Ego Love or Authentic Love: How Do You Know If You Truly Love Someone?

senior couple hand-in-hand outdoors on the beachAs a therapist specializing in relationship issues, I often see people in therapy existentially contemplating what love really means. Some wonder whether they truly love(d) their partner, or if their partner truly loves/loved them. These are complicated questions because they often require defining “true love.”

This is, of course, a subjective venture; love may look and feel different to different people. But in considering such questions for yourself, it may be helpful to think about love on a couple of levels: ego love and authentic love (often referred to as “soul love”).

Ego Love

When we determine we have fallen in love with someone, this is often done based on euphoric feelings of infatuation. We think about the person constantly, craving connection with them both physically and emotionally. We want to know their thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs. We want to know about their past, be in their present, and dream about a future together.

And in return, we expect them to do the same. We expect reciprocity, desiring them as we expect to be desired. As we give them our time, attention, and affection, we expect the same. We view this quid pro quo as healthy and necessary: I will continue to give so long as I continue to get.

While balanced is healthy and necessary in relationships, what really separates authentic love and ego love is this litmus test: If your partner were to leave you tomorrow, would your feelings toward them change? Would you no longer feel love toward your partner out of resentment and anger?

We are conditioned to feel hurt and sadness when we are rejected. This is normal. The question I am posing here goes beyond natural feelings associated with rejection. This is a question of whether you truly love the person or if you love only what they give to you.

Ego love is not truly selfless because we inherently attach some condition of control or possession to it.

Ego love is based on conditions and expectations. Ego love says, “I love you to the extent you love me in return. I will not love you if you decide you do not love or want to be with me.” Ego love has strings attached: “I love you, but you have to change _____.” “I want you to be happy, so long as your happiness is in some way attached to me.” Ego love is not truly selfless because we inherently attach some condition of control or possession to it.

Authentic Love (“Soul Love”)

When love is authentic, it does not seek to control or possess. Authentic love is based on a selfless admiration and fondness for the other person. We truly value and wish them happiness, even if that happiness does not include us.

Authentic love says: “I love you, even if you do not want to be with me. I will not act out in malice, and will not wish you harm if you decide you do not want to be in my life.” Authentic love does not leave room for bitterness.

Authentic love is, in a word, freedom.

If You’re Not There, It’s Okay

Ideally, we all want to express authentic love and not ego love to our partners. However, this is not easily done. Often when we are hurt and feel rejected, it is easy to become angry and resentful. We do this out of self-protection, as a means of rationalizing and coping with the pain we feel.

Demonstrating authentic love takes practice, patience, and self-awareness. If you want to move away from ego love, try exploring what makes you believe you love your partner. Find ways to grow your fondness and admiration for the person they are, not what you gain from being with them.

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Meredith Shirey, MS, LMFT, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • valentina

    valentina

    April 27th, 2017 at 10:23 AM

    Sometimes the euphoric feelings fade and you have to be honest with yourself about whether you were actually seeking just that feeling, or of you are actually looking to grow this into something more permanent and long lasting.

  • Lostinlove

    Lostinlove

    April 28th, 2017 at 12:49 AM

    I see now that authentic love is what my 1st wife and I had. Unfortunately I love my new wife ego love but am working on changing it to authentic. Thanks for the article

  • Stephen

    Stephen

    April 28th, 2017 at 6:55 AM

    Over the years I have come to love my spouse more and more every day.
    I knew that it was true love for me when I was willing to give up anyone and everything to be with her.
    She would have never asked me to do that, but it was the knowledge knowing that I would if it came down to it.
    That was when I understood what love was all about, when I was ready and willing to put another’s needs and desires before my own.

  • Tina

    Tina

    April 30th, 2017 at 7:14 PM

    After reading this, I’m definitely in ego love with my husband, but I’m working toward an authentic love. I can’t imagine my life without him. We have three beautiful children together, and I want to love him the way he loves me which is without condition. I have a lot of issues that stem from my childhood and past relationships, and I hope that therapy will help me to overcome these issues so that I can love my husband the way he deserves.

  • Liv

    Liv

    July 5th, 2017 at 12:31 PM

    So can you Authentic love someone but still feel like your better off living seperate lives?
    How do you progress ego into authentic

  • Gummie

    Gummie

    August 9th, 2017 at 11:27 PM

    I always believed in REAL Love… Watching my Grandparent’s 50th anniversary years ago I that momentous casing an inner lacing of arms. Hands of which both had crystal glasses filled with champagne. “Yes..” Right then all the love theireyes elumated all from their faces yet they never looked away from one another. I have since yearned for a chance that I might live through such q powerful feeling as their love gave off all for myself someday. To just lock eye contact with my love’s eyes and suddently knowing i am right where I am meant to be till time ends. I just know I will fall face forward with bleeding love and wild passion of mine I had not even known….. (Sighs)

  • nelly

    nelly

    August 29th, 2017 at 12:21 PM

    Loves hard sometimes but dont let anyone hurt you ever!it hurts way too much and can cause depression!

  • Seffu

    Seffu

    May 29th, 2018 at 12:34 AM

    I honestly can’t tell if I love someone. We just started dating and I don’t really know what truely is love yet. I think and say I would give up anything for her but I don’t really know if I would. But I don’t think I would have any bitterness if I was rejected. I’d probably have bitterness to myself if anything else for not being the right one. Still, it’s just a depressing thought to think about.

  • AL

    AL

    July 17th, 2018 at 7:35 AM

    I went to the dermatologist last month. She was not young but about 10 years younger than me. I did get a skin cancer diagnosis. I didn’t have insurance and should never have gone there in the first place. In my opinion, people without health insurance are considered worthless in most of today’s medical clinics in the U.S. that is. Now, I’m at the county hospital. Since I saw her, I have felt a strong and ever present feeling of power and entrapment. The more I fight it, the more it constricts me. I’m 57 and haven’t been is relationship since I was in my 20’s. Maybe this is the work of the devil trying to confuse me, or it’s an illusion that I can’t identify. I’m ready for it to fad away fast. The only time it has no power is when I play my guitar, but after I finish, it comes back. I’ve been around too many quack doctors in my life, it would be impossible for me to approach her. I don’t like or agree with Trump, but I keep hoping this is “fake love” or it’s the misinterpretation of a less painful and harmful source. I’ve been single for a long, long time. To me, The thought of being in a relationship is more terrifying than drowning. This must be a love hoax! Like most human beings, I cannot see the whole picture. Too painful!! This to shall pass! Here ends my abstract, confusing, and obscure love hoax!! It doesn’t make sense. As my brother always used to say, “she’s probably married and has 5 kids”. Maybe there’s a third kind of love or spiritual love which passes all human understanding and really had nothing to do with this, It just could have happened after I was around this person. I could have just answered my own question. Love is the opposite of hate. Feelings of hate and anger are very discernible, on the hand, love can be soft or hard, can be smooth or rough, can be brutally honest or misleading, can come of flee without notice, can pay-off or be a risk. Most thoughts, experiences, and shortcomings loose their power if we confess. The energy and power are released, but true love will remain.

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