Are You in a One Sided Relationship?

couple one sided relationship at coffee shop

There’s nothing worse than unrequited love…except for unrequited love in your own relationship. The relationship may have started out great; you never had any reason to question your partner’s love for you. But then a few months pass, and you notice your partner texting you less and less, planning fewer and fewer dates, and hardly contributing to the relationship at all. Or maybe your partner was unreliable and disengaged from the start. Are you in a one sided relationship? You may feel like no matter how much effort you put into your relationship, your partner never matches your effort. You feel hurt, alone, and rejected, while your partner is uncaring or oblivious.

If this sounds like your relationship, don’t panic. You can always talk to your partner and see if there's a reason for their disengagement and if they're willing to make changes to improve the one sided relationship dynamic. But if your partner doesn’t change, remember that you don’t have to put up with someone who can’t or won’t put in a fair amount of effort into the relationship. There are always other people out there who can treat you the way you deserve to be treated.


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What Is a One Sided Relationship?

If you’ve never experienced a one sided relationship, consider yourself lucky. It’s a painful dynamic in which one partner is significantly more invested in the relationship than the other person. Relationship expert Kelly Campbell, PhD., describes a one sided relationship as one where one partner is "putting in a lot [more] in terms of resources (time, money, emotional investment) [than the other] and getting little to nothing in return."

It’s normal for relationship dynamics to fluctuate—sometimes one person takes on more responsibility in the relationship, and then it flips to the other person. But if you notice that you’re always doing the heavy lifting in your relationship, and you’re not getting the sort of reciprocity you’re looking for, you could be in a one sided relationship.

There are some telltale signs of a one sided relationship that you can look for in yourself or in your partner, but the experience is different for everyone. Sometimes, underlying relationship problems or incompatible attachment styles can lead to one sided relationships—avoidant attachments and anxious attachments can create a difficult dynamic, for example—but sometimes there are other reasons relationships become one-sided.

Read on to see if you could be in a one sided relationship.

You Find Yourself Putting in More Time, Effort, or Money

You spend money on your partner—you love them and want to treat them with gifts and nice dinners. Your partner spends his money on clothes and drinks with friends. You spend a good amount of your free time planning or initiating quality time with your partner, while he spends his free time playing video games and seeing friends. You always initiate sex and your partner never does.

Noticing a pattern? The first sign of a one sided relationship is pretty straightforward: one person is putting in way more effort than the other person. Sometimes this is normal—but only if it’s a temporary imbalance. If your partner is always lacking in prioritizing you and your relationship, it’s a one sided relationship.

You Second-Guess Yourself

Relationships should be affirming experiences. You should feel loved, seen, and supported by your partner. When you're in a one sided relationship, however, you may start to question yourself, thinking, Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Am I exciting enough? Why doesn’t he care? When your partner doesn’t prioritize you or the relationship, it’s easy to think it’s because you’ve done something wrong. Sometimes you may even become fixated on trying to win your partner’s affection or attention, getting so caught up in chasing your partner that you forgo your own needs.

This can lead to a weakening of your self-esteem, and if you spend too much time trying to win someone’s love, you can lose yourself entirely in the tumult of the relationship. For these reasons, it’s important to always remember that a one sided relationship is not your fault. There are many underlying problems that can contribute to a one sided relationship, and rarely do they have to do with your appearance, personality, or how lovable you are.

You Make Excuses for Your Partner

Your partner forgot your birthday…again. You’re hurt and frustrated, but you know that if you tell anyone, they’ll jump to conclusions and tell you to dump him. So, instead, you make up lies and excuses to cover for his bad behavior. You may also make excuses for him to yourself; if he takes a whole day to reply to a text, you convince yourself he was just too busy to respond. If months go by without him planning any sort of romantic date, it’s because he’s too tired to put in the effort, and so on.

If you find yourself going through mental gymnastics trying to explain your partner’s behavior, there’s a chance you're in a one sided relationship. 


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You Feel Anxious And Insecure in Your Relationship

Like second-guessing yourself, feeling insecure is not a great sign in a relationship. It’s normal to have some insecurity, especially in the beginning, but if your relationship feels like it’s on shaky ground after more than a year of dating, it may mean something is a bit off-kilter.

Your relationship is bound to have ups and downs, but in a healthy relationship, you shouldn't be feeling constantly anxious, insecure, or exhausted by your relationship. If it takes a mental and physical toll on you, it’s not healthy. According to a Thriving Path article, if your relationship leaves you feeling depleted, it may not be a good fit.

Your Partner Calls You Clingy or Says You Want Too Much

If you’ve tried to express your feelings to your partner, you may have been met with anger, dismissal, or denial. In one sided relationships, the partner who's not contributing may be blind to their own lack of effort in the relationship, and when their partner talks to them about it, they may think they're needy or asking for too much. Additionally, the person who's doing less work in the relationship is probably comfortable with that dynamic—after all, doing no work in a one sided relationship is easier than putting in the effort. For that reason, if you suggest a change, your partner may not be receptive.

Reminder: asking for the bare minimum is never asking too much. If your partner gets mad or dismisses your feelings, he's only validating the fact that you're in a one sided relationship.


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Can You Fix a One Sided Relationship?

It's possible to work on a relationship to restore balance. If your partner is receptive to your concerns, willing to take a critical look at themselves, and able to be honest with you, that greatly improves the chances of rebalancing your relationship. You can discuss boundaries and expectations for the relationship to work towards a dynamic that works better for both of you.

Talk to Your Partner About Your Feelings

Before talking to your partner about your feelings, it may be wise to make a thorough list of your concerns, and even bring that list to the conversation. If you’re an emotional person, sometimes conversations of this type don’t go well; it’s kind of hard to get your point across when you’re sobbing (we've all been there). You’re so sad and frustrated with your partner that all that comes out in your conversations are accusations and tears, and none of the important stuff gets sorted out.

You don’t have to feel bad about being emotional, but a way to work on this and make sure your conversations are productive is to minimize blaming or shaming, keep emotions level, and be honest about your wants and needs. Referencing a list will also help you stay on track and discuss the important things. 

Try to establish regular meetings for communication about the relationship. A confrontation-avoidant partner may react badly to discussions about the one sided relationship if they aren’t prepared to talk about things. They may feel more comfortable discussing problems if you've designated a set day for relationship check-ins.

If your partner isn't receptive to your efforts, it may be time to leave the relationship. As hard as it is to accept, people show you who they are through their actions. If it seems like your partner doesn’t care about the relationship, it's likely true on some level. You shouldn’t compromise your boundaries and expectations to stay in a one sided relationship that isn’t good for you.

Do You Constantly Find Yourself in One Sided Relationships?

Although it’s easy to blame one sided relationships on the partner who contributes the least, there are some elements of the dynamic that fall onto the more giving partner. Take a minute to think about your past relationships. Were many of them also one sided?

There's a chance you're unconsciously seeking out partners who are emotionally unavailable and unable to meet your needs. This behavior often stems from family dynamics in which a close family member was unreliable and unavailable; as a child, you got used to this sort of imbalanced relationship. Even when you think you know what you want in a partner, you may subconsciously recreate these childhood patterns of relationships because you've internalized the idea that you don’t deserve a healthy relationship. We seek what's familiar, even against our better judgment—if you come from an unhealthy family, it's likely you'll also deal with some unhealthy relationships.

You may also be a people-pleaser or a giver; you believe that you can only be loved when you're the giver in a relationship. Perhaps you're overly attuned to other peoples’ emotions, meaning you give 200% in a relationship in effort to keep your partner happy while getting nothing in return.

Whatever the case may be, it certainly doesn’t mean you’re doomed to be in unsatisfying, one sided relationships forever. Taking some time to reflect on your childhood and family dynamics can be helpful in uncovering reasons why you end up in one sided relationships. Therapy and counselling can also help you better understand your relationship issues and attachment style.


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One-Sided Friendships

One-sided dynamics don’t occur just in romantic relationships—friendships can also be one sided relationships. Just like childhood wounds can carry into adult relationships, these patterns can play into friendships, as well. You may be part of a one sided friendship if you're the one who always initiates plans or if you always call or text first.

Additionally, friendships, where one friend leans more on the other for emotional support, can be unbalanced. For example, you may always be there for your friend in her time of need, but when something comes up for you, she isn’t supportive at all. She may say she doesn’t have the time to talk, or if you're able to talk to her, she's not present in the conversation and isn’t interested in helping you.

One sided friendships can be just as difficult as one sided relationships. It's heartbreaking to feel like someone who's supposed to be your friend isn’t actually interested in real emotional connection. If you’re someone’s go-to venting person, but you can never vent to them, it’s probably a one sided friendship.

Are You The Problem in Your One Sided Relationship?

Most of the information in this article has been geared toward the ‘giver’ in the one sided relationship. But, maybe you’re actually the ‘taker’ in the one sided relationship. Do you shy away from serious conversations with your partner? Do you fear confrontation or real emotional intimacy? Do you always put your needs above your partner’s? Do you avoid or dismiss your partner’s needs?

If you answered yes to the questions above, you may be taking advantage of your partner and perpetuating a toxic or one sided relationship. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, but it does call for a look inward and an evaluation of your behavior in the relationship.

Should You Bail on a One Sided Relationship?

Only you can decide if a one sided relationship is worth fighting for. If you're constantly drained and anxious, that’s a sign that you need to distance yourself from the relationship. You may have taken on so much responsibility in the relationship that you're burnt out emotionally—after all, it’s tiring to carry an entire relationship by yourself.

If your partner is not receptive to your wants and needs—or if he says he'll change, but his behavior doesn’t change—you should probably find someone who's a better fit for you. Lastly, if your partner has a pattern of gaslighting you, getting angry at you, or trying to shame you for your needs, it’s safe to say that person isn't going to change any time soon.

On the other hand, some relationships can improve with time and effort. If you notice your partner making positive changes after your conversations, you may want to wait it out and see if the relationship takes a turn for the better. Couples counseling can also be helpful in saving a struggling or one sided relationship.

People are capable of change, but only if they want it. No matter how upsetting it is for you, they won't change unless they want to.


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The Responsibilities of the Relationship Should Fall on Both People

No matter how much of a giver or people-pleaser you are, it’s not healthy to consistently take on all the responsibilities in a relationship. You have to advocate for your needs, even if it feels wrong or selfish. Depending on your upbringing, even expressing your needs may feel alien to you. But you deserve to have a partner who makes you feel seen and supported, who wants to put in equal effort. Seriously, the bare minimum is treating you like a human being, and if he can't even do that, you deserve so much better. 

Avoiding a One Sided Relationship

There are many things you can work on to avoid repeating the same patterns and ending up in one sided relationships. First of all, focus the majority of your time and energy on yourself. Especially if you're in the midst of a one sided relationship, you should disengage from the other person’s needs and redirect that energy to your own needs. It’s not to punish your partner—it’s to reconnect you with your own boundaries. If you’re single, focusing your energy on yourself can help you have the confidence and self-worth to choose partners in the future who treat you well.

Try not to rely on your partner for everything. Of course, you should be able to turn to your partner when you’re in need, but the truth is that no one will ever meet every single one of your needs at all times. Having a good supportive network of friends and family to lean on will help you feel less anxious and powerless if you find yourself in a one sided relationship.

Don’t romanticize your partner or future partners. It’s important you see your partner clearly, not through the rose-tinted glasses of infatuation. If signs of disengagement are clear early on, it’s likely that the one sided relationship imbalance will only get worse. If your partner is also a ‘taker’ in friendships and family dynamics, you have to acknowledge the fact that he'll probably be the same way in a romantic relationship.

Always stand up for yourself in your relationship. If you have doubts and concerns, don’t stifle them. Don’t settle for the bare minimum, and remember that you can always end a one sided relationship if your partner continually fails to meet your needs. Let your partner know that you need to be with someone who's there for you and who wants to put the work in to create a happy and balanced relationship. It's ultimately up to them to meet those expectations.

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