The Personalist Project

Accessed on September 27, 2023 - 1:49:56

Some relationships come with terms built-in

Katie van Schaijik, Feb 17, 2014

A friend of mine shared a link to my post "Love is unconditional; relationships have terms" on Facebook, adding a question: "Should we put conditions on relationships?" This gives me an opportunity to expand and clarify my thoughts. (Thanks, friend!)

The kind of terms I had in mind aren't the kind we "put"; they're the kind we receive. They come with the relationship.

Some relationships involve arbitrary (in the sense of at-will) terms. If I hire someone to clean my house, I might stipulate that she has to come on time and she can't smoke. Those are my conditions for hiring. She might have conditions of her own: She wants $20 per hour and she will only work with non-toxic cleaning products.

Nothing wrong with such conditions in the context. But the context is business relations, i.e. relations that are contractual, limited, and superficial in comparison with more important human relations.

The relationships I had mainly in mind with my post are different in kind. They are relationships that come with terms. They're not terms we impose; rather, they are given in nature. We either accept them and conform to them, or we fail. If we fail seriously or chronically enough, we wreck the relationship.

For example, by the nature of the parent/child relation, parents owe their children love, care, protection and education. If they fail to provide these things, they are bad parents.

Spouses owe each other love, honor and fidelity.  If a woman won't love and honor her husband; if she is unfaithful, she betrays her spouse and ruins the marriage. Also, spouses owe each the totality of who they are. As with parenthood, arbitrary conditions are against the nature of the relationship as such. If a man says to his finacée, "I'll marry you on the condition that you agree not to get fat," or, "you have to use the pill because I don't want kids", then he is, by those conditions, already betraying his obligations as a spouse. If a woman says, "I'll have sex with you more often if you buy me a bigger house," she is offending against him and against marriage. 

Friends owe each other honesty, time, receptivity, consideration. Withhold those, and the friendship either won't last or will be too superficial to merit the name.

"Friends with benefits" is an oxymoron. So is "open marriage." 

By virtue of our nature as individuals made in the Image and Likeness of God, we owe each other respect, kindness, goodness, justice. These are terms that come with our humanity. We don't make them up; we don't "impose" them. Nor can we set them aside at will. We can't excuse ourselves from such obligations, nor can we excuse others.

If we want to be Catholics in good standing, we have to accept the teachings of the Church; we have to go to Mass every Sunday; we have to renounce Satan; we have to love our neighbor... If we want absolution, we have to confess our sins, show contrition and do penance. These aren't arbitrary items that the Church comes up with as a way of keeping her members in line. They are simply what it means to live as members of the Mystical Body of Christ. If we commit a mortal sin, rupturing our communion with God and His Church, the problem is not that His love is "conditional," but that we have betrayed Love.

To love unconditionally means to affirm the essential value of another person and to do him good, even when he's behaving badly. It doesn't mean to "stay in relationship with him" no matter what.

There's nothing virtuous or admirable about co-dependency.