Can I love someone unconditionally and still leave them?

Some Q&A are modified versions of my responses from other sites/forums.

Yes, you can love someone unconditionally and still break up with them, because love in this sense is a feeling of wishing the best for someone, and feeling goodwill toward them no matter what. But feeling that way toward someone doesn’t automatically mean you make a good or healthy couple. There is a difference between the way you feel for someone, and the behavior you engage in with them.

It’s OK to leave a partner because you can’t tolerate the pain their behavior is causing you, because it is not loving toward yourself to be in a committed relationship with them. You can still love them, and wish deeply for them to find their own path to healing and be happy, but also love yourself and know that you can’t make that happen for them. And you can actually love them much more cleanly and without grasping or trying to change them, when you no longer need anything from them because you aren’t in a relationship. So, boundaries actually support unconditional love.

Unconditional love does not equate to unconditional engagement with the person. Engaging with the person should depend on if it is positive and brings wellbeing to each person. If it doesn’t, then engaging is not a loving act, it’s a self-destructive act.

So you can love the hell out of someone and it’s really maturity that lets you recognize when the relationship isn’t working, even if you both want it to.

So I would say the goal is mature love, not unconditional love. Mature love is unconditional in the sense that you can maintain that love even when the person is not behaving well, because you understand they are a human and have their own struggles, but you ultimately maintain that equilibrium by setting boundaries and respecting yourself so you don’t drop into your own unhealthy version of love. So you love them, but you don’t engage in negative cycles with them.

And it’s never going to be perfect, “healthy” includes “able to engage in repair”, this isn’t about becoming an angel or some kind of unrealistic and unattainable version of healthy. Healthy just means it consistently supports your wellbeing, not that you or your partner never have a bad day.

The “unconditional love” many people wish for is actually enmeshment.

I used to search for someone who would love me “flaws and all”. There is a saying of, “If you can’t accept me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best”. I have found that people who say that are usually not mature enough to take responsibility for their own problems, and are really looking for someone to rescue them from themselves. (I certainly was!). This comes from not having had adequate parenting, and looking for that missing parent in a romantic partner. It doesn’t work, and ultimately we all have to grow ourselves up if we didn’t get that from a parent. Realizing that can be very painful, as you have to grieve the healing fantasy of finding someone to save you. It took me many years to fully internalize that nobody was going to save me from myself, and if I wanted a healthy relationship, it was entirely on me to learn how to be a person who could do that.

And from a healthier perspective, I would never want to subject ANYONE I loved (or anyone in general TBH), to my worst, unhealed behavior. I used to think that the person who could put up with that and really see me and love me anyway was “the One” I was looking for. All that got me was people who had no boundaries and were themselves unhealed and looking for salvation. It just doesn’t work. It’s an unhealthy fantasy that we develop as children, and an unfair expectation to put on any potential partner. And even though I am now able to “see past” someone’s behavior, and could theoretically do that for someone else, now that I am healthier, I don’t want to, because I want my life to work and not be a painful mess. Painful behavior hurts, point blank, and the person doing it needs to be responsible for that and learn to stop doing it, and if they can’t, it’s entirely appropriate and loving to break up with them. It’s loving yourself, and it’s also showing them what mature love and boundaries look like.

Here’s another way of thinking about it, from a spiritual perspective. God (however you conceptualize it) is unconditionally loving. But God doesn’t need anything. You do. You are a human being in a human body and you need lots of things. Boundaries protect your needs. So you can aspire to unconditional love, Divine love, and you can embody that more and more as you grow spiritually, but you can’t sustain it for very long if you don’t also take care of your human needs. Living on this planet will always involve doing that. Because if you don’t take care of your needs, your ego will take care of them for you, that’s its job. And it will pull you out of unconditional love to do that. It will make you angry, pull back, push away–all of the things that are not loving, but it’s just trying to protect you. So my advice is to take on that job yourself. Protect yourself, set boundaries, and then you will have the internal freedom from the ego that will allow you to love unconditionally, from a position where your needs are met.

And if you know you want to set boundaries but struggle with it, I recommend reading why we we break our own boundaries.

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Hi there! I'm Emma and I write about self-liberation. My writing is meant to share my process & inspire your own. If you want more frequent/current writing, visit my Substack Sparkly Dark, where I'm unpacking my neurodivergence.

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Thanks so much for reading! ~Emma

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