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Selfless Love: 15 Traits that Sets It Apart from Selfish Love

Selfless Love

Selfless love means putting the needs, desires, and sometimes, the wants of the person you love ahead of your own. It also means making hard choices.

I have struggled my entire life with love. There are times when it feels like loving someone is selfish, and then times when it is selfless. The problem is that you can fade in and out of selfish/selfless love as quickly as you can bat an eye. Sometimes it feels selfish to want love, while other times you feel like you are the only one selfless in love. If it sounds confusing… it is.

The only way that I can define selfless love is when you are in it for the long haul. Whether it hurts, is painful, or you get nothing out of it for yourself, loving someone selflessly means that you make decisions based not on what you want, but what is best for the one you love.

Having children is a very difficult type of selfless love. From the moment that baby is placed in your arms, you are required to have selfless love and are tested at every turn. When it comes to people who aren’t related, or dependent on you, selfless love is a little more difficult and confusing.

The 15 musts for selfless love

When I was in my thirties, my husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. All of a sudden a partnership that I agreed to turned into a nursing relationship where I was responsible for the kids, the house, and him.

Being selfless is not as easy as it sounds. I remember one day he caught me on the phone bitching about how he wasn’t helping. How dare I – he could barely get out of bed! But, being selfless isn’t really something humans are best at.

So, what defines selfless love? Is it a good thing or bad? In one sense, it means putting your own needs on the back burner. But, if there truly is love, then you have to sacrifice yourself to get the greatest love of all.

Selfless love means that you…

#1 Care more about the well-being of someone more than yourself. There are times when selfless love involves caring more about their well-being than your own. That might mean that you do something that isn’t self-motivating just because you know that they really need your help.

Learning to put other people’s needs in front of your own is never an easy thing to do. But, to find true love, you have to put your own needs on the back burner sometimes. [Read: What is real love? 15 ways true love sets itself apart]

#2 Are willing to walk away for their benefit. Loving selflessly doesn’t mean that you stay no matter what. There are times when loving someone means that you have to walk away to be selfless.

If staying is doing nothing but creating a worse situation or allowing co-dependence, then to be selfless, you have to stop the toxic relationship you share and know when it is just time to walk away so that they can mature, heal, and stand on their own two feet.

#3 Aren’t allowing someone to stay in a relationship when you know it isn’t what they want. Like old Yeller, sometimes we have to set things free and see if they come back. It is easy to put a guilt trip on someone to make them stay or to make them dependent on you so that you don’t lose them.

But, selfless love sometimes means that you have to turn someone loose and make it okay for them to move on if the relationship isn’t the best thing for you both. [Read: Time to let go? 15 reasons why great relationships are forced to end]

#4 Putting your own ambition to the side. In a relationship, you will have your individual goals and your combined ones. There will be times when you might have to sacrifice your own wants to allow your partner to shine. Being selfless means that you have to take the back seat at times to allow your partner to achieve their dreams and their full potential.

There will be times in your future when you can work on you and focus on your path. Being selfless means holding down the fort at times so your partner can go storm the castle.

#5 Compromising. Being selfless doesn’t always mean that you have to completely give everything up and always give in. Sometimes being selfless in a relationship is more about learning to compromise and working together to make sure that you’re both getting what you need.

Selflessness doesn’t always have to come at the detriment of your own wants, desires, and needs, but rather a compromise between what you and the person you love both wants. [Read: Compromise in relationships and 12 ways to give without losing]

#6 Having heavy shoulders. Being selfless means putting yourself aside, and if someone needs you to have heavy shoulders, having them. Not being defensive, or taking things too personally, selfless love means that you empathize with what your loved one is going through, and you put your own feelings aside to be strong when they can’t be.

#7 Not being judgmental. Judging is one of the worst human traits that we possess. Being selfless in love means that you don’t judge what someone is doing. That doesn’t mean that you don’t confront them when you think they are hurting themselves, nor does it mean that you allow bad behavior to continue.

It just means that you don’t put judgment on why someone is behaving the way that they are, you just help the alter the behaviors that hurt them in a nonjudgmental way. [Read: 12 signs you’re being very selfish in the relationship]

#8 Listening and not making assumptions. When you are practicing selfless love, it means that instead of making assumptions about why someone is behaving or doing what they are doing, you take the time to listen to them.

Listening to another person that you love when you don’t want to hear it can be very difficult. Listening without judgment is the only way to provide selfless love.

#9 Giving someone the benefit of the doubt. Being on someone’s side always and providing unconditional love is sometimes easier said than done.

Even if they have let you down in the past, selfless love is about always giving them the benefit of the doubt and believing that they can rise to the occasion instead of setting up a self-fulfilling prophecy and then sitting back and saying “I knew it.”

#10 Working as a team… there’s no “I” in team. Selfless love is about being one with someone and not being out for your own goals. Working together is key to selfless love, which means that you aren’t self-serving or always trying to get your way. Working together is the cornerstone of selfless love. [Read: All the ways you’ll experience what real love feels like]

#11 Missing some things sometimes just because someone needs you more. Giving things up is not always an easy thing to do. There are times when you might have to forego things that are very important in your life if someone you love needs you more.

Being able to put the needs of someone else above what is important to you is selfless and an excellent way to show love.

#12 Not giving in because it is easier. Love is patient, love is kind, and it also isn’t easy. Relationships aren’t simple. In fact, there are many times when they just downright suck! Being able to stick it out and go through the rough spots is what selfless love is all about.

#13 Burning the ship. There is an old tale about a captain who took his crew to a deserted new land, and when the crew had exited the ship, and everyone had unloaded, they turned around to find the ship in flames.

The Captain had set it afire saying they all survive together or they perish alone. Burning your ship means that no matter what happens, there is no way out of selfless love. You just have to work it out and get through it. And, sometimes you feel like you can’t hold on any longer, but you just do.

#14 Saying in sickness and health, and meaning it. When you say “I do,” or when you are in a committed relationship, there are times when things don’t go exactly as planned. Since the reality is that there will come a time when we all must leave the earth, one of you is going to go first.

Or, tragedy sometimes strikes, and it might force one of you to take care of the other. Practicing selfless love means that when the other person needs you, whether it’s because of an acute illness or a long term disability, you are willing to go the long haul. Selfless love might mean redefining everything you know and your roles within a relationship to make it work. [Read: Uncertainty in a relationship – The hidden and unexpected dangers]

#15 Doing things expecting nothing from doing them. Selfless love means that you are willing to give as much as you get. It also means that you don’t play the “poor me” card or make the other feel indebted when you do have to pick up the extra slack.

Selfless love is never regretful or resentful. It means you are always willing to give just as much as you would expect, if not more, for and from the person you love.

Selfless love is not something that always comes naturally. There are times when you have to give more of yourself than you might have initially thought you would. It means putting yourself aside once in a while and putting someone else’s needs before yours and expecting nothing in return. For better or for worse does sometimes actually mean “for worse.”

[Read: The real signs of true love in a relationship]

But, once you give selfless love, not only do you find the best person inside of you, you give the greatest gift to the person you love.

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Julie Keating
Julie Keating

A writer isn’t born, but created out of experiences. No lack of subject matter, my life reads more like fiction than anything that could have been imagined...

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