When you hear the words “unconditional love,” what comes to mind? Maybe it’s all the chick flicks that we’ve watched over the years—or cough, cough, The Notebook on repeat—but do you also associate those words with someone who would do anything for you, no strings attached? The thing is that maybe our perception is skewed, and maybe we have the wrong idea about unconditional love and what it means for our romantic relationships (and ourselves). Wanting to delve deeper into the topic, we tapped Alysha Jeney, a relationship counselor who runs her own private practice Modern Love Counseling in Denver (along with her husband, she also recently launched Modern Love Box, a monthly subscription box for couples).
We started out by asking Jeney if unconditional love meant putting the other person first. When the expert said that unconditional love could be different for anyone and there was no perfect or “right” answer, our minds were kind of blown. She went on to say that instead of giving her clients a definition, she gets their take, and she finds out where they got that idea (i.e., who their “love role models” were). “I just want to help my clients understand where they may be experiencing a disconnect and how to fix it for themselves and their relationship,” Jeney says. “I want to help them understand that if their idea of ‘unconditional love’ has created turmoil, there is another way to experience it.” (Side note: The counselor says that even if you love someone unconditionally, you don’t necessarily listen to each other with compassion or commit to finding mutual solutions—these are two key components of a healthy relationship that you should also keep in mind).
Since you may still be wondering how to know if you love someone unconditionally (or how to), we asked Jeney to give us five examples of unconditional love. Scroll through, and then decide if you’ve experienced it firsthand.
Letting your guard down
“We have so many responsibilities and play so many roles on a daily basis that we could use a safe place to just be,” says Jeney. When you love someone unconditionally, you feel safe enough to be yourself—flaws and all. On the flip side, if your partner lets their guard down, you are able to witness their authenticity without passing any judgment.
Leaning on someone when you're struggling
Being vulnerable is extremely difficult to do—we’re sure you’ve tried it, and it just feels like you’re leaving your heart open to be hurt (seriously, we know the feeling). It’s also hard to ask for assistance. “If we are experiencing an unconditional relationship, we feel confident in our partner to hold that space for us, to guide us or to protect us without feeling guilty, ashamed, or insecure for needing help,” says Jeney.
Admitting when you've hurt your partner
If you can own up to it, it proves to your person that you care about their emotional well-being over your own ego. And this may ring a bell: “We love them unconditionally, which means we feel comfortable enough to tell them when we have made a mistake, without fearing that they will rub it in our faces and hold it against us,” the counselor says.
Telling your S.O. when you're scared
Let’s get real: Most of our behaviors or perceived “negative emotions” are triggered by fear, (even if we’re not always aware of it). “If we can admit to you that we are afraid of something, we are trusting you with this secret vulnerability,” Jeney admits. “We trust that you don’t look at us any different, and we know that you love us anyway.”
Having the ability to empathize
Empathy is everything. You can show your unconditional love for your partner by being able to empathize and listen, even if you don’t understand (or agree, for that matter). It’s all about hearing your S.O. because you know they need it and validating their struggles, even if you think they’re being slightly irrational. “We empathize to show we care, to show our partners we are here, and to show we can trust you,” Jeney says.
Tell us, what is your definition of unconditional love? Have you ever experienced it? Share with us in the comments.
Up next: Is it normal to still love your ex?