8 Signs You’re in a One-Sided Relationship
If you're giving more than you're getting, it's time to reassess and have your needs met. Here are the signs of a one-sided relationship.
What is a one-sided relationship?
The best way to think about one-sided relationships is to picture a bridge, says Dana McNeil, a licensed therapist in San Diego. When things happen in the relationship, how far do you go across the bridge to tend to them?
If your answer is 80 percent of the way, that’s not a good sign.
“What I’m teaching the other person is you can just come 20 percent out, and you can wait because I’ve taught you that I’m going to do all the extra work,” she says. “That’s not a healthy relationship.”
Of course, all relationships have their ebbs and flows. Sure, the ideal is fifty-fifty, but there may be days when you do 75 percent of the work because your partner is too busy or stressed. Then there are times when you need to step back and let your partner do even 100 percent because you can’t handle more than yourself for a while.
This is normal. But if you’re constantly putting in more energy, attention, time, responsibility, and emotion, then that’s a one-sided relationship, say experts.
Still unsure whether or not you’re in a one-sided relationship? Our experts share the telltale signs, how to fix a one-sided relationship, and when one-sidedness is a relationship deal-breaker. (While we address romantic relationships here, the same signs are true for any relationship, including a friend, family member, or a partner.)
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Signs of a one-sided relationship
Sometimes it’s crystal clear when your relationship is lopsided. But some people may not recognize when a relationship is one sided. The following characteristics will help you identify a one-sided relationship.
You do the planning
You find the places to eat, plan the fun weekend activities, and set up the times and days for all your dates. Your partner can’t be bothered to come up with ideas or make much of an effort.
Sure, your love interest may invite you to tag along and may be happy enough to accompany you if you’re the one buying lunch. But being with you isn’t high on their list of priorities, McNeil says.
“People make time for the things that are important to them. I think that’s the takeaway. So if they’re not making time for you, then they might not care as much about you or the relationship,” says Beth Sonnenberg, a psychotherapist in Livingston, New Jersey.
Your partner’s needs are more pressing than yours
“You generally do things for your partner that they should be doing for themselves. That could mean something as trivial as buying birthday cards for their mom to helping them with a work presentation,” says Jill P. Weber, a clinical psychologist in Washington, D.C. and author of Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy: Why Women Settle for One-Sided Relationships.
But it’s not just about the attention you give your partner’s needs. It’s about the lack of attention you give your own.
“You also get talked out of doing important things for yourself as your partner guilts you into believing that their needs, wants, or issues are more important than yours,” she notes.
For example, you have a yoga class but at the last minute, your significant other needs you to drive them to get their car from the mechanic. You might protest that you have your class, but your partner convinces you that the car is the priority.
“At first it makes sense—they need the car—but over time it is a pattern that whatever is pressing for them takes priority over you, and you allow that to happen,” Weber explains.
Your significant other doesn’t listen to you
You are your partner’s sounding board for gripes with work, family, or friends and are willing to help problem-solve.
When it comes time to reciprocate, however, you hear, “I’m too busy,” says Sonnenberg.
“It’s really about listening,” she says. “Maybe they’re not good at giving advice, but they don’t even make the effort to be there for you or give you the same time or energy.”
(Check out these helpful tips on being a better listener.)
You do the emotional heavy lifting
One-sided relationships are unbalanced, and one big sign of that is when you’re the only one who initiates conversations about the relationship and about your feelings, says McNeil.
If your partner’s not willing to talk about how they feel—or if they can’t tell you if they love you (or even like you more than a friend), then the partnership is out of whack.
(Here’s how you can improve the communication in your relationship.)
You don’t know where you stand
Because your significant other isn’t discussing their feelings, you’re probably second-guessing the relationship, says McNeil.
She says you may be thinking, “I’m not really sure if you just see me as a friend or you see me as a sometimes companion, or do you really feel love for me? Why am I constantly expressing how I feel, and I’m not sure how you feel?”
If most of your conversations and interactions take place over text, that could account for your confusion, says Sonnenberg, adding this is especially true of young adults and teens. Asking to spend time IRL may bring about more clarity, particularly if your love interest isn’t that interested in real-life meetings.
Your partner may also be sending you mixed signals, notes McNeil. They may be saying they’re not going to be available and don’t have the emotional space to get into a relationship, but when you’re together they let you know how special the relationship feels.
“That’s a mind screw,” she says frankly.
You make excuses for your partner’s behavior
Making excuses for or accommodating your partner’s behavior is to your detriment, says Weber. As is making allowances to explain their indifference or inability to see or even text you.
If you do those things too often, it’s a huge relationship red flag, say experts.
You constantly apologize
Right up there with making allowances is saying you’re sorry for, well, everything.
“I might find myself apologizing for more than feels appropriate because I just want to make sure that we’re OK, and I want to make sure that we’re always good with each other and that you know how much that I care,” says McNeil.
This is another signal that you feel insecure about the relationship.
You ignore the warning signs
Instead of questioning signs something’s not right in your relationship, you focus on the good things, says McNeil.
Maybe you zero in on the fact that your partner says you’re great (because they like the fact that you are doing all the work) and they’ve never felt this way about anyone. But you ignore the fact that your new love is only available one day a week (or less than whatever cadence feels right for you), doesn’t bother to respond to your texts. or seems to be out of town a lot.
What causes one-sided relationships?
Anyone can get into a lopsided relationship, says McNeil, and it can mean you have a codependent personality.
Some of the hallmarks of codependency include taking better care of others than you do yourself, having difficulty saying no without feeling guilty, and obsessing about others by thinking of them, feeling anxious about them, and checking up on them.
“Being codependent means you are looking for some outside validation or use love, companionship, or fear of being alone to rule how you conduct yourself in your relationship,” she explains.
You may also think by making yourself indispensable you can ensure that the relationship lasts.
“Sometimes we believe that if we make ourselves indispensable to the other person—so that they don’t have to worry about things—it’s my way of trying to assure that you won’t go away, and I won’t end up lonely,” McNeil notes.
Drawbacks to being in a one-sided relationship
At first, you may be comfortable being in a role in which you feel important, loved, and needed, says Weber.
“Over time, however, you start to feel alone, unknown, and deeply neglected,” she says. “You may start to feel like the only way you can keep people interested in you is to be there for them and subjugate yourself.”
It’s also hard to feel secure and at peace.
“You are often trying to figure out what your partner is thinking and what they need from you, or you are resentful that they aren’t taking care of you in the way you deserve,” says Weber. “In addition, you may feel lonely, as your partner doesn’t really know you or take an interest in understanding you and who you are as a person.”
Ways to fix a one-sided relationship
Two things have to be present to turn this type of relationship into something more balanced, says McNeil. And they have to happen simultaneously.
“The other person is into you as much as you’re into them, so they have to have genuine affection, dedication, and interest,” she says. “And you have to start setting healthier boundaries.”
Here are the steps to take find out the first and start practicing the second.
Keep a list
Start keeping track of the things you and your partner do for each other, not so you can play the blame game but so you can get down on paper all the things you’ve noticed that feel lopsided, says McNeil.
That way, you’re less apt to dismiss or minimize your observations. Then take your list to a friend or another objective third party so that person can confirm what you’ve seen.
Analyze your role
You can do this with a therapist or on your own, but you need to own your actions, too, says McNeil.
Ask yourself: Why has this been OK for you? Why are you allowing this to happen? What’s coming up for you when you think about doing something different?
You can also review the pros and cons of staying in the relationship.
Try not to minimize your emotions, either, she says.
“When something doesn’t feel good, when I feel angry or disregarded, or it feels like someone has more power over me, those are indications. Those emotions are warning signs that I probably need to set a healthy boundary,” she explains.
So sit quietly with your feelings and figure out what you need to do differently to get your needs met.
“Even if the consequences are that this person might go away, I need to honor my needs, and I need to stick up for what’s important to me because I’m important,” says McNeil.
Have a heart-to-heart with your partner
To keep things from escalating or your partner from getting defensive, start with how you feel.
“Especially in an unbalanced relationship, explaining how you feel and how you’re made to feel because of their actions is a good starting point,” says Sonnenberg.
So, for example, you might say, “It makes me sad when I feel like I’m not your priority.” Or “I’m disappointed that you haven’t made as much time for me as I feel I’ve made for you.”
Then be specific when you point out how uneven the relationship has become, Sonnenberg notes.
For instance, you say, “I’ve planned our last two dates. Do you want to plan our next one?” Or “I’ve given you such great work advice. Can you make time for me later on today to help me with something going on at work?”
From there, Sonnenberg says, you have to give your partner the opportunity to see if they can carry more of the weight—and if they’re willing and capable.
“And if they’re not willing to, then that says a lot,” says Sonnenberg. It’ll provide clues as to whether they are into you.
One way to get the relationship back on track is to set up a schedule so you’re both on the same page, which lessens the chance of one person feeling disappointed, Sonnenberg explains.
So you set aside different evenings when you’re going to get together in person, talk via FaceTime, or spend the night. “Like Wednesday and Sunday nights are the nights we’re sleeping together,” Sonnenberg adds.
(Here’s the best time to have sex.)
State your limits
Say your person is only available to see you once a week and you would like to spend more time together. When you have your conversation, you can empathize with your partner’s need for space but also ask for what you need in order to have a close, connected relationship, says McNeil.
That may be as simple as talking on the phone a couple of nights a week, texting during lunch, or even seeing each other on two evenings rather than one. You just need to negotiate what’s acceptable to you.
“That then says to the other person, ‘I value my needs, and this is feeling too one-sided. We’re doing what’s comfortable for you all the time, and we’re not getting anything that’s reciprocal for me to feel like I have value in this relationship,'” says McNeil.
That might open your partner’s eyes and motivate them to make you more of a priority.
“A one-sided relationship doesn’t mean it has to stay that way,” says Sonnenberg.
Maybe your partner isn’t even aware that they making you feel so bad.
If your partner changes and starts to work on the relationship, then it’s worth sticking around.
When to ditch the relationship
Of course, your partner may not be interested in negotiating or seeing you more often. In that case, you have to suck it up and be willing to leave, says McNeil.
Sonnenberg agrees. “If they’re not willing to change or give more time or energy to the relationship, then it’s a very unhealthy one and shouldn’t go on,” she says.
You also run the risk of driving your partner away if you stay, says McNeil.
“If the person believes that you don’t expect or ask any more of them, then they get tired of you because you’ve never actually shown them who you are,” she says. “You just are this ‘yes’ person who goes along with everything. That gets boring after a while.”