Unconditional love is the kind of love that everyone wants to experience. Not worrying that love is going to be taken away because of your feelings, your opinions, or your failures is the kind of security that everyone deserves in this life. But sometimes learning how to love unconditionally can be difficult when we’ve been raised with conditional love ourselves.
Conditional love is, of course, love with strings attached. Someone has expectations from you and only gives you love when you meet those expectations. It’s a heartbreaking experience.
But it is possible to learn how to love unconditionally, even if doesn’t come naturally. Follow these 12 actionable tips for how to practice unconditional love.
What is Conditional Love?
When someone loves with conditions, it is a tit-for-tat kind of style of love, and it’s considered psychologically a subpar kind of love. When someone has to meet certain conditions or expectations in order to receive love from someone, it often can have detrimental effects on their self-esteem and self-worth.
While some people, particularly extreme narcissists and psychopaths, know exactly what they are doing by manipulating you by withholding love until they get what they want, others have no idea that they love in this manner. Often, people don’t even know they’re doing it.
People who grew up with conditional love from their parents think it is completely normal and they carry on the tradition of love with strings attached with their own children. They don’t even realize that there is a better way to love.
And if this is you, don’t beat yourself up. As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
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What is Unconditional Love?
Unconditional love, on the other hand, is a more complete form of love in which someone does not need to perform or meet certain standards in order to receive love from parents, care-givers, significant others, or even friends. Unconditional love is:
- loving someone unconditionally even when they make a mistake
- being there for someone who is experiencing confusing or negative emotions like frustration or anger
- allowing others to fully experience their emotions or express their opinions without shutting them down
- being patient
- allowing others to come to their own conclusions
- practicing active listening
- …and more.
Practicing unconditional love can be difficult when you’ve never done it before, because you are breaking yourself out of your habits and previously established beliefs. But learning unconditional love is possible! Here are 12 ways to teach yourself unconditional love.
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12 Ways to Practice Unconditional Love
1. Accept their flaws and mistakes
When your child or significant other does something that annoys you, or perhaps when they make a mistake, it can be difficult to love them through it. This is especially true when their mistakes hurt you in some way.
But unconditional love is when you put yourself (your ego) out of the way in order to be there for them through their mistake. This may look like not getting angry and instead talking them through their mistake. Listen to them and try to understand what their motivations were for acting in this way. If they are a child, you can help them by coming to their own conclusions about what a better action would look like.
If they are an adult, it is not your job to fix them!
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2. Listen to and validate them
Loving someone unconditionally often looks like listening. Practicing active listening is an excellent way to validate someone’s feelings and let them know that all feelings are okay. (Yes, even the “bad” or negative emotions are okay to experience, as long as we don’t unpack and live there!)
Active listening looks like someone who is silent while the other is speaking—no interrupting! Other practices in active listening can also look like repeating back something that they said (often word for word, or by summarizing). Give the other person some words of understanding. “I absolutely understand how you would be frustrated in that situation.”
Making your own assumptions, trying to fix the other person, or giving unsolicited advice are not part of unconditional love.
3. Unconditional love is without jealousy
Feeling jealous is a part of human nature. But it gets in the way of us having the deepest, most meaningful relationships we can have. It’s common for a person to feel jealous within romantic relationships. It’s also common for a mother or father to feel jealous when a child prefers the other parent, or even when the child loves their grandparents’ house so much they don’t want to leave!
But these experiences are natural. It is normal for someone in a relationship to still want to spend time with their friends. And it is normal for a child to need their mother, or father, or grandparents at different phases of their lives.
I challenge you to think of those friendships or loving relationships with their other parent or grandparents as ways in which that person is receiving more love and a more fulfilling life. I celebrate when my children love going to their grandparents’ house because it means they love their grandparents (and their grandparents love them). Their love for their grandparents does not in any way diminish their love for me!
4. Give them love even if it’s inconvenient to you
Let’s be real for a second here: sometimes people need our love or attention when we’re smack in the middle of something else. And it’s a huge inconvenience to drop what we’re doing to give attention.
So we get upset, tell the other person off, and make them feel bad for needing love. This isn’t unconditional love.
I’m not saying that you should drop everything at any point during your day to be at the other’s disposal. Nor am I saying that those people who don’t respect your boundaries and are driven by their own trauma should be coddled. (These types of people need to work through their own psychology and do some soul searching of their own, and you may need to put up some pretty strong boundaries for people like this.)
But people tell us that they need love in many different ways. For children, acting out is an obvious cry for love. For adults, it may look like silence, attempting to have conversations about a different subject, or something else altogether.
Giving our undivided attention when someone expresses the need for love, we are offering security in a deep and satisfying way.
5. Understand that love can be uncomfortable
This type of love requires vulnerability. And Brene Brown is the queen of vulnerability. She says,
“Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.”
In other words, love and connection require risk, vulnerability, and sometimes discomfort. Unconditional love requires us to get real, have difficult conversations, and own up to the ways we impact others. (Holding yourself personally accountable.) But when we get through that momentary discomfort, we come out the other side with a deeper connection with another person.
6. Apologies and forgiveness are essential to unconditional love
Forgiveness is one of the hardest things that we can do. We often live so much in the past that we never give someone else the chance to prove that they have learned and grown as a person. This is another way that we live in the ego.
Yet, hearing “I’m sorry” is one of the most powerful healers that we can also experience when it is said in honesty and integrity.
If you made a mistake, even if it was one that you didn’t realize at the time, it’s okay to still say “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you.” That both tells the other person that whatever you caused wasn’t intentional, and that you acknowledge that you did cause the person pain.
7. Learn the other’s love language
Everyone expresses love in different ways, and we also want to be loved in certain ways. The 5 love languages are:
- words of affirmation
- acts of service
- quality time
- physical touch
For example, I know that my love languages are words of affirmation and quality time. My eldest son wants to be loved through acts of service, and my second son prefers physical touch.
Knowing someone else’s love language is a great help to those who have different love languages. If you are constantly giving you partner gifts, but they prefer to be loved through acts of service, you may be feeling like you’re giving a lot, but the other person may not think you’re expressing your love because they’re looking for something else.
These disconnects can prevent us from loving in the deepest ways possible, so educating yourself can teach you unconditional love.
8. Ask questions (deep, meaningful ones)
Similar to #5 above, asking questions can build a strong connection. But questions should be deep, meaningful questions meant to establish trust and build connections.
Instead of asking someone “How was your day?”, ask something like
- “How are you feeling today?”
- “What was your favorite part of today so far?”
- “What made you smile today?”
The other component of asking questions is to ask for what you need out of that relationship, especially romantic relationships. Ask your spouse to take the kids for a weekend so you can go on that meditation retreat. Ask your mother to respect your boundaries about her grandchildren.
You won’t ever get what you truly want out of life until you ask. Being a part of a romantic relationship built on unconditional love gives you the tools to discuss those personal, important asks you never thought you could have.
9. Be open to feedback about your relationship and what the other person needs
Similarly, when another person asks something of you, those who know how to love unconditionally are receptive to what the other person needs.
If a friend asks for space, trust that they are telling you this because they want you in their life, but perhaps don’t have the time to commit to your exuberant social life right now. Or perhaps when your significant other wants to spice things up in the bedroom, it’s not because you’re lacking, but because he or she cares so much that they are willing to inject life and newness back into your sexual relationship.
Being able to talk objectively about different aspects of your relationship and work toward a better relationship for everyone is a sign of unconditional love.
10. Be transparent
Transparency is the ability to be open, honest, and real about how we’re feeling or what we’re thinking in any given moment.
The trick to transparency is that you need to first be open, honest and real to yourself. Oftentimes, we lie to ourselves (usually about what other people think) in order to smooth over something difficult. But this only causes more conflict.
We need to be honest with ourselves so that we can be honest with the people around us. And not only being honest, but being willing to talk about those things readily.
Maybe you’ve been feeling stressed at work and your son’s slipping grades are making your stress levels worse. Being transparent is explaining to your son that when you get upset with him, your stress from work is impacting your ability to talk to him at his level, and that it’s not just him that has upset you. Then, be sure to be honest about why you are stressed about his grades in the first place. Is is because you know he can do better? Or is it because of what others will think?
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11. Take conflict as a learning experience
Growth mindset is a huge influence in unconditional versus conditional love. People who have a growth mindset and are adaptable to change are more likely to adapt to unconditional love than those with a fixed mindset.
For example, while growth mindset is, “I am going to learn how to play tennis, it should be fun!” fixed mindset says, “I’ve never been very athletic. I’ll just stick to computer programming.”
In terms of relationships, growth mindset means that when conflict happens, you see it as an opportunity to grow and become closer with that person. Fixed mindset relationships have a tendency to keep score and not allow another person (or yourself) to grow.
12. Practice non-judgment
Last, the practice of non-judgment is an excellent one for the growth of relationships and learning to practice unconditional love.
When we are judging something, our brains tells us whether that thing is a threat or not. These things could be not just a threat to your safety, which is obvious, but could also be a threat to what other people think of us and what we think of ourselves as social creatures.
When a spouse or friend or child does something that threatens our feeling of safety in a volatile world, we judge them and can end up saying some nasty things. But when we practice non-judgment and allow others to be themselves (and realize that their actions have little to do with us), it strengths our relationships and the faith and trust we have in each other.
Learning unconditional love is possible, even if you have never experienced this type of love before. Start with one person and work your way through all the relationships in your life.
No matter your age, you can form new habits, and you can have the deep, meaningful relationships you want with your partner, children, parents, and friends.
When was the first time you received unconditional love?
How have you learned to give love unconditionally to the people in your life?
Drop a comment below and share your story.
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