friend do something to make me not love them anymore, or something outside of the family bond do something to lose my love? HELL YEAH. But thats because there is a different base on it in my mind. Does it make sense? Probably not. It shouldnt be that this could be both ways.

    But it is. I think its just one of those things…

    • Bruce Sallan

       Does LOVE ever “make sense?!” LOL…thx for the comment, Mark…much appreciated!

      • MarkSherrick

         hahaha. In my experience, it makes no sense whatsoever, but that is why it works.

        • Bruce Sallan

          Thank God it doesn’t make sense! That is part of what makes it wonderful!

  • Sylvia

    I would support my husband to the gates of hell. That much I know. This is a great piece, though.

    • Bruce Sallan

      Sylvia, what if – G*d forbid – he abused you or your kids? Harsh question ’cause I know THAT IS NOT THE CASE, but could you support a man who hurt children? I’d support him directly to those gates!

      • Bojan Djordjevic

        @Syjere:disqus @brucesallan:disqus I am the mentioned person. Love follows the trust. Neither in first, nor in second one you had it completely.

        If my babe mentioned me something like that regarding my physical appearance, I would be very disappointed with her.

        As a man you have to come from a position of power. No place for weak males in the female world. Always proactive, never reactive.

        • Bruce Sallan

          I certainly agree with your 3rd sentence, but being open to my wife’s concern about my weight gain is not a sign of weakness…she was truthful and I was open to hearing her!

          • Bojan Djordjevic

            She should be the one listening 🙂 Just saying…

  • Alphapolitical

    That’s kind of a rotten analogy. I don’t know how you gleaned that from my comment, but, ok. To each their own, I guess.

    • Bruce Sallan

      Missing your comment and my analogy? Please post again so I can reply…maybe I was off?

  • Amber

    English is so limiting! I remember learning the various greek words that we translate as love, and how they each bore different meanings (brotherly affection, romantic love, and even a love that has no conditions – a sort of “loving the unlovable”).

    In marriage, I do feel my love is conditional. If my husband ever hurt our child, I guarantee love would be lost quickly. If my child did something horrible (like mentioned in your post) – maybe that would be more difficult. I would have a hard time liking him, but I don’t know if I could ever stop loving him. That’s what would make it so painful. 

    • Bruce Sallan

      There really is NO simple answer to this difficult issue…I just pray it doesn’t happen to me or anyone I know…

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  • Glengaugh

    I like this discussion. And I think from my perspective, you have to have an objective measure for #love, which to me is Christ’s love. His love is unconditional, but the benefits of relationship with Him are covenental (conditions are attached.) His love is so unconditional that, if you break the covenant with Him, He won’t spare the consequences. For us, if our children break the rules, do we really love them if we don’t punish them and teach them that it’s not ok to break rules, especially rules of safety and human decency? Many a parent has excused adult children all the way to jail in spite of obvious facts that that son or daughter broke the law. Well, it’s not real love if they don’t feel the disapproval and even face a change or termination of relationship with that parent due to horrible acts they committed. Real love would inspire relational consequences that one day might change and even save the wrongdoer.

    Hope that all makes sense… Looking forward to #dadchat!

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  • Chris Johnson

    Humans give conditional love because, well we are imperfect and cannot give it perfectly all the time, but mostly because we choose to find fault in others rather see them for what they are which is a glorious being. Maybe it was because our parents never knew how to teach it, but Bruce no offense intended, you don’t know what real unconditional love is, and until then you shouldn’t write about it. Honestly.

  • Mark 01

    here’s am example of “love” Women prefer men taller than they are

  • John Shannon

    What is Love?