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Conditional Love: Definition, Signs, Effects, How to Deal with It and Everything Else

Conditional Love: Definition, Signs, Effects, How to Deal with It and Everything Else

Updated on Oct 04, 2022

Reviewed by Julianne Cantarella, MSW, LSW , Certified Relationship Coach

Conditional Love - Definition, Signs, Effects, How to Deal with It & More

Do you think your relationship is based on conditional love? Do you struggle to make your partner love you? Or, are you tired of meeting all of their expectations?

I’m really sorry to hear that you’re struggling in your relationship… you definitely deserve love, during your good and bad days and without any terms and conditions.

But I feel so proud that you reached out for help… and I promise to help you find the end of this miserable charade.

So, trust me and hold tight… let’s approach a better life together…  

Conditional love meaning

Conditional love is when your partner shows love to you in return for something – it can be materialistic gifts or emotional needs.

Conditional love is exactly as it sounds… there are conditions to get or give love. You love or feel loved only if someone else or you do certain things.

For instance, if you don’t meet the other person’s expectations, they withhold love. Or, if the other person doesn’t satisfy your circumstances, you delay giving love until they earn it.

Due to the so-called “conditions”, this form of love becomes much more complicated.

Examples of conditional love

Conditional lovers don’t clearly spell it out with “I love you but there are conditions”.

It’s so subtly hidden in their language that you might even overlook it. And astonishingly, people forget that it also happens in non-romantic relationships like friendships, parent-child relationships, and so on.

So, let’s understand it with examples here…

1. “Babe… you love me right? Please get me that accessory/clothing!”

2. “Prove me how much you love me by getting tickets for a Hawaiian vacation!”

3. “If you’re not ashamed of being in love with me, you won’t have a problem coming with me to the club.”

4. “If you cherished our marriage, you’d leave the job and take care of my family members.”

5. “I love how you accept me as the real me… even at my worst.”

6. “I’d love you even more if you stopped embarrassing me.”

7. “If you truly love me, sending nudes won’t be an issue… because true love is trust!”

8. “In true love, people don’t mind each other’s bad habits.”

9. “If you loved me, you’d have given a false alibi for me.”

10. “I’d be happy if you topped in the class, son.”

But many say conditional love is realistic and not that bad… so, let’s find the truth here…

Is Conditional Love bad?

Conditional love is not bad so long as the conditions are based on your boundaries, bare minimal necessities in a relationship like love and respect, and don’t harm the other person.

Most people say unconditional love doesn’t exist and all forms of love are conditional… it’s always something give and take.

Well, it actually depends on the conditions!

If your conditions are basic standards like being respected, loved, and cherished, that kind of conditional love shows that you love yourself and know what you need in life.

Mainly, if the conditions define your boundaries, conditional love can be the secret to your healthy relationship. If your demands don’t disrespect or make the other person feel uncomfortable, conditional love is alright.

For instance, in a toxic relationship, you can’t love the other person unconditionally. And it’s alright to not love and leave the other person if they hurt you emotionally.

Wondering how conditional and unconditional love differs? Let’s have a look here…

Conditional vs unconditional love

Conditional love is selfish, controlling, based on expectations, and instills fear. However, unconditional love is selfless, sets you free, and allows you to express yourself. You feel respected and cherished all the time in unconditional love… but not so much when it’s conditional.

In conditional love, your lover always seeks proof of your love. There’s a lack of trust in relationships. So, if you can’t prove yourself, they judge you.

A conditional lover might also act needy and clingy or possessive and jealous and stop you from spending time with others. Their actions might intimidate you.

Your partner’s incessant demands might make you feel inadequate. You get exhausted trying to convince them of your love.

When love is conditional, your partner doesn’t feel excited about knowing the highlights of your life. Instead, they act disinterested which makes you feel lonely… and they won’t even bat an eye about that. They might distance you because you “spoil their vibe”.

During conflicts, they fight to win and won’t care if their attitude hurt you. It’s as though the fight is in between you guys… you’re never on the same team.

They always criticize your decisions and hardly support you… and you feel it’s better to keep quiet and doubt whether you deserve love.

On the other hand, unconditional love refers to love without conditions. It makes you feel good due to a lack of expectations and judgment.

Your partner trusts you and allows you freedom from the bottom of their heart. All of this makes you feel complete, safe, and secure.

When you love unconditionally, you also don’t want anything other than your partner’s presence in your life. You both accept each other as you are and encourage each other to not change.

An unconditional lover will feel excited about your achievements and celebrate with you. They’ll hurt if you hurt… and hate themselves if you get hurt because of them.

You feel respected, heard, loved, and you work like a team.

Anxious if your partner applies conditional love in your relationship? Let’s approach the moment of truth here…

Signs of conditional love

If you think that the love in your relationship is conditional, that’s the greatest hint already. However, you must be sure with some signs like these…

1. You believe you’re inadequate

In your relationship, pay attention to your feelings when you make major decisions. If you always worry whether your partner will be proud of your actions, it’s the greatest sign of conditional love.

This shows that you think you’re not worthy of their love, so you always try to win their favor by other means.

If their love for you fades depending on your actions and decisions, they love you only when you meet certain expectations.

2. You feel exhausted in the relationship

If you always try to meet these expectations or try to prove yourself worthy in the relationship, you feel overwhelmed continuously. This mindset can drain both your mental and physical energy.

The thought of failure and disappointing your partner might keep you up at night. The anxiety might be too much to focus on a healthy lifestyle. So, another sign of conditional love is feeling exhausted in your relationship.

3. You never feel comfortable around them

In a relationship with conditional love, your partner always pokes at your insecurities to get what they desire.

Their actions and behaviors make you doubt yourself. These feelings always make you feel anxious and a crippling fear of being judged activates the moment you see them.

In loving relationships, partners feel extremely comfortable in each other’s presence. But if you feel uncomfortable or a fear of being judged takes over you, it’s a surefire sign of conditional love.

4. Their personalities flip depending on the place

Try to notice your partner’s personality when it’s just you two vs. in public. If this is conditional love, they’ll be detached, disinterested, grumpy, demanding, complaining, and indifferent in private.

On the other hand, publicly, they’ll act as if they’re the most cheerful person on the lot. They act as if they care about everyone. You can even say that they act this way because they want to pose as a good person in public.

5. They become extremely affectionate publicly

Moreover, when love is conditional, your partner will treat you differently in both private and public.

For instance, when you guys are alone, they won’t give you the love that you desire. If you share something with them, they’ll be unenthusiastic about your life and you start wondering if you’re bothering them.  

However, when you guys are together publicly, your partner becomes the most affectionate partner you might ever see. They say nice things to you, take care of your needs, and you become the center of their attention… but only until you’re out of home.

6. They hate your success

When you tell them about something you’re proud of, notice your partner’s reactions. In unconditional love, they’ll be excited to know about your achievements and will offer to celebrate with you.

However, if they tell you things like “That’s nothing to boast about” or “Are you rubbing that on my wounds because I’m facing a bad situation?”, that’s conditional love for sure.

But if you disclose some good news publicly, your conditional lover will seem overjoyed and give you an earful once you get some privacy.

7. They gaslight you

In conditional love, your partner will use your words against you by twisting them around. Whether it’s about your mental health, intelligence, or beliefs, they’ll play dirty tricks to assert dominance over you.

Even if you try to communicate calmly, they’ll turn the tables on you. They’ll blame their faults on your actions and make you feel like a bad person. Possibly, they already succeeded multiple times if you’re in conditional love.

8. The judgment never stops

When you make decisions, pay close attention to your partner’s response to them. If they always find fault with your actions or say that you can’t function on your own, that’s a glaring sign of conditional love.

Sometimes, they might even talk about you behind your back to their close ones. Moreover, they might not do it as directly.

Instead, they’ll give you examples of someone that made similar decisions and failed. They never back off from making you feel miserable.

9. They keep a scoreboard

If your partner always keeps count of their favors for you and attacks you with the scores during conflicts, you’re in conditional love… there’s no doubt!

For instance, they might say, “I did everything possible for you… I want you to pay me back. Buy me … or take me…”

Or, if you call them out on their actions, they might say “I did so much for you *insert the stories* and you still blame me for the smallest issues?”

10. You always need to prove something

In your relationship, if you need to prove your love, affection, and loyalty every day on a roll, that’s another tell-tale red flag of conditional love.

They might use tactics like “You’d get me that jewelry if you loved me” or “You can’t ditch your night out because you don’t love me anymore.”

They’ll use sneaky ways to manipulate your mind and make you feel like trash for not giving in to their demands.

11. You can’t trust them

After seeing them change personalities like outfits, it’s normal to be cautious. You feel a bit suspicious about their actions.

Since they behaved sweetly in public to maintain their goody-two-shoes character, you know something is up whenever they’re kind to you.

You feel you can’t trust them blindly anymore. You suspect that they only want something when they’re sweet… well, if your instincts scream so loudly, it might as well be more proof of conditional love.

12. You need to tiptoe in your relationship

If you act very mindfully in your relationship because you don’t want to anger your partner, that’s a warning sign of conditional love.

This happens because you’re emotionally traumatized due to your partner’s manipulation, mood swings, and controlling nature.

You’re always anxious that your partner will start finding faults with you and hurt you emotionally. This is a natural reaction to emotional pains and triggers.

13. They only love you at your best

In conditional love, you won’t ever feel supported. At most, your partner will cheer you on your celebrations.

They’ll try to take credit for being a supportive partner that stood by you and helped you achieve things… even though they clearly refused to be your ally on your rough days.

In front of the crowd, they’ll act as if you owe them your victory, so you must take care of them after winning in life.

14. They’re always the priority

If your partner always prioritizes their needs over yours… to the point that they forget about you or make you feel needy and weak for expressing your feelings, that’s a red flag of conditional love.

You’ll also gladly abide because you feel you don’t do much for them. They’ll make you think that they deserve all of that.

They might even convince you that you don’t deserve a great person like them, so you must do your best to keep them.

15. They always try to change you

Everyone wants their partner to be the best of all… but human beings are flawed. You, me, your partner… we all are incapable of something or the other.

However, if your partner always acts like a perfectionist and wants you to be the best of the lot… this hurtful feeling is another tell-tale sign of conditional love.

Your partner will treat you well only if you become perfect as per their standards.

16. The efforts in the relationship are one-sided

A healthy relationship with unconditional love works with equal efforts and support. So, take a moment to notice what happens in your relationship.

If you contribute the most to the relationship in financial, emotional, and any other terms… and your partner always does the bare minimum to keep the relationship, that’s another sign of conditional love.

If you knowingly did more, that’s alright… but if you didn’t do it intentionally but felt tricked, that proves the suspicion.

17. You get compared to their ex

If your partner glorifies their ex and tells you not to hold a candle to them, you might feel it’s because you’re really not good.

Well, we’re all unique… so if your partner knowingly makes you feel bad about yourself, it’s probably because they want to manipulate you.

This is undoubtedly a case of conditional love because they’ll make you feel you’re inadequate and try to please them more.

18. They never bat an eye about your issues

When you talk to your partner about your life issues, notice their reaction. A loving partner will always motivate you and try to make you feel comfortable.

However, if it’s conditional love, they won’t even try. They’d ask you to “man up”, “grow up”, “stop acting like a baby”, or completely cut you off because you spoiled their mood.

They’ll never share kind words to calm you.

19. They’re unhealthily needy

If your partner always asks you to stay by their side or always seeks your attention and love, you might think they’re in love with you.

However, this might be a sign of codependence which is a sign of conditional love. You’re actually an easy target to make them feel validated.

They use your availability, love, attention, and finances to have a confidence boost.

20. They’re insecure

You might notice this sign as many lovers think insecurities and jealousy are cute. For instance, your partner will ask you to not attend your friends’ night out. They give excuses like there are potential partners and they might flirt with you.

Or, if you attend a party without their knowledge, they get insecure about all the people you met. They feel afraid that you might leave them.

You feel they’re cute and pay more attention to them… which is exactly what a partner that conditionally loves you wants.

21. They blame you for their infidelity

In a relationship with conditional love, if you fail to meet your partner’s unrealistic expectations about finance, looks, attention, gifts, or anything else… they’ll choose the worst payback.

They think they deserve the world and if you don’t satisfy them, they’ll do everything to hurt you… which concludes with betrayal or infidelity.

They’ll cheat on you and make you feel bad for that instead of feeling guilty themselves.

22. They leave no room for communication

When your partner applies conditions to their love, they leave you speechless. But that’s not all… every time something goes wrong, your partner makes you feel worse.

Even if you try to express your side of the issue, they don’t listen to you at all. Instead, they blame you for making petty excuses.

Their attitude forces you to shut down and never communicate… because you know it won’t work.

23. Fights always go overboard

When you have conflicts in the relationship, notice how they react to it. A loving partner will try to gather their wits first before throwing insensitive words and hurting you.

However, if they always get triggered to the point that they yell and shout profanities at you unless you break down… or they shut themselves down and make you feel sorry even if it’s not their fault, it’s conditional love.

24. They only love you for the possibilities

If your partner always pushes you towards your goals and cheers you on, you probably feel lucky to have them. You feel glad that you have someone supporting your growth.

However, if your partner pushes you so much that your physical and mental health takes the back burner, that’s where the suspicions creep in.

It seems that they’re only around you for what benefits you might bring in later on if you work harder… which is a sign of conditional love.

25. You feel they took advantage of you

If you feel your partner takes advantage of your fame, money, power, or any other resources… if it feels like they wouldn’t have been with you if you didn’t have all of that, that’s another dangerous sign of conditional love.

However, you might feel that it’s rude to assume based on feelings and ignore them. So, play a prank that you lost everything in bad business or a gamble… and watch their reaction.

Wondering if conditional love is as bad, head to the next part…

Effects of conditional love

More often than not, people think that conditional love doesn’t hurt. They stay back in these relationships because that’s how true love is supposed to be. For the sake of attachment, people overlook these evils…

1. It hurts your self-esteem

Your partner’s behavior and the lack of compassion and support in the relationship make your self-esteem hit rock bottom.

2. You might become a people pleaser

If you experienced conditional love in parent-child relationships, you felt too insecure and anxious to express your desires.

You either felt scared of disappointing your parents or feared them abandoning you. Eventually, you developed people-pleasing tendencies.

3. You feel you’re unlovable

When you’re told a lie once, you won’t believe it. However, if you’re told a lie enough times, your brain can’t handle it for long. You give up and start believing the lie.

Similarly, your conditional lover lies to you repeatedly for a long time that you’re undeserving, inadequate, incapable, and so on. At some point, you start believing it even though you know it’s not the truth.

4. You waste your time in a vain relationship

When you don’t know the evils of conditional love, you stay believing that someday you’ll gain your partner’s favor and they’ll appreciate and acknowledge you.

However, the day never comes and you waste your time with someone undeserving. In the end, the relationship doesn’t work out and you feel too demotivated to start from scratch.

5. You get involved in a pattern of toxicity

In conditional love, since you become emotionally trained to believe that you’re unlovable and undesirable, this becomes a pattern. Even if you walk out of the relationship, you face difficulties in believing that you’re enough.

The self-esteem issues along with feeling undesired impacts your next relationships.

You settle for anybody available because phrases like “you’re inadequate” and “you must be grateful to get anybody” plays in your mind on a loop.

Convinced to change the situation? Let me tell you how you can do that.

How to deal with conditional love?

If you ask your partner whether they give conditional love to you, they’ll deny it for sure. So, don’t waste your time communicating about it… because if you match lots of signs, it’s no misunderstanding.

So, let’s get on the battlegrounds here…

1. Find out why you want them

People fall in love due to various reasons. You might desire a connection, companionship, personal, emotional, or spiritual growth, and so on. You fall in love with your partner because they made you feel safe and fulfilled these expectations.

So, find out the pros of your relationship… the things that make you want to stay in it

2. Understand if it’s worth the pain

Open a notebook, and on the left page, write down your relationship pros and how much they matter to you. On the right-hand side page, write down the dissatisfactions in your bond.

This part totally depends on your personal preference, so be honest.

Take your time judging whether the pros of your relationship are really worth enduring the cons. Open the notebook before going to bed every day for a week and think hard.

3. Take space

Before you begin this week of deep thought, tell your partner what you love about your bond and why you cherish them. Then tell them how some changes can help you to build a healthy bond.

Tell them to think deeply for a week and take space. For 7 days, don’t contact them and ask them to not reach out either. During this week, tell your partner about your expectations.

4. Try self-love

If you feel that your relationship can be worked out and the pros are enough to stay back, then try to find peace. Practice self-love: give yourself the love you desire.

Whether you want to learn something new, teach others something, build a side business, spend more time with loved ones… it’s totally on you. You can simply use positive affirmations to help yourself heal throughout this week.

5. Don’t just kill time

You only have one lifetime… so, wasting it on conditional love and dealing with the emotional damage isn’t the best idea. If you keep on trying, you might have too much time.

And by the point, you realize that the other person isn’t worth it… you might not be able to start from square one again. So, by the end of the week, you might think… whether you really want to take a chance.

Based on your decisions, here are some things you might do:

  • Give up and find new love: You totally deserve it! If you want that, don’t look back.
  • Give up but your partner chases you: Don’t look back… but the heart wants what it wants. Even if you reconcile, you might get trapped in on-and-off relationships. So, at most give them one chance.
  • Stay back and give it a try: If you tried so long and nothing worked out, the chances of a healthy reconciliation are low! But since it’s your life, give them one chance. Call it quits for real if nothing changes!
  • Stay back and your partner promises to change: Stay and check if they stick to their words. If not, walk away.
  • Stay back but your partner refuses to change: Try to break up, because this isn’t the route to happiness.

But that’s not all about conditional love, there’s an even worse version of it. So, let’s check that here…

What is toxic conditional love?

In toxic conditional love, your partner treats you like a slave, disrespects you, and shows discontent with everything you do. Toxic conditional love makes you feel much more miserable.

When your partner treats you like they own you in your conditional love… instead of asking politely, they demand things from you, that’s toxic conditional love.

In this, your partner disrespects you and your efforts. Instead of loving you for who you are, they try to change every bit of you. Unless it’s for their selfish needs, they never care about you. It’s as if you’re a plaything to your partner.

You must not entertain a toxic conditional love for too long or it’ll hurt your self-esteem and dignity too badly.

A word from ThePleasantRelationship

Hopefully, you’ll be aware enough to not fall in conditional love… but if you’re already in it, walk out of it because you deserve so much better!

And if some random person tells you that you’d never find unconditional love, remember that unconditional love isn’t something to brag about. It doesn’t mean a person will love you despite you cheating on them or murdering someone.

Unconditional love is all about loving you at your worst and helping you become a better person… which is completely realistic. So, don’t lose faith and keep searching! 

Are you interested to know more about ‘Friendship to Love’ then click here?