10 subtle signs of conditional love in a relationship, according to psychology

Being in love is awesome. But for some, love is a weapon. They use it to wrap people around their fingers and manipulate them into doing what suits them. 

Well, when love’s conditional like that, you might notice some signs. Such as keeping score, expecting perfection, or only showing affection when it benefits them. 

So, let’s explore these and additional signs of conditional love in a relationship, according to psychology. 

1) They’re control freaks

From unresolved childhood traumas to a need for validation and security, there are many reasons why people are control freaks. 

But the simple fact is they try to control every aspect of your life, from who you spend time with to what you do in your free time. 

People like that don’t trust you to make your own decisions, and they need to micromanage everything.

It can make your life a living hell as you have someone constantly looking over your shoulder and not just checking what you’re doing but actively telling you. 

Of course, if you don’t comply and listen to them, they start threatening you in more ways than one until you bow down. 

And if all else fails, they guilt-trip you into submission. 

2) They guilt-trip you

Whenever you try to assert yourself or set boundaries, they make you feel guilty for doing so. 

They’re using your sense of guilt as a way to manipulate you into doing what they want. 

A well-known guilt-trip tactic is the silent treatment. I’m sure you’re familiar with it. In a relationship, one partner may give silent treatment to the other, refusing to communicate or interact until the other feels guilty enough to apologize or make amends.

Another typical example is comparing you to other people who supposedly treat them better, implying that you’re falling short and should feel guilty for not measuring up.

More on that in a bit. 

3) They treat love like a transaction

A huge red flag for conditional love is when they only give love and affection when they expect something in return. 

They see love as a business deal where you have to give to get instead of something that should be freely given and received.

Viewing love as a transaction reflects a superficial understanding of emotional intimacy and a lack of genuine bond between the partners. 

Psychologically, it can reveal a fear of vulnerability and an ineptitude to form deep, noteworthy relationships.

But you know what they can do well? Compare you to others, of course. 

4) They constantly compare you to others 

If they’re always comparing you to someone else, whether it’s their ex, their friend’s partner, or even a celebrity, that’s just not fair to you or your relationship. 

It means they can’t see you for who you are because they’re too busy looking at everyone else.

Psychologically, it suggests a lack of acceptance and appreciation for your unique qualities. I don’t understand why so many people enter relationships thinking they’ll be able to change their partners and the things and behaviors they don’t like about them. 

It’s a fool’s errand and makes them disappointed down the line when they see their partner isn’t nudging their way. 

And what happens then? They start punishing them for the mistakes they make, even if they’re harmless. 

5) They punish mistakes

Everyone messes up from time to time, but instead of forgiving and moving on, they hold onto your mistakes and use them against you. 

Each and every one of your slip-ups is ammunition to mock you or, worse yet, to justify withholding their love and affection. 

For example, in front of friends and family, they bring up your mistakes and embarrass you publicly. 

They may use humor or sarcasm to downplay the severity of the situation. Still, their intention is to shame you and undermine your self-confidence.

Or, even after you’ve apologized and tried to make amends, they continue to bring up your past mistakes in unrelated arguments or discussions. 

They use your past errors as leverage to win arguments or justify their own behavior, creating a cycle of resentment and mistrust.

6) They pull back affection

behaviors emotionally immature people display in relationships without realizing it 1 10 subtle signs of conditional love in a relationship, according to psychology

You might notice that when things don’t go their way or you don’t meet their expectations, they suddenly become distant. 

They’re only affectionate when everything is going smoothly, and the moment there’s a bump in the road, they withdraw emotionally.

One moment, they’re showering you with love and affection, and the next, they’re distant and cold. 

Because of that, you never know where you stand with them, and it leaves you feeling insecure and anxious.

When someone consistently pulls back affection when things get tough in a relationship, it usually means they’re not feeling very secure emotionally. 

This lack of emotional security can come from past experiences where they didn’t feel supported or loved enough. 

As a result, they developed a kind of defense mechanism where they’re afraid to show vulnerability or get too close to someone.

7) They love power struggles

People who are in love with conditional love always want to be in control, whether it’s making decisions for both of you or dictating how things should be. 

They thrive on the feeling of being in control and calling the shots. It’s almost as if they believe that being the one in charge is the only way to prove their worth or importance in the relationship.

This constant power struggle creates tension and conflict within the relationship because they dismiss your opinions or needs, believing that their way is always the right way. 

At its core, this behavior stems from a need for control and validation. They feel insecure or inadequate, and being in control gives them a sense of power and superiority. 

They’re trying to compensate for their own insecurities by exerting control over you and the relationship.

8) They want perfection

They have this picture-perfect idea of how you should be, and if you don’t fit into that mold, they withhold their love and affection. 

As I already mentioned, they can’t accept you for who you are, flaws and all.

That’s why they constantly nitpick and criticize small imperfections or quirks about you, making you feel like you’re never good enough.

They expect you to meet impossibly high standards in every aspect of your life, whether it’s your appearance, career, or personal habits.

Even worse, they become defensive or dismissive when you offer constructive criticism or feedback, unable to handle any suggestion that they might not be perfect themselves.

9) They offer limited support

You know how when you’re going through a tough time, and you really need someone to lean on, they’re just not there for you? 

They disappear when things get rough, leaving you feeling like you’re all alone in dealing with your problems. 

It’s like they’re only willing to help if it benefits them in some way. 

Even when you reach out to them for help or support, they’re either too busy or too caught up in their own stuff to lend you a hand.

And it’s not just about being physically present. It’s also about emotional support. You pour your heart out to them, hoping for a shoulder to cry on or some words of comfort, but all you get in return is silence or indifference.

10) They lack empathy

When someone lacks empathy, it’s like they’re living in their own bubble, completely unaware or unconcerned about what you’re going through. 

They might listen to you talk about your feelings or struggles, but they don’t really get it or seem to care.

Even when you try to explain how you’re feeling, they’re not really listening or attempting to understand. 

So they brush off your concerns or change the subject, leaving you alone in your struggles.

Final thoughts

Recognizing these behaviors is the first step to enabling a healthier, more accepting dynamic where both of you can embrace each other’s imperfections and grow together.

Above all, you must consider what you want and deserve from a partner in terms of love, respect, and support.

Ultimately, you need to assess whether the relationship is meeting your emotional needs and contributing positively to your life. 

Ponder whether your partner is willing to make changes and work on the relationship together.

Picture of Adrian Volenik

Adrian Volenik

Adrian has years of experience in the field of personal development and building wealth. Both physical and spiritual. He has a deep understanding of the human mind and a passion for helping people enhance their lives. Adrian loves to share practical tips and insights that can help readers achieve their personal and professional goals. He has lived in several European countries and has now settled in Portugal with his family. When he’s not writing, he enjoys going to the beach, hiking, drinking sangria, and spending time with his wife and son.

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