How do you know if someone’s love for you is conditional? Most people know what “conditional love” refers to, and no one wants to experience it. But few people really recognize the signs of conditional love. (I didn’t.)
Seeing conditional love for what it is takes a lot of insight and soul-searching, and bringing it into the light can change the scope of a relationship forever. Whether it is a relationship with a spouse, a friend, or your parents, conditional love can be painful. So read on for 9 signs of conditional love in any relationship, and an additional 8 signs your parents’ love is conditional.
What is Conditional Love?
Conditional love is a type of love that is based on “conditions” or circumstances that a person feels need to be present in order to give love to someone else. “Love” from this person may disappear during difficult moments and the person may withhold love in order to gain something.
Conversely, unconditional love is love without conditions. A person is able to love you at your lowest and at your highest, and they give love freely. They give love when they want to and also are willing to give you love when you need it.
When compared with unconditional love, conditional love falls short and can cause low self-esteem as well as the potential for depression and anxiety.
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9 Signs of Conditional Love
Conditional Love Sign #1: You never feel good enough
Worrying about constantly doing more, being more, and feeling like you never live up can be a symptom of conditional love. When someone only gives you love in certain circumstances, or holds their love hostage from you on other circumstances, you begin to unconsciously draw conclusions about those set of circumstances.
When you have a nagging feeling that you will never measure up to that person’s expectations of you, it’s time to take a look at some of the other items on this list.
READ MORE: Why You Feel Like You’re Not Good Enough, and How to Change the Narrative
#2: They drain your energy
When you’re constantly trying to impress this person, whether they are a friend, sibling, or significant other, it can drain your energy really fast. You are working to live up to this person’s expectations, which is exhausting as it is. But then you begin to worry about what will happen if you fail, then your stress hormones are really going.
You begin to feel burnout over this relationship and you might feel drained whenever you’re around them.
#3: You dread seeing them
When I was married the first time, I was so tired of how I felt around my then-husband that I would make up excuses to avoid coming home. I would work late, schedule extra rehearsals, or even just go to the mall or a restaurant to walk around.
If you’ve been dreading seeing this person, chances are they might have conditional love for you. Often our gut will instinctively know something is wrong before our objective minds can define what it is exactly.
When someone loves you unconditionally, you feel safe around them. But if they love you conditionally, you likely don’t feel emotionally safe around them and may avoid them because of many of the other items on this list.
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Conditional Love Sign #4: They express love and pride in public
Does this person appear happy and loving in public, but the moment you get home, they shrug you off? This is a prime example of conditional love. The “conditions” of their love are that you’re there to make them look good to others. When you’re together in private, they aren’t interested in giving you love because those circumstances don’t meet their primary goal.
This is also a sign that your parents’ love is conditional. Parents may express how proud they are of you in public, like in front of teachers or friends. But the parent who loves you unconditionally is more likely to share their pride with you in close moments with just the two of you.
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#5: They fall short in the “little moments”
Usually someone who loves conditionally is there for you in the big moments because it gives them something they want, like a way to be in the spotlight. But a life isn’t built on the big moments. Life is made in the little moments.
So the time you had a bad day at work and they refused to console you, or called you “sensitive” for needing support through anxiety or worry, these are those little moments that they might fall short because they don’t get anything out of it for themselves.
RELATED: What Does Love Feel Like? 25 Signs You’re In Love!
#6: You’ve caught them gaslighting you (or someone else)
Gaslighting has become a household word over the last half a decade. The term “gaslighting” refers to when a person twists words and questions your sanity or beliefs in order to maintain control over you in a relationship.
A prime example of gaslighting is using “always” or “never”. Maybe you approached a person about how they could have handled something better with your relationship and they respond with: “You always blame me for everything that’s gone wrong in your life.”
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Conditional Love Sign #7: They’re highly judgmental
Being judgmental is another sign of conditional love. Maybe you witness them sharing gossip, talking behind people’s backs, or even making comments about random strangers.
But when you spend enough time with this person, you begin to internalize their judgments. If they’re judging someone for being overweight, you may start paying more attention to your weight. If they’re judging someone for having tattoos, you will rule out ever getting a tattoo, just to please that person.
You may also worry that this person is judging you behind your back.
RELATED: How to Practice Non-judgmental Mindfulness
#8: They keep “score”
Keeping score is a highly toxic relationship practice in which one person brings up a grievance, and the other person tries to top that. Perhaps it was something that happened in the past, and the other person responds with 2 or 3 ways you did the exact same thing. Or maybe they tell you you did something even worse.
Either way, that person is trying to dodge responsibility by shifting the playing field. But when people love you unconditionally, they will take your grievances seriously.
#9: You never feel like you’re on the same level
Power imbalances in relationships are a huge red flag that something is not right. Whether they purposefully try to put themselves above you, or use manipulation tactics that get you to do what they want, feeling like you’re on different levels can mean that the other person only wants to give you love when you’re on the same level.
One practice of unconditional love is to meet a person where they are.
8 Signs of Conditional Love from a Parent
There are some additional signs that your parents’ love is conditional that are specific to a parent-child relationship.
#10: You can’t express your opinion or feelings around them
Often, a condition of a parent’s love is that their children share the same feelings and opinions to keep them in their own comfort zone.
Sometimes, parents can try to control the emotions of their children. Whether through toxic positivity or through emotional manipulation, some parents will do everything in their power to control the feelings of their children in order to validate their own emotions.
It applies to opinions too. When adult children have different opinions than their parents who give love conditionally, they will often shut their adult child down and refuse to speak.
Conditional Love Sign #11: They still see you as a child
Conditional love from parents can be a way to control their environment. It’s not always because they’re trying to be mean, but often they lack the emotional maturity to figure out a better way to deal with a world that feels out of control.
And one way that they maintain a status quo is by not adjusting to the ever-changing person that is you. They may treat you like you’re a child and refuse to see the life experiences you have had as an adult.
#12: You’ve always been a perfectionist
A sign of conditional love from a parent is that you are a perfectionist. When your parents’ expectations are high, almost unreasonable, and you realize this from an early age, you begin to pick up habits that will keep the love flowing.
So you work hard at school and try to be the best to prove to your parents that you are worthy of their love. Sure, you work hard for yourself too, but if you are a perfectionist or over-achiever, look deep down and see if your work ethic really stems from parents who you felt would withhold their love if you failed.
#13: You wonder if they talk about you negatively with others
Because people who love conditionally have a tendency to dole out judgment like ice cream, you witness them judging others on a regular basis. And it has always crossed your mind that they might talk about you behind your back as well.
Especially if you have siblings and you hear your parents (or one of them) talk about your siblings negatively, you can probably bet they’re doing it to you when you’re not around too!
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Conditional Love Sign #14: They have unreasonably high expectations of you
Going back to #12, if you have perfectionist tendencies, you can probably bet that they have high expectations of you. Now, parents who give unconditional love are also capable of having high expectations, but there is one key difference.
Unconditional loving parents will still love and support their child when they fail. Parents who love conditionally will offer advice like a mild “Suck it up” or even a more damaging “That’s what you get when you only put in half-hearted effort” (even if you tried your best).
#15: They shut down conversations
A sign of conditional love from your parents is that they have low emotional intelligence. Often this results in needing to stay in their comfort zone. They lack the necessary skills to effectively and courageously handle difficult situations.
Therefore, when a conversation reaches beyond their comfort zone, they will shut the conversation down. Whether it’s with an “I don’t want to talk about this any more” or a more harmful statement like “You’re always making these ridiculous statements, and I don’t want to hear them,” this is what you’ll hear.
#16: They don’t acknowledge your achievements
Often, parents who love conditionally will only acknowledge your achievements if there’s something in it for them. Maybe they want praise and attention and your achievement doesn’t get them that. Or maybe they secretly wish you want to follow in their footsteps, then they’ll likely ignore your achievements that are not exactly what they would do.
Sometimes, conditional love is in fact so conditional that parent criticize each and every accomplishment that their children make.
#17: Your parents’ relationship with each other had a power imbalance
One sign that your parents’ love is conditional is that there is often a power imbalance in their own relationship. Whether they are still married or divorced, you can tell from their interactions with each other.
Perhaps one criticizes the other for being sensitive, putting them down or invalidating their own emotions. Maybe the other parent can be caught emotionally manipulating or gaslighting the other.
These displays of imbalance or power-grabs are red flags that they are expressing repressed emotions from receiving conditional love from the other.
Conditional love is difficult to go through, and it may cause anger and resentment once you realize that someone’s love for you comes with strings. These 17 signs of conditional love will help you determine if someone you love is only conditional. You might need to put up some healthy boundaries in order to deal with people who try to set conditions for their love.
But the good news is that unconditional love does exist, and it is possible that you can find it. Make sure you learn more about Unconditional Love and How to Give It.
Funk Master A
Friday 3rd of June 2022
Oh My Days 🤣🤣. Why would jsoctt even be reading this, since they’re in a relationship with god? Too Funny.
Anywho, I found it extremely helpful and insightful for a nonacademic. It’s helped me confirm in my own mind that my mothers love for me is conditional. Thank you.
Friday 8th of April 2022
That's just the craziest shit I've ever heard. Oh, my, lets ignore our marriage vows and do as we please because our spouse will love us no matter what our behaviours. What a contradiction in moral standards, the 10 commandments, and marriage vows. I had to stop reading this nonsense after a couple of paragraphs. We have rules and laws in order to manage this world and keep it from complete anarchy. With no rules or conditions on love there is only complete anarchy. Just crazy!
Sunday 12th of February 2023
@j soctt, Unconditional love does exist, and marriage vows as they are today are not how God intended them to be, these were created by man. " I promise, I promise, I promise" Well all these do are giving reasons why so many marriages end. When someone breaks a promise, which we all do, intentionally or unintentionally, these things happen. Does that mean that the other then has a reason to stop loving? An excuse to end the marriage is all it is. " My husband cheated on me, therefore I have reason or excuse to stop loving him". What about forgiveness? With unconditional love, love doesn't end. Whether it is death, hardship, sickness, it continues without fail. This is the type of love that comes through Jesus. Once you experience it, it will change you forever. Love never ends.
Monday 16th of May 2022
@j soctt, this isn’t only for spouses. I’m reading this as an adult child with a parent who conditionally loves. Almost every one of the points ring true. I’m assuming and forgive me for doing so, that you are blessed with unconditional love and this article doesn’t resonate. In this sense you’re very lucky. Have a blessed day.
Friday 8th of April 2022
I find it very interesting that that's what you understood from this article. If you read it again, you'll notice that not once did it say to ignore marriage vows, do what we please, or to to ignore moral standards. This is what's called inference, and people often do this based on their perspective. You were misunderstanding my words because of the inferences you were making about what I said.
In fact, there are many dangers to the structures and social conditions we have set in place currently in our society, especially to women, minorities, and BIPOC. Those structures are always able to change through information, education, awareness, and policy. Thanks for reading!