Written By: DiveThru Team
Reviewed By: Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW
Written By: DiveThru Team
Reviewed By: Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW
For those who grew up listening to love songs, we bet you were pretty busy imagining what your future love life would look like and daydreaming about who you’ll be with forever and ever. Ahhhh romance. We remember it well! But if you haven’t been in a relationship where unconditional love is a major player, you might be wondering what does it mean to love someone unconditionally?? What is that even supposed to look like?? We’ve gotchu, boo.
Unconditional love has a lot of layers. Shrek would probably argue that it resembles an onion or an ogre. Relationships aren’t easy, no matter what the dynamic is, and there can be a lot to consider when difficult and strenuous situations pop up. And sometimes when this happens, the unconditional-ness can start to feel more like an obligation rather than a selfless act of kindness.
So, let’s break it allll down together! We’re getting into what unconditional love really is and what it REALLY isn’t.
WOW that’s a heavy term, isn’t it? No strings attached, no expectations, no fine print, just… unconditional.
The problem with the term “unconditional love” is that it has a different definition for everyone who uses it. And this can get a little tricky because it can lead to us putting unrealistic expectations on ourselves or our partners. For some people, it might mean defending a friend regardless of whether they are right or wrong. For others, it might mean being the ‘responsible one’ and calling out a friend when they’re making a questionable decision. Either way, it’s really about giving in to the vulnerability of loving someone wholeheartedly.
Unconditional love can be between just about anyone in any kind of relationship. Friendships, romantic relationships, the relationship between a parent and a child, you name it! We even see this type of love from our pets. But what does unconditional love really look like?
Loving someone unconditionally means that you don’t have an ulterior motive or unspoken expectation of obligation from the other person. No conditions. Just love. It’s a totally selfless act of caring for another person without thinking about how these actions could benefit you in the future.
You just genuinely want to love, help and care for someone! And that’s pretty fucking incredible. It’s one of the best gifts that you could give to another person. The best feeling is when this person is able to reciprocate your no-strings-attached love, because it means that you’re well on your way to fostering a healthy and happy relationship!
Supporting your partner — or anyone you love for that matter — can bring a lot of happiness and health to a relationship. Helping your partner through tough times, emotional struggles and life changes can help you accomplish more together than you ever likely could on your own. Likewise, you get to share the good times and celebrate your individual wins together! The keys to supporting your partner are open communication, honesty, kindness and equality.
This is a masssssiiiiveee point that we want to really emphasize. Loving someone unconditionally does not mean that you can’t have boundaries. We’ll get more into boundaries and love a little later, but for now, we have to talk about your needs.
The person, or people, you love can ask for your help. BUT, you’re not obligated to help or agree to their request if it goes against your own needs, boundaries and morals. And they shouldn’t expect you to compromise yourself to help them. Unconditional love can still be considered unconditional love when boundaries are included. In fact, we HIGHLY recommend it!
It’s only natural for relationships to hit rough patches. No one is perfect and no one has a perfect relationship. You might be close, but we’re allll bound to have a disagreement every once in a while. Forgiveness, kindness, listening skills and calm communication are major players when it comes to working through rough spots. The key is that everyone in the relationship has to enact these techniques because, otherwise, it’s unfair and unkind to the other(s).
With unconditional love, there is no fear or sense of uncertainty. It’s secure, kind and loving. You don’t feel like you have to walk around on eggshells to placate the other person. It’s safe and warm, and it’s an emotional space without judgement that you share with this person.
Let’s take everrryyytthing we just learned and think about ways we can put it into practice. Here are a few examples that might help you express this feeling! They might also help you answer the big overwhelming question…what IS unconditional love in a relationship? Well, it looks like this.
“I love that about you.”
“No matter what, your Dad and I will always be proud of you.”
“It’s okay to feel sad.”
“I don’t feel the same way but I understand why _______ is important you.”
“Congratulations! I’m so excited for you! You’ve worked so hard for this.”
“I know you have a really busy day so I’ve made your lunch for you.”
“Have a great day at school honey! Enjoy your lunch. Love, Dad.”
“Hey! I got you something. I saw this in the store and it made me think of you.”
Many of us feel that when we offer unconditional love to someone we have to continue to love them regardless of any changes — like if they cross boundaries or disregard your needs. We’re here to tell you that’s not true and that it’s actually unhealthy af to do this. This is what conditional love looks like:
Loving without boundaries can lead to serious issues, like being unhappy, abused and taken advantage of. You’re not meant to overlook the hurt and pain that another person causes you. It’s not healthy and TOTALLY unfair to you.
If there are strings attached to love…OOF! That’s not good. Love is not unconditional if you or your partner are expecting the other person to be emotionally obligated in one way or another. When there are strings attached there’s an expectation of something in return. Yes, you should totally expect that the respect and love you give is reciprocated. But, if your partner is expecting you to do something uncomfortable that goes against your own wellbeing, that’s unacceptable.
Boundaries are sooooooo important in relationships. It’s important to communicate your boundaries with your partner in a caring and kind way so that the two of you can work to respect the other’s needs. When one person is blatantly ignoring the other’s boundaries the relationship becomes unhealthy. This behaviour can lead to hurt, neglect, pain and even abuse. We DEFINITELY don’t want that to happen to you. Stay strong and don’t let anyone cross a line and disrespect your loving heart!
If someone has crossed a line, hurt you, disrespected you, and still expects you to accept it all, that’s not love. The meaning of unconditional love isn’t that you overlook this shit and accept it. You are not meant to tolerate abuse and disrespect. That should never — everrrrr — be expected of you by your partner! Remember that your needs matter and you deserve kindness and respect from the other person.
It’s normal to care for someone else’s needs when you’re in a relationship, but it’s not ok to forget about your own. It’s also not ok for someone to expect you to neglect your needs for their own benefit. That’s some controlling behaviour and we are NOT here for it.
Remember how we said that you are not obligated to assist someone and respond to their request if it compromises you in any way? Apply that shit here! You can still give someone unconditional and selfless love while respecting yourself and your boundaries. You come first, baby!
“I did everything for you and all you’ve done is disappoint me.”
“This is the thanks I get? After everything I’ve given you?”
“I would think you’d respect my opinion more than that after all that I’ve given you!”
“My parents would be upset with me if I wasn’t doing well in school.”
“My parents are upset with me because they don’t like the person I’m dating.”
“Our Dad yelled at us when we didn’t match his expectations.”
“Grandma only likes to talk to me when I’m doing well in life.”
“My partner is upset with me because I want to become an artist instead of staying at my office job.”
“My best friend ignores me when I need them most, but always expects me to drop everything and help them.”
“I get chastised if my opinions are even a little different from theirs.”
It is totally 100% possible to love unconditionally while having boundaries for yourself and your partner. It helps both of you know what you need and expect from each other, and serves as a blueprint for how to go about your relationship. And this isn’t just for romantic relationships. This is for allllll relationships. It might be hard to establish these boundaries with people, like your parents or friends, if there is already a lot of history between you. But boundaries are necessary in order to have a healthy and respectful relationship, no matter what the dynamic is.
Be honest! It can be hard to tell people what we really want and need, but it’s necessary in order to have the other person respect your boundaries and wishes. They can’t know what they are unless you telllll them.
Have a little sit down with them. Maybe pull out a glass of wine and say “Ok, I want us to have the healthiest relationship possible, so we need to know what the other person wants and needs,” then lay out your expectations for them. If at any point this other person doesn’t respect your boundaries and expectations, then tell them! Don’t hold that shit in! Be honest about how that makes you feel and work together to correct it. (But the key is making sure that they don’t take advantage of you. Remember what we said about that? Good!)
Listening has to be a two-way street in any relationship! You can actively work to become a better listener so that you hear and know what your partner needs. Listening helps the other person feel seen, heard, respected and cared for. What beautiful feelings to give to someone you love, right?! When we stop listening, communication breaks down and conflict starts to pop up. And conflict leads to negative emotions, so we want to avoid that as much as we can.
So, open up your ears and open up your heart because learning to love and listen is hella important!
If you’ve been hurt by your partner, try to approach them in a calm and open manner. Learning to communicate in a healthy and effective way can be difficult when you feel so strongly about things. But conflict can’t be resolved when you both come in hot with emotions running high. That will only help create a defence spiral where the two of you start blaming the other for any issues.
That’s uhh… that’s not going to get you anywhere. So, approach every tough conversation with patience and understanding. But also take no shit! It’s a fine line to walk, but we know you can do it!
If the other person in the relationship is trying to control, gaslight, or manipulate you, shut that shit dowwwwn. We know that it’s not possible to do this in every situation, because safety can be a real concern. But don’t let anyone treat you unfairly. If this is happening, reach out to people around you, contact domestic violence organizations or safe houses in your area for advice or shelter, and reach out to friends and family for help. Keep your eyes peeled for any relationship red flags. YOU ARE DESERVING OF LOVE AND RESPECT, and anyone who makes you feel less than isn’t willing to love you unconditionally.
No one person should have the upper-hand in a relationship. That’s an unhealthy and abusive dynamic that can get unsafe really quickly. A relationship isn’t a competition, it’s about sharing your life with another person. There should be respect on both sides and an understanding that you both have value, and you both have to be open to listening and changing.
Unconditional love, simply put, is the kindest version of ourselves — but we don’t have to offer up this love without bounds. Unconditional love is the choice to love and respect each other every single day. It doesn’t come without its difficulties, but when you get it right, it feels sooooo good. Love has the ability to improve our lives, benefit our mental health and help us become the best possible version of ourselves. Life becomes happier, brighter and more exciting when you have loving people to share it all with.