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Selfless Love: 18 Traits that Sets It Apart from Selfish Love

The concept of selfless love is a complicated one. To be truly selfless, you have to put others first and that sometimes means making difficult decisions.

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.

[Read: How to stop being selfish: 20 ways to stop hurting and using others]

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.

What does selfless love look like?

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. Do you have to sacrifice all of you? Not at all, but when the time calls for it, you do what you need to do. [Read: Being in love: 15 best things in life only love can give you]

Signs you’re capable of loving selfessly

Do you think you’re a selfless lover? Are you capable of loving someone at the expense of your own happiness? Here are all the signs that set selfless love apart from selfish love.

1. You care more about the wellbeing 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. You’re 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. You don’t ask someone to stay in the relationship if it’s not what they want

Just like a boomerang, 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. You put 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. [Read: Love or career? How to make the right choice]

5. You’re happy to compromise

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. You have 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. You don’t judge

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 alter the behaviors that hurt them in a non-judgmental way. [Read: 12 signs you’re being very selfish in the relationship]

8. You listen and don’t make assumptions

When you are practicing selfless love, it means that instead of making assumptions about why someone is behaving a certain way 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. [Read: How to be a better listener in your relationship]

9. You’re happy to give them 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. You change your plans because they need 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’s 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. [Read: 20 practical things to consider before giving up on love]

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 in 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 something and expecting nothing in return

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.

16. You accept them as they are, flaws and all

Nobody is perfect, but selfless love pushes you to accept a person for who they are, without feeling the need to change them. You know that they have flaws, but you also accept that you have them too. It’s almost like you love their flaws as much as their plus points! A flawed person is a real person, at the end of the day. [Read: The qualities of a healthy relationship that keep couples happy]

17. You don’t hold grudges

Part of accepting someone for who they are also means knowing that they’re going to screw up occasionally. When that happens, you don’t hold it against them and you don’t allow it to keep popping up in the future. Once the apology has been made, you let it go and learn from it together.

18. You’re willing to help them become the best they can be

Helping someone to reach their potential and realize their dream take time and effort. Sometimes we just don’t have that and we’re too focused on ourselves. Selfless love means you’re willing to help someone be the very best version of themselves, and that you’re happy to invest the time to do so. [Read: The biggest signs your partner is truly supportive of your goals]

So, what is the difference between selfless love and selfish love?

The two are often confused or assumed to be the same thing. There is a very real different between selfless love and selfish love. You don’t need to be a brain surgeon to realize that selfless is better than selfish! So, what is the difference?

Selfish love doesn’t feel as natural as selfless love. It’s often forced or sometimes feels like it’s just going on for too long. Perhaps one or both partners want to move on but don’t want to say it. Selfless love is accepting and free. It feels lighter and more harmonious. Sure, sometimes there are hard times and arguments, but these are dealt with more easily because both partners are on the same page. [Read: How to deal with arguments in a relationship]

If your relationship is constantly full of drama, a cycle of arguments, and feels exhausting, it’s not selfless. In that case, one partner could be less invested than the other, or simply looking for a way out. When your relationship is full of selfless love, you grow together and you’re happily pushing the other one to be the best they can be.

Does your relationship feel harmonious most of the time or does it feel like a constant soap opera of drama? That’s probably the best way to figure out whether it is selfless or selfish love. [Read: What does a healthy relationship look like? The guide to build one]

Is selfless love really that healthy?

This is a question that is asked a lot. It’s important that your needs are met just as much as your partner’s, so is selfless love healthy? The very simple answer is yes, as long as both partners are loving selflessly. If one partner is doing all the giving and the other is taking, it’s a recipe for disaster. [Read: 15 signs of a taker in a relationship – Are you a giver or a taker?]

There is nothing wrong with putting someone before yourself as long as you’re doing it for the right reasons. In a loving relationship, there will be times when you need extra support. In that case, your partner will put your needs before theirs. Then, when they’re struggling, you’ll drop a few things that are important to you for a while and be there for them.

It’s a give and take situation that swings back and forth. You both have each other’s best interests in heart and that’s why it’s not unhealthy.

When the relationship is full of two-sided selfless love, you build each other up and become a formidable force!

Is your partner a selfish lover while you’re a selfless lover?

If your partner is doing any of the following on a regular basis, that points to selfish love on their part: [Read: How to have a good relationship that gets better with each day]

1. Never there when you need them, but you’re always by their side when they’re down

2. Not one for apologies

3. Never down for compromise and always wants things their way

4. Not particularly interested if you’re upset or feeling down

5. Not supportive of new ideas or opportunities that come your way [Read: [Read: 13 things a boyfriend should do if he wants to prove his worth]

6. Always thinking of themselves before you

In this case, it doesn’t matter if you’re dropping everything and being the supportive partner, the relationship is out of balance. Everyone deserves selfless love, even if means waiting a little while to get it.

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

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: How to do the right think when there’s a lot of selfishness in your 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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