Is unconditional love really healthy?

Photo credit: MoMo Productions – Getty Images

“Hearst Magazines and Yahoo may earn commissions or revenue on certain articles via the links below.”

Photo credit: MoMo Productions - Getty Images

Photo credit: MoMo Productions – Getty Images

There is perhaps no better feeling than loving and being loved. But there are actually different forms of love, including unconditional love and conditional love. However, learning the difference can be confusing, and it’s important to know which types of love are healthy.

No matter the type, love can be amazing. Parents laying eyes on their child for the first time will surely declare its existence. Countless romantic films, poems, iconic songs and bestselling novels are based on it. Couples who fall in love with each other or who have been married for decades often proclaim it without hesitation. Knowing the difference between forms of love can also help you find a healthy connection.

Below, we’ve asked the experts to find out what exactly unconditional love is and if it’s actually doable. Read on to find out if love really can conquer all.

Unconditional love basically means you don’t expect anything in return.

“It is about extending our non-judgmental care, acceptance, and attention to a person without any expectation or hope of receiving anything in return, or wanting them to change in order to meet our needs,” Explain John AmodeoPhD, author of Dancing with fire: a conscious way to establish romantic relationships and a licensed marriage and family therapist. “When another’s happiness and security are as real and meaningful to us as our own, we love that person unconditionally,” adds Stephen G. Post, PhD, president of the Limitless Love Research Institute. However, the problem with this ideology is that love can depend on reciprocal calculations, meaning you give what you get in return and vice versa, Post says.

Ok, but is unconditional love healthy?

It can be, Post says, but to a certain extent. “It doesn’t involve condoning hurtful behavior,” he says. “No one should ever be a doormat because it teaches others that it’s okay to treat people that way when it’s not.” Amodeo agrees, saying that taken to the extreme, the belief that we should remain unconditionally in love could empower a partner who refuses to enter couples counseling or seek personal help for a serious addiction problem. Essentially, it’s crucial to take care of yourself first. “Love of self is as important as love of neighbor,” Post says.

Unconditional love box be good to you.

Love is not simply an altruistic action or duty, Post says. The limitless type, in particular, has to do with true warmth which usually includes a feeling of joy. This emotional state of being is healthy because, when active, the neurological circuits associated with it turn off parts of the brain associated with bitterness, hostility, and other destructive emotional states. These negative vibes can create long-lasting stress and damage vascular health over time, Post says.

However, unconditional love somehow goes against human nature.

Loving unconditionally in an adult relationship is a “high ideal,” but it doesn’t pass the “reality test,” Amodeo says. He likens it to complying with a child’s request, no matter how badly he treats us. Of course, on the other hand, “mature love requires reciprocity,” he says. An adult is not a needy child who does not know better.

Amodeo further likens his argument to a flowerbed, which can only thrive with fertile soil, plenty of water, and adequate sunlight. Similarly, our relationships cannot thrive in an environment of neglect, he says. “There are limits to what we can offer others, because as humans we are wired to have needs for acceptance, kindness and intimacy.”

Now, don’t get me wrong: it can be nice to offer love and care to someone we love without expecting an immediate return. However, we can’t expect to extend ourselves indefinitely if we don’t get enough feedback or if our kindly expressed needs are continually ignored, adds Amodeo. This can inevitably lead to feelings of exhaustion or defeat. Know that there is absolutely nothing shameful about wanting to fulfill our basic human aspirations in our adult relationships.

As with all love, it starts with how we perceive ourselves.

Have you ever heard of the idea that the love we accept reflects the love we think we deserve? Let’s examine this in terms of what unconditional love is. The most effective way to love another person is to engage in our own personal growth. This includes unconditionally accepting our own authentic feelings or desires and caring enough about ourselves to convey our needs or desires to someone we love, says Amodeo.

“Our way forward is not to pride ourselves on loving unconditionally, but rather to empower ourselves to learn what it takes to create lasting, mature love. Rather than striving for selfless love, we we can do our part to create the conditions for mutual love,” he adds.

It varies for parental love and the romantic genre.

When it comes to parental love, it can be unconditional if it’s just some kind of attention, says Aaron Ben-Ze’ev, PhD, author of The Arc of Love: How Our Romantic Lives Change Over Time. However, if love involves two-way interactions that amplify the growth of lovers and their relationship, that love is likely conditional, he says.

And whatever happens, conflicts must be resolved with respect.

Emerson Eggerichs, PhD, author of Love & Respect, often challenges couples by saying: “in a conflict, the most mature person goes to the other to ask for forgiveness”. Unconditional love means there’s nothing your spouse can do to bring you to a level that makes you mean or tough, according to Eggerichs, who defines unconditional love in the context of marriage.

“Our spouses don’t make us who we are, they reveal who we are,” he says. “It’s not always easy! Especially if our spouse isn’t mature,” adding that his definition of unconditional love doesn’t suggest we applaud or ignore unacceptable behavior. “Unconditional love sometimes means the most loving thing we can do is have a tough conversation” about our partner’s pitfalls, he says.

For more ways to live your best life and all things Oprah, sign up for our newsletter!

You might also like