Could Conditional Love Actually Be More Loving Than Loving Unconditionally?

Talk about unconditional love is growing, and I used to be an ardent believer.  But, I have come to wonder, if unconditional means no demands or limitations on others, is it really true that we can love without demanding something of others, or ourselves?  I often tell clients, “Love expands love.”  So, I wonder do we really serve others, and teach them to be more loving, by not having any demands or expectations of them?  

Think of ourselves for a moment.  The older I get the more interested I am in caring for my health and my body.  To really love myself on this level, I have been demanding that I limit myself to certain foods that deliver the best nutrition (i.e. love) to my body.  And, I have been demanding that I exercise more and learning how to do that within reason at the optimal level (which means knowing and respecting my limits when needed along these lines). 

I am also a mother of a son.  And, it’s true, I demand (or try to) that he do certain things, like not wander out into the streets in front of a car when he was young.  Or, love and respect himself enough to brush his teeth, eat healthier foods, get good grades, explore his potential, and do what he can to be a loving human being using his talents to make a positive impact in the world.

What if I did not demand such things of him?  Or, limit him from certain choices?  What if I said, “Sure, wander into the street when a car is coming, let your teeth rot out, eat lots of junk food, flunk out of school, don’t give a hoot about your potential, let alone fulfill it in life.”  That would be loving him unconditionally (no demands, no limits), but is that really love? 

Also, with my friends and clients, the truth is I love them enough to demand things of them.  Why?  Because I want them to be free from suffering.  I want them to make healthier choices.  I want them to be the glorious human beings they are.  And, yes, sometimes I push them, even demand of them, that they actualize all the bright wonderful qualities that I see in them.  The truth is they like this!  Even I use a personal trainer at the gym because I want someone to demand that I get fit.  I want him to limit my lazy behaviors so I don’t become a couch potato with endless excuses as to why I don’t need to be healthy in life. And, I certainly don’t pay him so he can just sit back and tell me, “You look great no matter what Lisa.  No need to workout with me.”

In fact, research is proving time and again that children and people actually do better, and feel better, when we demand certain things out of them.  I certainly do!  I have even gotten kind of listless and depressed in my life when people don’t demand enough of me.  It’s as if they don’t really believe in me, don’t care about me, feel I don’t matter, or don’t even love me very much.  Who wants that?

What then do we really mean when we say “unconditional love?”  I mean seriously, does such a thing really exist?  Think about this carefully. Life is full of conditions and limitations that can serve us and even help us to love ourselves and others if these demands and conditions are offered to us with compassionate concern.  Conditions, demands, and limitations only end up harming us if they are forced on us in a way that doesn’t serve our best interests, or if they are imposed on us in such a way they expect more out of us than we are capable of delivering, or damage our self-esteem. I for one (picky person with language that I am) think then that a far better phrase than giving others unconditional love would be saying that we are treating them with compassionate concern.   

Remember the right kind of limits and demands can help us to become better human beings.  They can even help us grow our hearts.  They can teach us to love and care for ourselves, others, and the entire Earth.  True, the wrong kind of limits and demands can retard our ability to love and short circuit our self-worth.  The effect?  We are filled with self-loathing and hate.  Then we either regress into a sense of inferiority and never reach our potential, or we leap into a feeling of superiority and in an attempt to wrongfully limit others we prevent them from reaching their potential as well.  But, that is simply offering conditions, demands, and limitations in an unskillful and unloving way. 

What this means then is that to love “conditionally” is actually a very skillful art!  It requires a great deal of discernment, wisdom, timing, skill, and compassion to set conditions in a loving way so that they expand the field of love. Hence, in the right way it could even be said that conditional love is a far higher form of love than unconditional love could ever be.  That is because too often people love “unconditionally” because they are simply too lazy, unskillful, unintelligent, or careless to know how to love others effectively. 

In my book it takes a lot of love and a lot of courage to request conditions in the right way.  The secret is to to genuniely be concerned about the well being of others and ourselves when we request them.  Then with that concern we need to be willing to expend the time, energy, and wisdom to help others grow through those conditions into a more expansive state of love.  And, we need to express our conditions and concerns compassionately.  Then others may not even be willing, but excited, to have those demands and limits imposed upon them.  Why?  Because they feel you really do love and care about them.  They also see the end results of living under such demands will be an increase in their abililty to reach their potential and become more loving and fantastic human beings.  I for one welcome this!  How about you?

Love and blessings,


Copyright 2011  by Dr. Lisa Love.  All rights reserved.

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