What Is Unconditional Love?

Updated July 30, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Karen Devlin, LPC

To define unconditional love is to say that a person loves someone unselfishly, that he or she cares about the happiness of the other person and will do anything to help that person feel happiness without expecting anything in return. In other words, the term unconditional love of the definition of unconditional love is "love without conditions."

To put an unconditional love definition another way, this is the type of love that exists between a parent and child, or even between a dog and his master. It is a love that is given without expecting or even really caring if that love is returned. You love this person wholeheartedly, and nothing is going to change that. Unconditional love means that you accept one’s faults without judgement. While romantic love between two people is a means to love unconditionally, the concept of unconditional love refers to one or both individuals loving the other and expecting nothing back. 

Unconditional love is a type of love, whether romantic love, maternal love, or unrequited love that you give or feel for another. Describing unconditional love is to say that you love someone no matter the love unconditional love or non-existing love they give back to you. 

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Conditional Vs. Unconditional Love

You may have heard of unconditional love more often than conditional love. So what is conditional love? Conditional love focuses more on a person or thing. For example, you can say "Man, I love this car. It runs great!" This would be an example of conditional love. You love the car because it runs great. If the car suddenly started stalling out on the highway, though, you may no longer love that car. Your love for your car is conditioned upon its running great.

When it comes to people, conditional love refers to our love for someone when that person conforms to the idea of how we expect a person to think, act, dress, etc. Take, for instance, society's love for celebrities. We may feel like our love for a celebrity knows no bounds, and that there's nothing they could do that could sour that love. Then, we find out that our favorite celebrity is an abuser, and we can't get their movies or music out of our collections fast enough. Our love for that celebrity was conditioned upon their fulfilling all our expectations. Once they fell short, our love ran out. This is an example of both altruism or complete love. One minute you love them immensely and the next do not. 

Conditional love, therefore, is more about control than real love. You love someone or something because you are under the illusion of control. However, once that person or thing can no longer be "controlled," you no longer love it. This is why conditional love does not make for a healthy relationship whatsoever. If your partner is trying to control how you dress, act, and feel, then he or she is trying to make you live up to their ideal of you in their head, not the person you are. Accepting you for who you are is unconditional love. Making you up into a false image they have created for you is conditional love. If there are strings attached to your relationship, such as a certain job, look, or status, then this love is not unconditional.

Passion is conditional love. This is why, when the passion runs out, sometimes hatred takes its place. Both are incredibly strong emotions, and when someone we're passionate about does something to hurt us or otherwise change our opinion of them, that passion can turn to hatred. This is why passion and hatred are both sides of the coin that is conditional love, and this is why neither emotion can nor should be present in a mature, long-lasting relationship. That is not to say that your passionate love for your partner is a bad thing. It is important to have a stable, consistent, unconditional love underneath the passion so that the passion does not turn to hatred if they do not meet your expectations. Falling in love is often not an over night process, nor is growing hatred towards another. The basis of unconditional love is a selfless act where passion and hatred are more self-centered emotions. The limitation or love that are involved with passion and conditional love is a neural basis of unconditional love; they are interconnected, yet separate at the same time. 

Is Unconditional Love Possible?

You may ask yourself: is it possible to fall in love with someone unconditionally? And the answer is: absolutely! It's not something that just comes along easily, though. It is an unconditional positive regard for the life of another person. Unconditional love is mature love, or romantic love, and so it may be too much to expect someone to love us unconditionally if we become clingy or overly dependent on the other person to fulfill our needs. 

You may have heard that it is unhealthy to make your life all about your partner, and this is true. You need friends, hobbies, and other interests besides your partner to balance yourself out. Relying too much on your partner to fulfill all your needs can burn a relationship out, and frankly, it's unfair to your partner.

You need to take care of yourself so that your relationship becomes the cherry on top of the cake, as opposed to the whole cake. Once you ensure that your own needs have been met, then you have a much better chance of seeing your relationship blossom into one that is respectful and filled with unconditional love. Else, your relationship will be barely above that of a relationship between a parent and child: "I expect you to love me forever, no matter how badly I may treat you."

How To Know If You Love Unconditionally In A Relationship

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Unconditional positive regard for another is not sometimes fluid. Unconditional love isn't just for parents and pets. Romantic love can become unconditional love, too - in fact, "true love" is synonymous with unconditional love. You'll know you have unconditional love for another person when you don't judge that person for his or her faults, and when you feel and express empathy when they've had a bad day.

Ultimately, unconditional love boils down to something you've heard all your life: you accept your partner when he or she is at their worst, and enjoy them when they're at their best. This is one of those bits of advice that are offered when you're trying to decide if the person you're with is the person to marry. Unconditional positive regard means if they've seen you at your worst and they're still in love with you, that one's a keeper.

Every person will have a bad day, or sometimes be in a bad mood. We will all have our personal rough patches, which may lead to rough patches in your relationship. However, unconditional love means no matter what the future holds, you have the faith and confidence that you and your partner will support each other.

When you love and are loved unconditionally, you don't feel the need to play head games with each other. You know not to take it personally when they're in a bad mood, and you encourage them to talk about their feelings and offer them the patience and compassion they need to get through it. Above all, you know you're both in it for the long haul and can't see yourselves ever being with anyone else. An unconditional love for your partners means you feel safe with them, and them with you.

The Difference Between Unconditional Love And Abuse

It is easy to misconstrue the unconditional love meaning by interpreting it to mean that you're justified in loving your partner no matter how they badly they treat you. While this may be unconditional love, it's also unhealthy. Your partner may feel unconditional love for you, too, but this does not give him or her carte blanche to abuse you, knowing that no matter how badly they treat you, you will always come back.

Healthy boundaries are essential to unconditional love. If someone constantly violates your boundaries, then they do not love you unconditionally. Their love is contingent on their ability treat you however they want, without regard to your feelings. Furthermore, if you feel as though you unconditionally love someone despite abuse, then this is not true unconditional love either. The love you feel is the result of the manipulation from the abuser and your own personal anxieties about life without them.

Unconditional love is meant to overlook the little annoyances in a relationship, like eating the last donut and leaving the empty box on the counter or forgetting to put the toilet seat down. Unconditional love is not meant to forgive your partner being physically, emotionally, or verbally abusive toward you. If you are in an abusive relationship, it is important that you get help and get out.

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Unconditional love is rooted in caring for another person and being cared for in return. It is not supposed to be a reaction to our partners out of an obligation to them because it is expected of us. The main thing to remember about unconditional love is that it is about the sharing of power. If one person exerts power over the other, that is not unconditional love. Unconditional love is about compromise and sacrifice. If your partner isn't willing to do that, but you are, this is not unconditional love, but destructive self-sacrifice.

Looking For A Soulmate

You don't have to be dating someone long to feel unconditional love for that person. Some of us feel it right from the outset. However, unconditional love can turn conditional when you begin to nitpick the relationship, looking for signs as to whether you could live with that person for the long haul.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it might be better for you to be able to reduce your unconditional love to conditional love so that you can properly evaluate the relationship before going any deeper into a commitment with this person. We all know that couple that got married too fast and only realized when it was too late that their partner was not compatible with them, that they lacked the necessary communication and problem-solving skills that make great marriages work.

The idea of a "soulmate" is that the conditional love and the unconditional love will eventually overlap, making this person your ideal partner. A lot of us put stock in meeting our "soulmate," yet it is naïve to believe that in a world consisting of billions of people, there is only one person out there for you.

The truth is, many people can connect with you on that intimate level. The problem is that such a connection is rare, and so while it may feel like you are only able to do this with one person, the fact of the matter is that you just have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince.

This is very important to remember if you feel you have found your soulmate, and then things go awry. Maybe your partner turns out to be the opposite of who you thought they were. Or, perhaps even sadder, maybe you did find your ideal partner, and then they passed away. It can give you hope to know, though, that there are other soulmates out there for you. You may have to do a lot of work to find another one, but he or she is out there, which can help encourage you to keep up the fight.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)

How do you love someone unconditionally?

Loving someone unconditionally means learning to accept their flaws without judgement and letting go of any superficial expectations you may have of them. You may want to look inward to discover if you have any of these superficial expectations, learn why you have them, and work to let go of them. Humans are flawed by nature, which means there will be days where you and your partner argue or are out of sync. However, you can unconditionally love your partner by committing fully to them and accepting them when they show their flaws, the same way you would want someone to do for you.

Is unconditional love healthy?

Unconditional love is a mature, healthy love that is the key for long lasting relationships.

Unconditional love does not mean accepting poor treatment or abuse from your partner. Accepting this kind of behavior is dangerous and does not allow you to assert your boundaries. True unconditional love means acknowledging the other person’s flaws without judgement, and committing to grow with them throughout the course of your relationship.

What is unconditional love example?

A good example of unconditional love is the relationship between a man and his dog. The dog does not care about the mistakes his human has made, nor about what job he has, the clothes he wears, or how he looks. Likewise, the man knows that sometimes his dog will knock things over, bring mud into the house, and make a mess. The love the man and his dog have for each other is unconditional because they accept each other for who they are, and their love is not contingent on a certain characteristic or behavior. This is loving without conditions.

Is unconditional love a choice?

Unconditional love can be both intentional and unintentional. Unconditional love can occur naturally throughout the course of a relationship. It develops once you understand your partner’s flaws without judgement. However, you can learn to love unconditionally by working on your own intrapersonal needs. You cannot expect to love and be loved unconditionally if you are reliant on someone else to make you happy. Becoming reliant on yourself for your own happiness will put you on the path to loving another unconditionally.

How do you know if someone loves you unconditionally?

Unconditional love means that you are not judged or punished for your flaws; rather, your partner works with you to grow. Does your partner make you feel guilty for making mistakes? Are you yelled at, ignored, or mocked when you show your flaws, or does your partner calmly and respectfully talk to you when they have a problem? Have they threatened to leave you or given you ultimatums, or are you confident that you can work through your issues together? These questions can help you realize if you have a healthy, unconditional love with your partner.

What is the difference between love and unconditional love?

Love may be contingent on different characteristics, while unconditional love means accepting another regardless of superficial traits or flaws. It can be difficult to distinguish between love and passion. You may initially feel passion for another when they are meeting all of your expectations. However, it is impossible for someone to always meet your expectations, and once they fail, the passion may fade. Unconditional love is knowing that your partner is human and has flaws, like yourself.

What does it mean when someone loves you unconditionally?

Someone loves you unconditionally when you they do not judge or punish you for your flaws. A partner who loves you unconditionally will want to grow with you, and won’t make you feel ashamed when you make mistakes. A partner who loves you unconditionally will calmly and respectfully talk to you when you have a relationship problem. You should also feel confident that you can work through anything together. If they threaten to leave you or give you ultimatums, then this is a sign of conditional love. In other words, if you do not meet certain expectations of your partner, they will not continue to love you. Other signs of conditional love are if your partner makes you feeling guilty for making mistakes, or if you are yelled at, ignored, or mocked when you show your flaws.

What does unconditional love mean in a relationship?

Unconditional love means loving someone without strings attached. Your love for them should not depend on their job, their appearance, their possessions, or other material qualities. Furthermore, your love should not punish them for making mistakes. Instead, you should recognize that all humans make mistakes, and you should commit to growing with them when they show their flaws. If they also unconditionally love you, they will do the same.

Can unconditional love exist in marriage?

Unconditional love should exist in marriage and it is often the key to long lasting, happy relationships. The most important part of unconditional love has to do with yourself, and not your partner. You must be able to fulfill your needs yourself. It is not your partner’s responsibility to make you happy. Rather, they should be someone who contributes to your happiness and enriches your life, as opposed to being the source of it. Otherwise, the needs you project on to your partner may be too much for the relationship. Furthermore, unconditional love means expressing your boundaries and respecting your partner’s. Unconditional love is not a reason to treat your partner poorly or vice versa. In fact, unconditional love cannot exist without boundaries. You will know that someone loves you unconditionally when they respect your boundaries without punishment.

Can humans love unconditionally?

Humans can love unconditionally. This love may be towards a pet, a family member, a friend, or a romantic partner. It requires inner work so you can fulfill your own needs, and a commitment to your partner to work and grow with them to further your love. Unconditional love requires empathy when another expresses their flaws. It requires the understanding that they, like yourself, are not perfect.

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