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It’s risky to accept conditions on love. Have you ever felt like your spouse will love you if you’re thin? Or if you’re rich? Or if you say yes instead of no? This is conditional love.

Conditions on love try to slip in without being noticed. Conditions are a shortcut, and we’re all tempted to take that shortcut: Love me the way I tell you to love me.

It feels safe to have the rules that are implied with conditions. But rules don’t allow the magic of unconditional love to flourish.



We’re talking about how you can beware conditions today, which is the 4th step in my book 6 Steps to Better Marriage Communication, but I’ll be drawing on the first three steps: Overcome Fear which we discussed in episode 28. Get clear: we discussed in episode 29. And Ask cleanly: episode 30. If you haven’t heard those episodes, you might want to listen to those first.

We taste and cultivate truly intimate love only when we’re seen and cherished for precisely who we are right this minute.

If you can resist the shortcut of conditional love, and cherish your spouse instead, you will be capable to receive the love your spouse genuinely has to offer you. This is rich, unfettered love. Not manipulated. Not sanitized by your rules. It feels wonderful. But the path to this unconditional love is risky. That’s why we’re tempted to avoid it.


How do you spot conditions on love?

First, let’s get familiar with the signals your body senses by looking at the example of a four year old.

A four-year-old knows what it’s like to want a lollipop. A four-year-old also knows how to ask clearly: “Please, please, please can I have the sucker?” And when they hear no, they ask again: “But I really want it!”

A parent can offer the treat without conditions and hand their four-year-old the lollipop. The parent gets joy when they see their child happy, and the child’s desire is satisfied. There are no conditions in this situation.

But sometimes a lollipop comes with a multitude of conditions: “Give me a hug first,” “You can have the lollipop after you eat your lima beans,” or implied conditions that the child can feel but can’t articulate: If I give you this lollipop, your job is to love me more than you love anyone else.

Suddenly the lollipop isn’t as tasty. The child wonders if the conditions are worth it.


These conditional pairings enter into our adult lives as well

You’ve seen marriages built on conditions: I’ll give you the security of a house if you’ll build my ego and dote on me. Or I’ll make a nice dinner, but then I expect to get lucky in the bedroom. We are a little ashamed to ask for the trade out loud, so instead, we go covert ops and weave these unwritten rules into the fine print of our love contract.

Don’t take the bait. The deep oneness you long for is built on transparency and trust. This allows your integrity to remain intact. When you fall for the rules hidden in the fine print, you will feel as empty as an all-day sucker.


Wanna hear about the conditional love I imposed?

Many years into my husband’s education I took a weekend away from my family and went to a writer’s retreat. I felt rested for the first time in years. I was happy driving home and eager for a reunion with my kids. For the first time in a long time, I was imagining a sexy encounter with my husband.

I walked through the door anticipating hugs and, “We missed you’s.” I was sure my husband was going to see how difficult my job was since he’d been doing it all weekend.

Instead, I found my family quietly settled at the table eating pancakes. They all said hello, but there was no sign they’d missed me. I felt the palms of my hands get hot. How come they don’t seem excited to see me? A pang of insecurity bit at the inside of my gut.


Overwhelm sets you up to love conditionally

As I looked around the kitchen, there were piles of dishes. Suddenly resentment mixed with the insecurity and I said, “You’re eating pancakes?” I chewed on the inside of my lip. These kids were gonna be wired for hours. I’d left chicken soup. I made this easy for him to do the right thing. Why didn’t my husband feed them the soup?

The kids were beaming. My son said, “And dad let me put powdered sugar and jam on mine.” I turned to my husband cocking my head. He got my message: He’d done it wrong.

I asked what they’d done that weekend. “We watched The Princess Bride and had a Reading Rainbow marathon.”

“You watched TV all day?” I wasn’t asking. I was accusing. My husband looked away. “Did you guys go outside at all?”

They hadn’t. Both my kids were still in their jammies. And, to top it off, there was a pile of laundry in the hall.

I felt sorry for myself. I was the maid who did the laundry. It was up to me to tire the kids out. And there’d be no lingering kisses for my husband and me: These kids would be sugar-wired for hours.


Conditional love is born from exhaustion

I wanted David to take care of the kids and the house according to my standard. When he didn’t, I withdrew my love. In a matter of four minutes and three questions I managed to ice him out. He failed.

He failed as a father. And now, he wasn’t worthy of my love.

Maybe you relate to my struggle that day. Maybe you think I did the right thing by icing my husband out. Afterall, why should I do all the work and he gets to watch all the movies and feed our kids pancakes?

I know. I bet you’re tired too. That’s because living life is filled with moments of exhaustion and overwhelm.

The first person you get frustrated with when you’re exhausted and overwhelmed is your spouse. That’s natural.


Compassion invites unconditional love

But let’s look at this snippet of time from David’s perspective. The week prior to this Saturday movie fest he worked 2 36-hour shifts. 36 hours! Twice! And while at those shifts, he cared for a man who was stabbed, a drug overdose, a stroke, and a three-car accident. My husband had to tell the surviving gentleman in that accident that his wife and one of his sons had died.

My husband started that weekend wrecked, but he was eager for me to get a break. So, he did what he could and cozied up on the couch, putting a kid in each arm and snuggled his kids while they watched TV so he could snooze off and on.

We were both tired.

If you’re lucky enough to live with your spouse dozens of years, you will encounter a situation similar to this multiple times.

When you’re tired, you think only of yourself and you think your way of living is the only way. You lose perspective. You can’t see that there are lots of ways to live and love and be in the world.


Loss of perspective will tempt you to love conditionally

I lost perspective. When David didn’t do things my way that weekend, I withdrew my love. If he didn’t do it my way, he didn’t deserve my love. My love became conditional, and, although I didn’t say it aloud, my body sent him a message as I headed down the hallway to sort laundry with a vengeance: David, you don’t deserve love unless you parent our kids according to my criteria.

Do you know what he did?  He called down the hallway after me, “We were happy until you came home.”


But it was a good wakeup call for me.

David rejected my conditions on love. He knew he’d been a loving father to his kids.

He had been loving to himself as he rested and inhaled the scent of each of his children, still alive, able to be held and snuggled.

He’d been a loving husband to me to say, “Go to your retreat; I’ve got this,” even though he was exhausted.

I put conditions on my love for David because I thought I knew the best way for him to love me and to love our kids. But I was wrong.

The best way for David to love our kids that weekend was to hold onto them and be grateful they were alive. That restored him as a father who suddenly felt vulnerable.

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Reject conditions on love

When David rejected my conditions, I was forced to question them. I couldn’t manipulate David into behaving the way I wanted by withholding love, so I needed to rethink those conditions.

Rethinking helped me to see I’d been unfair. I saw that I wasn’t offering my love unconditionally. I was trying to change David. With his rejection of my conditions, he was telling me, “I’m worthy. Right now. I’m worthy of being loved.”

You, Dear Reader, are worthy of unconditional love. Right now. Your spouse is also worthy of unconditional love. Right now.

You do not need to change in order to be more loveable, and neither does your spouse.

Unconditional love is magic. It’s healing. It beckons the best part of you to wake up over and over.


Assume your spouse is worthy of unconditional love right now

If I had walked through that front door assuming David was worthy of my unconditional love right now, I would have seen the messy dishes and the pancakes and gotten curious instead of accusatory.

I would have asked about his weekend. “Are you OK? I noticed you didn’t do the dishes, is something wrong?”

When you assume your spouse is worthy of your unconditional love, you are curious first about their well-being rather than being curious first about all the ways your spouse let you down.

Now, because my husband isn’t as reflective as I am, he would probably have said, “I’m fine.” He wouldn’t have told me about the accident and the husband whose wife died. And then I’d be tempted to return to conditional love, resenting a person who’s “fine” but unwilling to step up and be a contributing partner.


Remember: YOU are also worthy of unconditional love

That’s when it’s crucial that you also remember you’re worthy of unconditional love. That’s when you extend unconditional love to yourself. I could have said:

I came home eager to see all of you, but when I saw the dishes and the pancakes, my eagerness turned to resentment. I feel alone in this project of raising kids while you’re at school or gone so much, David. When I see dishes undone, and I see you taking the easy path with dinner, I feel disrespected. Then I feel lonely.

Clients regularly tell me they have to put conditions on their love or they’ll never get help with the chores around the house.

However, consider the flavor of the love you receive when that’s the bargain you make. Condition-laden love is transactional. You and your spouse will simply accrue a tally sheet.

Sometimes you’ll feel owed “love.” Sometimes you’ll feel like you are the one in “debt” and you’ll toss some “love” your spouse’s way. This kind of love, though, is transactional, and, if this is all you offer or receive, you’ll never swim in that gorgeous, soothing ocean of abundant love, freely given.

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Why we’re tempted to make so many rules

If you impose conditions, you keep yourself from the softness love has to offer. We impose conditions because we think the rules of love will keep us safe. The opposite is true.

When conditions are spoken aloud, they can be agreed to or not. It might frustrate you that your spouse doesn’t want to take dance classes with you, but it is clear. You will feel the singular rejection when you don’t take the class, but that rejection will melt in the face of the confidence you will feel knowing that your spouse has a mind of their own and wants to share things you both enjoy.

When conditions are not spoken aloud, your relationship gets mired in confusion. Confusion makes your relationship tentative and unhinged.


Turn conditions on love into agreements

You will find abundant love when you can transform conditions on love into agreements that can be discussed.

  • First you need to notice where conditions are hiding
  • Then speak those sneaky buggers aloud.
  • Stay in your own business rather than trying to change your spouse
  • And be clear about the conditions you are willing to accept and those you aren’t.

We’ll talk more about what happens when you can’t agree in chapter 6: Build Boundaries. The critical distinction between conditions and boundaries is that conditions withhold love. Boundaries, on the other hand, preserve love.

When you and your spouse are able to turn conditions into agreements, you’ll feel your intimacy grow. You’ll liberate yourselves from the fine print and the rules of love and embrace the glorious feeling that you are worthy of love right now.


Want to learn more about conditions on love? Listen to the podcast.

Want to listen to this blog? 

Try this: 

If/then phraseology is a common way for conditions to hide. For this week’s habit for your happily ever after, Let’s look at the “If/then” tool that will help you get conditions to come out of hiding:

If/Then conditions on love

In order to get your if/then condition to come out of hiding, let’s name it specifically. Use the following prompt to get the conditions your spouse offers you out of hiding.

If I do/don’t ______ then my spouse will______.


  • If I spend “too much” time with my friends, my spouse will punish me by getting concert tickets to my favorite band and not include me.
  • If I don’t kiss my spouse when he gets home, then he will give me the silent treatment for the rest of the evening.
  • If I spend more than my spouse thinks is appropriate, my spouse will cancel plans we had saying, “Now we can’t afford it.”


Your turn to identify if/then conditions your spouse imposes

Think of a situation where your spouse withholds love from you: withholding love is the key ingredient in conditions.

  • If I do/don’t ______ then my spouse will______.
  • If I do/don’t ______ then my spouse will______.
  • If I do/don’t ______ then my spouse will______.

Do you notice any patterns? How does your body feel when you recognize these conditionally loving behaviors?

It’s enough to notice for now. If you’d like to learn how to transform a condition into an agreement, I invite you to order my book 6 Steps to Better Marriage Communication.


An agreement takes the toxicity out of a condition by making it transparent

You can choose to agree or disagree, but there’s no question of love or worthiness of love.

Now let’s give you a chance to spot conditions that you are tempted to impose.

Use the following series of blanks to get your conditions out of hiding.

If my spouse does/doesn’t ______ then I will _______.


  • If my spouse doesn’t wipe up their crumbs, then I’ll infantilize them by telling them what a slob they are.
  • If my spouse doesn’t listen to my story when I want to tell it, then I’ll roll my eyes and stomp out of the room.
  • If my spouse doesn’t have sex with me, I’ll punish them by talking about the hottie at my work so they’ll feel threatened.


Your turn to identify if/then conditions you impose

Think of a situation where you’re tempted to withhold love if your spouse does/doesn’t behave according to your rule book:

  • If my spouse does/doesn’t ______ then I will _______.
  • If my spouse does/doesn’t ______ then I will _______.
  • If my spouse does/doesn’t ______ then I will _______.

How does your body feel when you imagine yourself imposing these conditions?

It’s enough to notice for now.

This week’s habit for your happily ever after is to notice the if/then conditions you’re tempted to impose on love. And notice the if/then conditions your tempted to accept. Noticing how you impose conditions gives you a chance to cherish your spouse and get curious about what’s going on for them.

Noticing the conditions you’re tempted to accept gives you a chance to examine where you aren’t feeling worthy of love. You’re allowed to reject conditions and cherish yourself, just as my husband did with me.

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