There’s a lot of talk these days about “unconditional love,” by which people mean being loved just as they are, with no strings attached, a kind of love that will never leave us no matter what we do or don’t do. Usually when we talk about unconditional love, we talk about it as something we want to receive. We all want to be loved unconditionally.
So today I found myself pondering: Can love in marriage ever be truly unconditional? Are there always conditions on marital love? When people get married aren’t they really saying to each other, “I will love you as long as you fulfill my expectations. But if you let me down, especially in a major way, I will not keep loving you.” At least that seems to be what married people are saying to each other today, since so many marriages end in divorce.
Is that the way it’s supposed to be, according to the Bible? If marriage really is supposed to be for life, if it’s really “for better or worse, till death do us part,” can love in marriage be conditional? I don’t have a set answer in mind, I’m just asking the question.
The Bible does seem to give us at least two conditions under which we can cease to love in marriage. One is in the case of adultery (see Matthew 19:9). The other is when an unbelieving spouse leaves (see 1 Corinthians 7:12-16). Wise Christian leaders I know have also added unrepentant abuse and unrepentant addiction to the list of reasons a marriage can end in light of the Bible’s teaching. (Abuse and addiction are inferred from Jesus words on adultery, because they are all a breaking of the covenant.)
So what do you think? Can love in marriage ever be unconditional?
I think one of the things that has been an issue for me throughout my life with regard to marriage is that–especially as a younger man–I hoped to find unconditional love from the women I dated. That is, I wanted a woman I loved to love and accept me no matter what I did. I wanted to be able to come into a dating relationship and a marriage without having a woman’s love of me be conditional as to whether I fulfilled her expectations or not. But of course, this has never happened. If a man doesn’t fulfill a woman’s expectations in dating, she will leave him. And in today’s world, if a man fails too significantly in a marriage, a woman will leave him then, too. (And yes, the reverse is true, also, I’m just speaking about my experience as a man.)
Yeah, as a younger man I tried to get my needs for unconditional love met through dating relationships. Not likely, eh? I think this is why I’ve never married, because I want marriage to be a place where I can be loved unconditionally, but it cannot. And if it can’t, I’m not sure I want it. (Just being honest.)
So I think, if you go into marriage expecting to be loved unconditionally, you’re going to be disappointed.
What do you think?