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Conditional Love vs. Unconditional Love in a Relationship

A couple in unconditional love, smiling and hugging outside.

There’s no one way to define love. It’s butterflies in the stomach. It’s putting your heart on the line. It’s safety in the arms of another. It’s feeling a little crazy. It’s bordering on obsession. It’s crossing the line into obsession. It’s a feeling that you can’t quite place that tells you that you met “the one.” It’s planning a wedding a month after meeting. It’s referring to yourselves as “we” to your friends.

All or none of these could be your experience, because love is different for everyone. We can’t define love in any concrete terms, but we can at least try to categorize it. We’ll put love into two buckets—unconditional and conditional—and we’ll look at how they play out in a relationship.

Unconditional Love
It sounds beautiful: no conditions, just pure love. But the heart and the mind are too complicated for that.

Unconditional love is like the love of your dog. You leave for hours each day, and they panic. You come back, and they cover you in kisses. They love you so much they don’t care where you’ve been or what you’ve done. They’re never angry, because they love you so much. That’s unconditional love.

It’s hard to put this in terms of humans. If your partner does wrong by you in your mind, will the love always stay? Will there not be some small part of your brain that’s upset or angry? And if that spot gets poked or prodded at over and over and over again, will love remain?

Another important question is whether or not it should. Having one partner that loves unconditionally while the other doesn’t is a dangerous precedent. Unconditional love can be dangerous if you ignore red flags. It could be the reason you stay in an unsafe or toxic relationship. It’s the conditions of love that often protect us from the danger of letting someone in, who doesn’t deserve it.

Conditional Love
Let’s start with a definition. Conditional love is love with rules. Many people take this to mean that you’re afraid of loving fully, but it’s about setting reasonable limits.

Setting limits in your relationship is a safe and sane thing to do, and it doesn’t detract from your love. Some conditions are necessary to keep ourselves safe, especially if cases of abuse. But even less severe boundaries should be respected. If they’re important to you, they should be to your partner as well. But it’s about communication. Make sure your partner knows what’s expected of them to keep your love, and, in turn, be forgiving.

Love, trust, and respect are most important aspects of a committed relationship and they’re all intertwined. One always affects the others, and you shouldn’t ignore it if any of these aspects are missing. The word conditions sounds dirty, but they help us stay healthy when our relationships aren’t.

Should you ever love unconditionally?
In a sense, yes, you should. You should love yourself unconditionally. Understand that your health, well-being, and happiness should be priorities. You deserve to allow these to be priorities.

And if any of these are breached, you should love yourself enough to know there needs to be a change. It’s okay to walk away because you need to find love and happiness elsewhere.

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