What Is Unconditional Love?
Unconditional love is showing love for another person without considering how it will benefit you or what you will get in return.
Unconditional love is a noble relationship goal since everyone wants to be loved for who they are and without conditions. By its narrowest definition, however, unconditional love can be difficult, if not impossible.
Part of the problem with unconditional love in relationships is the lack of understanding of what it means.
When people think of this type of love, the first thing that comes to mind is a parent's love for a child or a child's love for a parent. This type of love depends on nothing other than the familial bond and doesn't break down based on what the child or parent does—at least in an ideal scenario.
In the purest sense, unconditional love is about caring about the happiness of another person without any concern for how it benefits you. It is also sometimes referred to as compassionate love.
Research tells us that the parts of the brain that light up during unconditional love are similar to those involved in romantic love and maternal love and are linked to the brain's reward system.
This suggests that unconditional love may be rewarding without receiving anything in return. Research has found that giving and receiving love plays a vital role in psychological well-being.
Unconditional Love in Romantic Relationships
Unconditional love plays an important role in relationships, but that doesn't always mean it is easy. To feel safe in a relationship, it makes sense that you need to feel as though the other person is not going to abandon you on a whim. You need to know that the person is committed to loving you unconditionally no matter what the future brings.
The problem is that this definition in romantic relationships can break down under several conditions—and for good reason. As much as you might unconditionally love a person who lies, cheats, or engages in excessive alcohol use, this isn't healthy for you. Because of this, the definition of unconditional love in romantic relationships needs to be expanded.
For love to continue, there must be mutual respect, not an attitude of "you have put up with me, no matter what I do."
Unconditional Positive Regard
Unconditional love in romantic relationships is more akin to unconditional positive regard. It doesn't mean always giving people what they want or accepting what they do at the expense of your own needs.
Instead, it is a mature type of love that means treating the other person with love and respect while maintaining your boundaries and protecting yourself. Whereas the immature version of unconditional love would have you feeling as though you must be everything to the other person, the mature version has you recognize that your only obligation is to communicate your message with love and respect.
Signs of unconditional positive regard include:
Being attentive and attuned, even while you are setting limits and boundaries
Honoring the requests of others when you can do so without harming yourself
Not being harsh or dismissive, as this doesn't lead to compromise or solutions
Being assertive by letting the other person know where you stand so that together you can work out the best outcome for the two of you together
What It Is (and Isn't)
People are often programmed to have conditional love. You love your partner because of their unique traits and qualities that attracted you to them. It's why you love them and not another person. The question becomes, if they change, at what point is love withdrawn?
True mature love should come with no strings attached. It is a behavior, rather than a feeling, a point of confusion that can lead to the breakdown of romantic relationships. The satisfaction of unconditional love should come from the act of giving it to the other person, not from what you receive in return.
Think about unconditional love as the expression of our kindest self. it can be maintained even if a relationship does not survive. You might know couples who still love each other but are no longer together.
If a relationship is hurting you more than it is helping, it is OK to feel unconditional love but let the relationship go.
Unconditional love can be unhealthy, damaging, and destructive if it exists with no boundaries. If your needs are not being met, it is important to establish limits on what you are willing to accept in the relationship.
If you find yourself accepting unacceptable behavior or tolerating neglectful or even abusive actions, it is important to create a hard boundary or step away from the relationship.
Recap Unconditional love is basic goodness and the total acceptance of someone, but it does not mean tolerating abuse, neglect, or other dealbreakers. Unconditional love should not be painful.
How to Show Unconditional Love
There are strategies that you can use in your own life to show unconditional love to your partner and other important people in your life. Tips that can help:
Practice open communication so that both of your needs can be met. This means being honest about what you are feeling and actively listening and responding to your partner.
Communicate in a non-defensive way. Express your feelings while listening and taking the other person's feelings into account.
Don't let the little annoyances of life override your love. Unconditional love means seeing past the squabbles about the little things in life. If you commit to love that is larger than those things, you will have staying power.
Share power in your relationship. No one person should get everything they want, or this will lead to resentment by the other person.
Pay attention to how you express your love. Unconditional love is given wholeheartedly without keeping score or feeling like the other person "owes" you something in return.
When Unconditional Love Isn't Enough
Unconditional love does not always mean staying in a relationship forever, which sometimes means falling out of love. If you still show them unconditional love, you will find a way to kindly and gently end the relationship.
When we first fall in love, it's in an unconditional state, and we can't ever imagine not feeling this way about the other person. But we live in a conditional world, and relationships do end. We all have different tastes and needs, which can change over time.
One thing is certain: Relationships completely lacking unconditional love are unlikely to succeed.
Beliefs and lifestyles are likely to change over time, and if you aren't willing to see your partner go through changes, it could spell the end for the two of you.
A Word From Verywell
You can be more to your partner when you offer unconditional love in the mature sense. One way to tap into this is to be mindful of the present moment. If you struggle with this, consider practicing mindfulness meditation. This practice will help you slow down and become aware of your relationship needs.
It can also be helpful to learn how to show yourself the same unconditional love that you are trying to show to your partner. If you don't show it to yourself, you might be looking for too much from your partner—looking for them to prop you up.