If you can’t handle me at my worst . . . then you have healthy boundaries and we can have a vibrant intimate relationship

By Tatiana D. Gray, Ph.D.


All too often I hear the phrase, “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best.” It is running rampant in songs, movies, TV shows, memes, and statements from my couples.


And it’s ludicrous.


Truly. Complete and utter unhealthy nonsense.


I suppose the sentiment stems from our innate desire to be loved unconditionally, however, it typically functions as an excuse for unskillful emotional reactivity. The truth is, when we are “at our worst” we are, more often than not, misbehaving: saying whatever thought pops into our mind, being reckless, careless, and thoughtless with our words, melting-down, blowing-up, and acting-out. 



And this is the thing: as much as we long for unconditional love, another word for conditional is boundaried – and healthy boundaries are essential for true intimacy. Since intimacy is rooted in our ability to feel safe being our vulnerable and authentic selves with our partners – then that can only be achieved within a safe, stable, and boundaried context. So while the love for our partner may be truly boundless – the structure of our relationships needs to rest on actual conditions. And what are those conditions?


Actually, it’s quite simple – the condition is kindness. We vow to do our best to do no harm.


And, so, we nurture intimacy within compassionate and loving conditions. We vow to:


Nurture Intimacy and Compassion

Nurture Intimacy and Compassion

  • Stay connected when we are upset.

  • Be relentlessly kind and not intentionally hurt one another.

  • Recognize our shared vulnerability, and honor that by treating each other gently.


Of course, we all have rough days and none of us are perfect – and sometimes our partners get caught in the cross-hairs of our emotional arrows. AND YET, it is our responsibility to notice when this has happened, and intentionally, thoughtfully, effortfully aim elsewhere. If you want your partner to feel emotionally safe with you, then you have to be their safe place – always.

It is absolutely not ok to lose your cool on the reg, scream, yell, name-call, slam doors, and, for all intents and purposes, have an adult temper tantrum – and then threaten your partner by withholding the calm, warm, and loving parts of yourself if s/he “can’t handle you” in those moments. That’s not the context for love to thrive, it’s certainly not within the vows we take, and it doesn’t allow for either of you to feel truly loved and taken care of.



So, we need to do better.


We need to own our own strength to tolerate our intense emotions. Believe in our power to hold our strong emotions with kindness, and behave with compassion in the world – even when we are upset, brokenhearted, or enraged. Recognize the vulnerability that our partner has chosen to share with us – and treat the fragility of our safe space with love, attention, and gentleness. Because what you say cannot be unheard and what you do cannot be undone.

And it is no one’s responsibility but our own to love with kindness.