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Conditional love in a relationship – What are the warning signs?

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Allowing yourself to see conditional love for what it is, is much harder than you think. When you are wrapped up in a toxic relationship, your judgement becomes clouded by this ‘perfect’ relationship, and you are led to believe this person you love, truly cares about you.

In reality, once the the toxic person has gained your trust, they intentionally lead you into a false sense of reality, devalue you and make you question your own sanity, ultimately for their own gain. In other words, there is an expiry date on their love, and there are some situations where they would stop loving you. A child may experience conditional love from a parent, or you may experience this pattern of behaviour with your partner. Here we will cover both scenarios.

Conditional love vs. Unconditional love

Essentially, conditional love means a person will love you only if you meet there conditions. This could be anything from how you look, how much money you make, or how you treat them. However, it’s not always so black and white, it can be done in a ‘caring’ manner or done gradually over time. It almost feels like you have to “earn” the right to be loved, adhering to their terms and conditions of the relationship, at a cost of your needs, health and confidence.

On the other hand, unconditional love is a type of love that is on an unconditional basis, The relationship is built on trust, and the person will love you for for being you, you don’t need to ‘pay them back’ or worry about instability.

Bottom line: A healthy relationship consists of unconditional love, it thrives on compassion, compromise, forgiveness and acceptance.

Conditional love – warning signs Are you suspicious that you may have got tangled up in someone’s toxic web? There is a number of red flags to look out for.

  1. You never feel good enough – This is a common warning sign, you are constantly on edge, having to people please, be careful what you say or do, and are anxious that you’re not doing enough. You may feel insecure that you are not pretty enough, earn enough money, or do enough around the house. At this point, you start to self sabotage, and blame yourself.
  2. You feel sick at the thought of seeing them – If you feel upset or sick at the thought of seeing your partner, then this is a massive red flag. Seeing the person you love and care about should bring you happiness and excitement, so if it doesn’t, it’s likely that you are unhappy.
  3. You’re exhausted – You are constantly people pleasing, doing things to impress, and have a deep sense of anxiety that if you don’t do these things, then you won’t be good enough. You start to put the needs of others before your own health and drain your energy.
  4. They display two personalities – The person will have a happy go-lucky personality outside the home, where they share loving and caring moments with you publicly, however, you get home and they ignore you or put you down. This is a sign of conditional love, where they withhold their love for their selfish gain. The person is only interested in making themselves look good in front of others.
  5. You realise they are gaslighting you, distorting your sense of reality, and questioning your sanity to gain power and control over the relationship. This will cause doubt, and for you to second guess yourself, only acting or saying things that will make them happy. Diminishing your self-esteem further.
  6. You can’t be yourself – it’s common to feel like you’re constantly walking on eggshells, so you don’t upset them, make them angry or think bad about you. This can take a lot of effort and energy on your part, which can leave you feeling exhausted.
  7. They are extremely judgemental of others- This can cause insecurities for you, and is a sign of jealousy or insecurity on their part. For example, they gossip or make hurtful comments about others weight, you start to worry about your weight and how you should change. This will lead to people pleasing, trying to read body language, getting defensive, and changing who you are based on someone else’s twisted reality.
  8. They judge you directly – it’s impossible to meet standards if the goal posts constantly move, or you don’t know what they are. Causing confusion and making you feel worthless, is the ultimate aim of a toxic person to gain power, and a sick sense of satisfaction.
  9. They keep ‘score’ – This is a highly toxic and manipulative relationship practice, where one person raises a concern, and the other attempts to ‘top it’. The end results in no one achieving anything, as it’s not about the topic of conversation. It’s only important to the toxic person who is trying to ‘top’ your concern, in order to protect their ego.
  10. They blame you – your partner will guilt trip and blame you for things that happen to them. Alternatively, if they make a mistake, they will always need to drag you into the problem, and make you solve it. This tactic is to gain control and power over you.

Conditional love – parents

Often parents display conditional love tendencies to gain control and power over their children. The child won’t be able to express their true authenticity, and all feelings and opinions will be disallowed. You often find toxic parents also control their children’s feelings and opinions in order to validate their own insecurities.

For example; A child dresses or talks in a particular way that the parent dislikes, or perhaps they make friends or food choices that the parent wouldn’t chose. The parent will then show disapproval, basing their disapproval on their own insecurities. The parent will use the situation to gain control, power and influence over that child. This results in the child growing up to understand that they need to people please, In order to gain approval from people. Alternatively, if they don’t people please, they will be shut down or disliked. The child will lose confidence and begin to look outside of themselves for love and approval.

Toxic parents use lots of emotional abuse tactics, and something called ‘toxic positivity’. Toxic positivity is massively damaging particularly to a young child, but also an adult child. How often do you hear the term ‘stop being negative’ or ‘just be positive’. Although these comments can sound relatively harmless at first, it can be extremely detrimental to a child’s well-being if used in an abusive way.

In summary, a toxic parent will force the child to be positive regardless how they really feel. The parent will intentionally push aside the child’s feelings or concerns, for their own selfish gain. Their agenda often includes control, protecting their ego, and insecurities.

Here are some of the warning signs:

  1. They refer to you as the ‘kid’ – The parent refuses to see you as an adult, they will talk about he past, and will do anything to maintain you as their ‘baby’. For example, you may drink coffee, and your parent responds ‘you don’t like coffee’. But you’ve been drinking coffee around them for years. This can be confusing but in reality, they are trying to hold you back and control you. You may also hear comments about old friends, constant and repetitive stories about your childhood when you were ‘vulnerable’ or ‘controllable’, and putting down your achievements today. This is a form of abuse, the toxic parent is losing control as you get older, trying to gain power and reel you back in. They will gradually begin to turn on your marriage, partnership, work and commitments, as they will see this as a threat.
  2. They judge others on a regular basis – They often gossip or talk bad about others. They leave out their part of the problem, and solely focus on ‘why are they ignoring me’ ‘what have I done wrong’ in other words, they are masters at playing the victim. This can be easily directed at you when you start to create distance or dependancy.
  3. They are unable to handle difficult situations – Toxic parents shut their children down, they have low emotional intelligence, and do anything to stay in their comfort zone. They are incapable of dealing with any form of difficult situation, and they will flip the conversation with a ‘poor me’ attitude. This is simply because everything has to be about them.
  4. They don’t acknowledge your success – toxic parents will only acknowledge your success if there’s something in it for them. They will often praise you in front of people to gain attention for their parenting, but behind closed doors, they are jealous and insecure of losing control.
  5. Imbalanced marriage – This is an important one to detect. Conditional love usually starts between the mother an father, before extending to their children. You will often find the mother and father will invalidate each others opinions, put each other down in front of people or at home and criticise each other on a regular basis. They will constantly try to ‘out do’ each other, make each other jealous, and often pitt their children against each other, forming a golden child and scape goat.
  6. Narcissistic parents often use conditional love as a tactic to control their children.


Whether it’s friends, family or partners, conditional love can be difficult to identify. However, once identified, it can cause extra anger and resentment when you realise you were part of their toxic manipulative game. The biggest reason to leave a toxic space should be the love for yourself, and wanting to better your life. The first step is acceptance, It takes time to put your needs first, because often it can be overridden by guilt and shame. That’s why it’s important to accept the situation, educate yourself, seek therapy and surround yourself with healthy relationships.

Wondering if you are dating a narcissist? See this article to find out.

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