“Loving you easy,” a lyric popularized by country favorite, Zac Brown Band.
While catchy and enticing, portraying an ideal sort of love, is ‘loving’ actually easy? Research clearly shows the fundamental nature of relationships to human wellness and connection, yet it also highlights the challenges that come with the ebb and flow of the heart. Many grow up longing to find ‘the one’, believing that once found, life is smooth sailing and complete. But, is love supposed to be easy? Confusion may stem from lack of clarity when it comes to understanding love in its two forms: unconditional love and conditional love.
Unconditional love can be understood as a total acceptance of someone else, a powerful energy emanating from the heart without limitation or condition. It is the purest form of love, a love that does not seek pleasure or gratification. An individual does not choose whom to love unconditionally; rather it is an innate sense of connection without known reason. Unconditional love is loving every part of a person without seeking anything in return. In its deepest form, it is seen in the relationship between a mother and infant; a love not chosen, not conditioned, just born and lasting.
On the other hand, conditional love is understood as strong feelings of pleasure and attraction between two people, based on how fully their personal needs and desires match. Every individual has certain likes and dislikes based on temperament, personality, and life experience. It is the matching of these individual factors, or conditions, that spurs intimate connection. In romantic relationships, partners love conditionally when they approve of each other’s beliefs, needs, and desires, and share lifestyle preferences that breed companionship, comfort, and pleasure. Yet, unlike unconditional love, conditional love can quickly be withheld or terminated if conditions are unmet or broken.
So, how do we understand ‘love’ in our most intimate relationships?
Each of us contains an intuitive sense of unconditional love: a strong energy of the heart that is present, to a degree, in every relationship. Unconditional love is most vivid at the beginning of romantic relationships, sometimes called the ‘honeymoon phase’ when one is moved and inspired by the mere presence of another. Yet, as the romantic relationship grows, inner fear surfaces: Can I trust this person? Will I get hurt? Does this relationship meet my needs? Am I happy? These inevitable human cautions lead to the formation of relationship conditions, or conditional love. These cautions help us to be safe and survive, but they cause tension with our romantic ideals, hopes, and wishful thinking towards our significant other.
Here’s the reality: the very tension between striving to love unconditionally yet facing love’s conditions can actually help us to love more fully if handled appropriately. Lasting relationships survive on the realization that both forms are needed to be healthy and fulfilled. Unconditional love is not the ideal we need to achieve.
If you are fortunate enough to meet someone that you can love conditionally, and at times, unconditionally, congratulations! You are very lucky. While the ebb and flow may at times feel confusing, this combination of love is the closest humans can come to finding a true ‘soulmate’. It stems from the heart and is maintained through agreed upon conditions, which are worth the daily effort.
- Reflect on a time when your hopes for unconditional love might have been unrealistic…
- What are the positive conditions that should be part of your relationship? Jot these down and communicate them with your partner.
- Brainstorm ways that you can dialogue about your needs with your partner. This dialogue can be verbal or written based on your joint preferences.
To learn more, check out the works we consulted:
Lancer, D. (2016). Soulmates and Unconditional Love. Retrieved from: https://psychcentral.com/lib/soulmates-and-unconditional-love/
Ryff, C. D., & Singer, B. (1998). The contours of positive human health. Psychological Inquiry, 9(1), 1-28.
Welwood, J. (1985). On love: Conditional and unconditional. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 17(1), 33-40.