How To Tell If You're In Love With Someone Vs. If You Love Them Unconditionally
How do you know you love someone? More importantly, how do you know you love someone unconditionally? You may think you feel the latter way toward your partner, but according to experts, that's not always the case. In fact, there are some pretty major differences between being in love with someone and loving someone unconditionally.
"Some people may consider loving someone unconditionally as being the same thing as being in love with someone, but it really isn't the same thing," spiritual advisor and relationship coach Davida Rappaport tells Bustle. When you're in love with someone, you may fantasize about them when they're not around. You think they're perfect for you in every way. Many times, you're less likely to see any red flags your partner might have.
Unconditional love has some element of that, but goes a little deeper with it. "Unconditional love is just that, no conditions," Toni Coleman, LCSW, a psychotherapist and relationship coach, tells Bustle. "Nothing that happens between two people or impacts their ability to get their needs met can take the love away."
And it goes beyond that. "Being in love is more of a transitory experience," she adds. "People fall in and out of love more than once in a lifetime. When we are in love, we have a unique sense of an intimate bond. However when hardships happen or when one person hurts or disappoints the other, people can fall out of love."
As experts say, being "in love" and loving someone unconditionally are two totally different things. So here's how you can tell the difference, according to experts.
1. Being In Love Has A Lot To Do With Brain Chemistry
"Being 'in love' has a lot of different meanings, but it's usually a feeling that's caused by brain chemistry changes that happen in the first one to three years of a relationship and then starts to fade," David Bennett, a certified counselor and relationship expert, tells Bustle. This, he says, is known as "puppy love" or infatuation. During this period, your brain chemistry causes you to ignore red flags in order for you to see your partner in the best possible way. The problem here, however, is it eventually fades unless you both make an effort to keep the spark alive and work on the relationship.
Unconditional love, on the other hand, is less of a feeling and more of a choice. "It is choosing to love, commit, and stay with your partner even when the blissful feelings fade," Bennett says. "In fact there is research that shows simply valuing commitment and desiring it is a great predictor of whether a relationship will last." In other words, being in love with someone doesn't always mean you're in it for the long haul.
2. When You're In Love, There's Mutual Respect
"Someone that is in love with someone knows exactly what they want and how they want to feel," relationship coach Jenna Ponaman, CPC, tells Bustle. They love themselves enough to know that they're with a partner who can give that love back to them because there's a mutual agreement and respect for one another, she says.
Unconditional love is really great to have, but there is a downside to it if you're not aware. While it can represent a level of devotion one person can have for another, it might also lead to the blurring of boundaries. "Good boundaries are shown within couples that are in love through that mutual agreement of how they will behave and respond to one another," Ponaman says. If you're sacrificing your values, wants, needs, and desires for another person and expect nothing in return because you love them unconditionally, that's not always a good a thing and can possibly lead to resentment.
3. When You're In Love, You Might Hope Your Partner Will Change For The Better
When you love someone unconditionally, you accept them as they are, Rappaport says. That means, there's nothing you really would want to change about them. If there is, you've come to the point where you've accepted it because it makes up the person that you love so much. Loving someone unconditionally means accepting both the good and the bad, including vices they may have. When you're in love with someone, you might still hold out hope that your partner will change eventually. And while relationships can help the both of you grow, expecting someone to change completely may not be realistic.
According to Alyssa Bunn, executive matchmaker and founder of Love & Co. by Alyssa Bunn, you can learn to love your partner unconditionally. "Emotions catch up with your behavior. Act and your emotions will always follow," Bunn says. "If you do not give up, but proceed to love the unlovely behavior in a sustained way, they will eventually become lovely to you."
4. When You're In Love, You Might Compare Your Partner To Your Ex Occasionally
It's normal to find yourself thinking about your ex every now and then. When you're in love, you might like how your current partner is more emotionally open than your ex, or that they're more fun and spontaneous. But it can become a problem when you start thinking about the ways your current relationship is lacking in comparison to your past ones.
"If you love someone unconditionally, you don’t compare them to previous partners or want your relationship to be the way it was with someone else," Rappaport says. "You love them just the way they are." In other words, loving someone unconditionally means being in the relationship you really want to be in at the current moment. You're not living in the past or comparing. You're content in the moment with the person you're with.
5. When You Love Someone Unconditionally, You Let The Little Things Go
Everyone in a relationship fights at some point. That's just how most relationships are. But when you love your partner unconditionally, you try to argue effectively. "You realize it is not important to be right or win the argument," Rappaport says. "You work toward resolving things amicably, even if that just means you agree to disagree." You're more likely to listen more and comment less. When you're in love with someone, fights with your partner can have a way of making you see your partner in a different way. Sometimes, that can cause your happy-in-love feelings to fade.
One way to keep your feelings of love from fading, is to always act with love despite how you're feeling. "When you love unconditionally, you do the acts of love especially in periods of adversity," Bunn says. "You may not feel tender, sympathetic, or eager to please, but in your actions you must be tender, understanding, and helpful." In doing so, you can prevent small arguments from escalating into a big fight.
6. When You Love Someone Unconditionally, You Take Responsibility For Your Actions
"Being 'in love' is usually more of a phase that will eventually end if we don't find unconditional love for our partner," Kim Egel, a licensed therapist who helps people with relationship issues, tells Bustle. This happens because perfection doesn't exist. Both you and your partner are going to make mistakes. If you love someone unconditionally, you don't hold on to grudges. There's no blaming or shaming. Most importantly, you have the ability to take responsibility for your actions and words, and your partner should be able to do that as well. "You also realize that in the vast scheme of life, it really doesn’t matter what they did or didn't do," Rappaport says. "What matters is that you love your partner and you learn to forgive and forget because you know your relationship is more important than getting caught up in things that can ruin it."
7. When You Love Someone Unconditionally, They Don't Need To Do Anything To "Earn" Your Love
Whether or not you actually choose who you fall in love with is debatable. But as we all know, maintaining a relationship takes a lot of work from both parties. Some people end up falling out of love because they're bored or their partner stops caring. According to relationship coaches Todd and Diana Mitchem, unconditional love doesn't require one partner needing to constantly "woo" the other, or vice versa. "Loving someone unconditionally is 'love given freely,'" they say. "Just like the more traditional marriage vows, you are in it for better or worse." You just love them regardless of what they say or do.
Loving someone unconditionally doesn't mean you see them as a perfect person. It doesn't mean they can hurt you all they want and you'll keep running back to them every single time.
According to experts, it's more about your approach to love. Unconditional love tends to be more grounded in reality. As Rappaport says, you can still be in love with someone and be grounded at the same time. "In this case, you can love someone unconditionally and also be in love with them, too." It's all about loving and accepting someone for who they are and making a conscious effort to keep working on your relationship long after the honeymoon phase is over. If you can do that, the love you have for your partner is a solid foundation.
Le, B., & Agnew, C. R. (2003). Commitment and its theorized determinants: A meta-analysis of the Investment Model. Personal Relationships, 10(1), 37–57. doi: 10.1111/1475-6811.00035
Davida Rappaport, spiritual advisor and relationship coach
Toni Coleman, LCSW, a psychotherapist and relationship coach
David Bennett, a certified counselor and relationship expert
Jenna Ponaman, CPC, relationship coach
Todd and Diana Mitchem, relationship coaches
Alyssa Bunn, executive matchmaker and founder of Love & Co. by Alyssa Bunn
Kim Egel, licensed therapist
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