Some describe unconditional love as complete, unselfish affection with no strings attached. Put this way, unconditional love can sound like a dream – but is it really possible? Studies show that unconditional love can be a biological reality of the human brain, and it can have various benefits for mental health. If you’d like to bring more love into your life, you might start with self-love. You can also connect with others through discussed activities, visualize the relationships you desire, date with intention, and look for love models. It can be helpful to connect with a therapist for professional support as well.
What Is Unconditional Love?
Depending on the type of relationship in question, people may define unconditional love in several ways.
- Unselfish delight in the well-being of someone else
- Complete emotional affirmation of another person
- Volunteering to provide acts of care and service on another person’s behalf without expecting anything in return
The specific forms of care, service, and emotional intimacy may vary depending on the type of relationship. A parent’s love for their child, for example, could be expressed by making home-cooked meals, funding their education, or watching their child excel in a favorite sport.
If you’re in a romantic partnership, unconditional love could involve sexual intimacy, encouraging your partner toward their career goals, or quietly completing their chores when they’re sick. Many people feel unconditional love for their pets and make many trips to the vet to ensure their health and happiness.
Regardless of the nature of the relationship, unconditional love can be uniquely selfless and driven by a pure love for someone else.
Is Unconditional Love Real?
Brain studies suggest that unconditional love can be real – and while it often takes time to cultivate, it can benefit our mental health in several ways.
In a 2021 study, researchers noted that the periaqueductal gray (PAG) location in the brain is often associated with unconditional love as well as fear conditioning, pain modulation, and altruism. These concepts can play a role in religious beliefs, especially unconditional love, which is often related to maternal love, nonsexual love, compassion, and long-term relationships.
This study affirmed that unconditional love and related feelings can be mappable in the brain, based on their assessment of brain legions in the PAG. More broadly, the researchers describe their findings as a “neural circuit” for spirituality and religiosity. Their work suggests that unconditional love may not simply be a romantic or religious concept, but a biological reality of the human brain.
More research is likely needed to fully understand the biological mechanisms of unconditional love. That said, studies suggest that unconditional love may offer mental health benefits, including the cultivation of positive emotions, based on a 2009 study, as well as a sense of emotional safety and meaningful attachment to another person.
Loving Relationships Need Healthy Boundaries
The benefits of unconditional love can be life-changing, but with any kind of love or relationship, it’s often important to establish clear boundaries between yourself and loved ones. Healthy boundaries may look different for everyone, but they could include:
- Prioritizing quiet time to yourself at the end of every day
- Clarifying your preferences around physical affection in public
- Scheduling time with other friends or family on certain days of the week
With healthy boundaries in place, you can begin incorporating some of the following strategies to bring more love into your life, and potentially experience the benefits of unconditional love.
How Can I Invite More Love Into My Life?
1. Start With Self-Love
When you love someone, it can be all too easy to overextend yourself to meet their needs. But if you don’t take care of yourself, it can become difficult to continue showing up for the people you love most.
To invite more love into your life, many mental health professionals recommend starting with self-love – or, at the very least, taking care of your most basic needs. In its simplest form, self-love can be defined as a state of appreciation for yourself. It usually takes time to cultivate, and it can develop from actions that enhance your physical, psychological, social, or emotional well-being.
Ideally, by establishing a basic appreciation for yourself, you may become more comfortable with expressing your needs to future partners, friends, and other loved ones. And by filling your own cup first, you may be able to respond to others’ needs with compassion, love, and respect.
2. Connect With Others Through Discussed Activities
Think of a hobby or activity that you’ve always loved. Maybe it’s reading, watching old films, or hiking outside your city. Many social groups develop around these and other activities, and they often attract people with similar values and interests. Whether you’re looking for your life partner or seeking friendship, connecting with others through your favorite hobbies can create an unexpected path to unconditional love.
When long-time friends and partners reflect on their first encounters, a hobby or niche interest often sparks the initial attraction. From there, a mutual investment in each other’s interests can form the groundwork for deep and lasting love.
3. Visualize The Relationships You Want
It can help to get specific about the love we’d like to experience. You may seek certain emotional traits, values, and life experiences from friends and partners. For instance, you might prefer your future girlfriend to have an appreciation for family, or you may seek a close friend in your profession who understands the complexities of your career.
Of course, new friends and partners can often surprise us. They may have completely different interests, temperaments, and personalities than we’d envision for our “ideal” friend or lover.
Ultimately, this can be one of the joys of human connection. When you’re open to surprise and spontaneity, you may create more opportunities to experience unconditional love.
4. Date With Intention
Whether you’re meeting people organically or using dating apps and websites, it can be challenging to date with purpose in a world that often gamifies the dating process.
To date more intentionally, many dating experts suggest stating your goals clearly and honestly, beginning with the first date. By being straightforward about what you’d like from a relationship, you may be more likely to attract people who have similar goals and values.
The same mindset can be true for friendship! During your next “friend date,” don’t hesitate to be purposeful about what you’re looking for in a friend. Setting up a friend date can be intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. Consider scheduling a midday coffee date with an intriguing coworker, or simply walking somewhere after class with a classmate.
As you forge new friendships, you may want to focus on engaging more intentionally in your existing bonds. By scheduling weekly meetups with old friends, actively noticing their best traits, and showing your support during periods of struggle, you may sustain more purposeful and long-term connections.
5. Look For Love Models
Can you point toward a clear example of unconditional love in your life? Perhaps it’s a close friend’s relationship, or even the unwavering commitment you feel toward your pet. If you can find a relevant example from your life, you can hold it up as your “love model”.
While there may be no right way to pursue unconditional love, finding examples of healthy relationships can help you clarify your own goals around love, romance, and friendship.
6. Consult A Therapist For Support
Sometimes, the process of bringing more love into your life can feel like a solo journey, but with the guidance of a professional therapist, it doesn’t necessarily have to be.
To navigate the joys and setbacks of modern love, many people seek the support of a licensed therapist for compassionate advice. While some prefer face-to-face sessions, a growing number of people rely on online therapy for convenient and affordable support. Using a digital platform, you can connect with a board-certified therapist within 48 hours, based on your responses to a brief questionnaire.
Research shows that online therapy can be an effective treatment for a wide range of mental health concerns. Many studies have specifically assessed the value of online therapy during the COVID-19 pandemic, including a 2021 analysis of video therapy and its impacts on the therapeutic alliance. Based on the current research, the writers of this article note that video therapy can be a powerful way to promote greater self-expression, connection, and intimacy. Video therapy may be especially helpful for people looking to cultivate more love and intimacy in an online space, and at a time and place that works best for them.
Are there limits to unconditional love?
Unconditional love is a fine ideal of a selfless act, but there must be limits for the health of the relationship and the individual. For example, in the case of romantic love, you may care deeply about the wants and needs of your romantic partner, but your own wellbeing needs to be a factor as well.
What happens when you give unconditional love?
Studies have shown that feeling unconditional love activates the brain’s reward system in the same way that romantic love does. Both giving and receiving unconditional love can be beneficial to health and wellbeing in adults and children.
Does unconditional love have conditions?
This is a thorny question, because unconditional love by its very definition signifies a love without conditions, but this may not be possible. Signs of unconditional love mirror compassionate love, but should also have limits. In the case of romantic relationships, tolerating abuse or putting another person over your own needs and own life is not a healthy relationship dynamic.
Mature love comes from both directions, with each party considering the wants, desires, and wellbeing of the other.
Does unconditional love last forever?
In some cases it can. Typically, when you love your child unconditionally it will last a lifetime. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some boundaries set for this love. You can love your child unconditionally, but most of us wouldn’t tolerate abuse or criminal behavior from them.
Can you love unconditionally but still have boundaries?
You can love a person truly, deeply, and with a desire for the best for their life, but still have boundaries. In certain cases, you may love someone but have to let them go for their sake, or for your own.
Why is it hard to accept unconditional love?
Unconditional love seeks deeper understanding of another person. For some people, this kind of intimacy and adoration may be uncomfortable.
What does unconditional love feel like?
Unconditional love can feel similar to romantic love, according to certain brain-mapping studies. The same parts of the brain light up when experiencing either of these feelings. It can create a sense of warmth, understanding, and safety.
How can you show unconditional love?
Unconditional love means that you care deeply about the wellbeing of another person, to the point where you love without thought of yourself. A common example of this type of love is a mother’s affection for their own child. In fact, loving unconditionally in the case of your child makes sense…this type of love makes a child feel safe, and improves lifelong health and wellness.
However, when it comes to romantic or platonic love with others, the best way to show unconditional love is, ironically, to love with some boundaries.
How do you overcome conditional love?
To love unconditionally is an understandable desire, but it may not always be the healthiest option. Some experts say that healthy unconditional love isn’t really possible, as there should always be a limit to what you would tolerate from another person.
Does unconditional love mean unconditional tolerance?
Unconditional love should not mean unconditional tolerance. A healthy relationship takes your own wants, needs, and wellbeing into account.
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