The trouble with unconditional love

Unconditional love is the holy grail of all mankind. It’s that one pure form of love we all strive for. It’s often equated with motherly love, because we believe that is the one type of relationship where it’s most easily attained. It is often said that when we are in love with someone, we should love unconditionally.

Unconditional love is also equated with selflessness and altruism. Our society and most world religions glorify serving others and putting their needs in front of our own as a measure of kindness and good character. If you choose to take care of yourself you are deemed selfish and self-absorbed.

The problem with this kind of thinking is that other people often don’t return the favour, so the ones who live to serve become victims of their own kindness. Their lives turn into constant striving to satisfy others’ needs and expectations. But the demands keep growing and growing and they can never be good enough, so this often backfires – making them feel empty inside as well as unhappy with the response they receive for their good deeds.

When it comes to romantic relationships, we often think we love unconditionally when in fact we are only infatuated with someone. If you feel you want to be with someone no matter what they do or say – you are not loving them unconditionally, you are actually being out of touch with yourself and with reality. You are enchanted with the idea that this person is the best or even only suitable partner for you, and you think you have to stay with them no matter what.

They are your one true soulmate, and living without them would be unbearable. And when you feel that living without someone would be more painful than staying with them, you’ll agree to tolerate anything just to be around them.

But that is not love.

Real grown up love is conditional. I love you because you treat me with respect. I love you because you love me back and act accordingly. I love you because you try your best not to hurt me (and mostly succeed in that, not vice versa). I love you because you see me as I am and don’t try to change me. I love you because you are a great human being.

Not because you are an a-hole to me and treat me like a doormat.

If you find yourself “loving” your partners or crushes no matter what – please take a good, hard look at them, your relationship – and yourself. There is no need to suffer for love that isn’t love. There is no need to tolerate feeling hurt and misunderstood on daily basis. If you are only having a few occasional happy moments together drowned in a sea of arguments and hurt – your relationship either needs a makeover, or it needs to end.

Don’t get hooked on the idea that unconditional love is making you a better person – in a world where most people are emotionally damaged and immature, loving without conditions is a road to self-destruction. It’s an equally immature response as being selfish and not caring for other people’s feelings. It’s the opposite, but equally different from true love.

Of course every relationship goes through a rough patch. Of course we all fight and sometimes feel small and misunderstood. But that shouldn’t be your every day scenario. Or even every second day one.

Instead of trying to love someone unconditionally, learn to love yourself first. It will give you a healthy sense of boundaries and self-respect, which will in turn make it much easier to find and choose partners who will love you back the same way. There will still be conditions – but those conditions will come naturally, as a consequence of you both having a healthy relationship with yourself.

And if things change over time – and your conditions are not satisfied any more, it will be much easier to leave. You won’t feel the pressure of staying in an unhappy relationship because you’ll know you deserve better, and you won’t be scared of being on your own.

By choosing who you love with the right conditions you are getting closer to true love, and ultimately unconditional love.

But to get there you have to learn to set some boundaries and conditions first.


What are your thoughts on unconditional love and loving?

Feel free to join the conversation in the comment section.

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4 Responses

  1. rob says:

    I feel there could be a rewording of this article. I understand the notion that one shouldn’t just jump in to a relationship with someone they just met and apply the “unconditional” tag. I’ve learned that one the hard way.

    But time and time again I keep hearing that “you need to love yourself more” line. It seems incredibly counter-intuitive to me. If I love myself more, that means I would be more likely to throw away a relationship than work to fix it. That’s what I feel the main problem with today’s relationships tends to be. People are so quick to discard something that could be fixed. The throwaway society has overtaken relationship mentality, and that leads to higher divorce rates and cheating in both sexes.

    • Petra says:

      Hey Rob, I am glad you pointed it out – it is true very many people give up on relationships way to easily. That is absolutely true. But – if you love yourself more, you actually appreciate and love other people more. You see more humanity in them and you are more likely to tolerate and love them in their totality. Which then leads to better and stronger love bonds. What you’re probably thinking of here is selfishness – but that’s not same as loving yourself. If you’d like to understand this difference better, here’s another blog I wrote on the topic: Is loving yourself selfish?. Thank you for commenting.

  2. Elena says:

    Hi Petra,

    Thank you for the blog. I read your blog “No one is better than my ex” a year ago, and good thing I finally moved on to a different relationship. However, it seems to me that the same problem remains. Not just in romantic relationship, I have always been the type that would give up my shares for the ones I love and care about. In family relationship, it has been a great thing because I feel being loved back. However, in romantic relationship, that really bothers me. Though I notice my boyfriend is nice and somewhat caring, I don’t feel like he thinks of me enough. I always think of him, do small things for him, get him things when I travel, help him out with work and so on. He cares about me, sometimes, but only sometimes. I guess I’m supposed to do it then shouldn’t ask for anything back either. However, it starts hurting my feeling. Also, I know that you’re supposed to communicate what you like to your partner, however, always being the one to ask for caring gestures doesn’t sound right to me. Am I not loving myself enough, and therefore, making it an unhealthy relationship?

    Thank you,

    • Petra says:

      You have the right to demand the same treatment you give to others. However, if that’s not happening in your romantic relationships, and it’s happening everywhere else, that might mean you don’t value yourself enough and therefore attract the type of partners which feed you back that lack of self-love. Maybe you feel you need to “earn” that love more than other ones (friendship, love from your family)? If that is so, you will be meeting partners that constantly demand more from you, or give less than you. This article might help you too. And of course if you’d like to talk about it in more detail, I can help, just send me a consultation inquiry via Coaching or Contact page.

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