Real love is unconditional.
My husband and I are high school sweethearts. We’ve been together for 22 years, and married for 14. Some might say we’re total opposites. He’s lively and outgoing; I’m quiet, a pretty classic introvert.
Our relationship isn’t perfect. We fight over little things sometimes. I wish with all my heart that he would remember to take out the trash without constant reminders. He wishes I would stop with the constant nitpicking. Our fights can get heated, especially when we’re tired and overwhelmed with work, life, and kids.
Most of the time, though, we really enjoy each other. We have a lot of common interests and really good chemistry. We have a commitment to work through our disagreements, and to find a way to understand one another. But what holds us together — and what has contributed most to the longevity of our relationship — is the way we love each other. Our love has always been unabashed, plentiful, and real.
But it’s not just the love you feel — it’s the openness with which you share it, and in what ways you show up to express it.
Here are ten ways you can tell that you have found someone who really knows how to love you.
1. They will love you without condition.
Real love comes without any expectations. You don’t have anything to prove, nothing to win. Yes, at the beginning of a love affair, you’re trying to entice and impress each other, but as time goes on there’s no need to perform in order to make love last.
2. They will listen — really listen.
This is a big one. Real listening means that you throw your own agenda out the window and really absorb what the person is saying, without judgment. It’s not always easy to do, but truly loving someone means being able to be there for them through thick and thin, and being a good, empathetic confidant.
3. They will love you for who you are, not an idealized version of what they want a partner to be.
The day I realized that my husband will never remember to do certain things without a reminder or two (or three), I felt my love deepen for him a little. It sounds counter-intuitive, but when I realized that I couldn’t change him — and just needed to find a way to work with who he was — I could appreciate all the things he could do for me and our family. It helps that he will happily do housework, but just can’t remember to do it on his own.
4. They will give you space.
At the beginning of a relationship, it’s normal to be inseparable, to want to do every last thing together. But there comes a point where each partner needs some space. When and how this happens varies from person to person and one relationship to another.
But since real love means letting your partner be his or herself, you need to respect your partner’s need for independence and the autonomy to sometimes do things without you.
5. They will fight for you.
When you’re having a down-and-out day, your partner will be the first one to remind you how incredibly awesome you are. Your partner will be your biggest defender against conflicts with others. They will remind you of the strength you forgot you had, and give you the fighting words when you’re too upset to find them yourself.
6. They will hang on during the storms.
Conflicts in relationships are natural, but when left to fester they can destroy relationships. Fighting is normal and healthy. Fights are opportunities to work through stuff. But someone who truly loves you will never stay angry. He or she will work through the anger to get to the other side — that other side being a deeper understanding and mutual respect.
7. They will admit when they’re being a jerk.
Someone who never admits when he or she has made a mistake isn’t going to be able to love authentically. Loving means being vulnerable, and owning it when you’ve been a bona fide schmuck.
8. They will call you out on your bullsh*t.
My husband knows me well and isn’t afraid to tell me when my “baggage” is rearing its ugly head. In the moment, I want to strangle him, but ultimately, I love him for calling me out on my crap (and, of course, loving me anyway).
9. They will make you feel beautiful.
In our 22 years together, we’ve gone from being fresh-faced teenagers to exhausted parents pushing 40. But I STILL can’t change my clothes in front of my husband without him getting all oogly-eyed and silly. Now that’s love.
10. They will make you feel safe.
It goes without saying that a partner who’s physically or verbally abusive needs to be kicked to the curb. But all partners should give you a sense of safety. Usually, it’s a pretty intuitive thing. You just know when you can trust someone, and this is solidified when they demonstrate that trust to you throughout the relationship.
Finding someone who loves you doesn’t mean your relationship will be without bumps. There are no perfect people or relationships — knowing and accepting that is half the battle.
What you need is a partner is who willing to try, who wants to make the effort to understand you, whose love is generous, demonstrated in concrete actions, and not just words or ideas. Once you’ve found that person, you’ll know it in your bones. And you’ll never let them go.