The 4 Warning Signs You're In a One-Sided Relationship

Plus, how to know whether or not it's time to walk away.
One-Sided Relationship
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Dina Cheney - The Knot Contributor.
Dina Cheney
Dina Cheney - The Knot Contributor.
Dina Cheney
The Knot Contributor
  • Dina writes for The Knot Worldwide, specializing in food, travel and relationships.
  • With more than 20 years of experience in service journalism, she also pens articles and recipes for publications, such as Good Housekeeping, Parents, SELF, Health, Men’s Health, Men’s Journal, Prevention, Fine Cooking, Weight Watchers and Diabetic Living.
  • Dina graduated from Columbia College, Columbia University and The Institute of Cul...
Updated Jun 30, 2023

Let's set the scene: You're exhausted and maybe even hurt and resentful. For what feels like the zillionth time, you're the one initiating a date or sex with your partner. Sound familiar? Then you may be in what's known as a one-sided relationship.

For insight into what is a one-sided relationship, as well as the signs of this common relationship pattern, we turned to two experts in the field: Marisa T. Cohen, Ph.D., LMFT is a relationship scientist, therapist and professor; while relationship expert Susan Winter is a coaching professional and the author of Breakup Triage: The Cure for Heartache.

So if you suspect you may be in a one-sided relationship, scroll on to learn what they are and how to spot them.

What Is a One-sided Relationship?

A one-sided relationship features an unequal investment by partners, with one putting in more time, energy, or commitment into the relationship than the other. "You're the one who's doing all the giving," Winter explains. "The more you put into the relationship, the less you get back. There's a constant feeling that your tank is on empty."

Although one-sided relationships can be frustrating, they aren't the same as one-sided love, Dr. Cohen is sure to note. Unlike one-sided love (where one person's affection is not returned by the other), one-sided relationships can feature a balance of love.

What Causes a One-Sided Relationship?

There may or may not always be a specific root cause as to why a relationship is or becomes one-sided. However, Dr. Cohen does identify three common causes that are often behind the imbalance.

  • Attachment issues: A partner who is avoidantly attached may be more hesitant to make a commitment and invest in a relationship.
  • Outside circumstances: Life events or stressors may cause one partner to lose the emotional capacity to invest in a relationship.
  • Differing goals and expectations: One partner may view a relationship as a serious commitment, while the other sees it as more casual.

What Are the Signs of a One-Sided Relationship?

Worried about there not being a ton of partnering in your partnership? Consider the following signs of a one-sided relationship, keeping in mind that a relationship can have temporary imbalances throughout their course. For instance, if one partner is sick or grieving a loss, they might not have the energy to invest at that time. In those cases, do your best to be patient while being sure to take care of yourself, too.

1. You're feeling drained by your relationship.

You're depleted from putting in most or all the effort, says Dr. Cohen. This effort may be setting-up and following through with plans, monitoring the progress of your relationship or focusing on the quality of your communication.

2. You and your partner have different priorities.

Identify whether you're focusing on your partner's needs, wants and goals at the expense of your own, Dr. Cohen recommends. If your partner hasn't been making you one of their priorities in return, it's cause for pause.

3. You make a lot of excuses for your partner.

Maybe you tell yourself your partner is busy or struggles to express emotions. Constantly excusing their inattention or indifference isn't what a relationship should be.

4. Your partner does not respect your feelings.

This is the biggie: The main sign you're in a one-sided relationship is if you communicate your needs and desires, and your partner doesn't listen or meet them. (Hello, wake-up call.)

How to Fix a One-Sided Relationship

Imbalance isn't always a deal breaker, says Winter. But ask yourself how much effort you're willing to invest to fix your relationship, especially given the one-sidedness you've noticed, she counsels. If you decide it's worth the investment, know there's hope if both partners are patient, caring and communicative. For extra support, consider seeing a couple's counselor, Dr. Cohen recommends.

1. Think through what you want in a relationship

First, figure out what's missing in your current relationship. Why do you feel the way you feel, and what situations prompted those feelings? Identifying specific actions, situations or events that have been hurtful will help you communicate with your partner.

2. Talk to your partner about how you feel.

Voice your feelings and observations to your partner, advises Dr. Cohen. The more precise you are, the better. For example, explain how you're always the one planning your dates, specifying certain activities you've planned. Sharing details can help guide the conversation so your partner won't have to respond to abstract ideas.

Once you've opened up to them, you might discover your partner didn't realize how much of the emotional and mental heavy lifting you were doing. By creating space in the conversation for them to respond, you might gain insight into their behavior. Perhaps they've just been under enormous stress at work, for instance.

3. Tell them how you'd like things to change.

Provide the most concrete ideal scenarios you can. No one, including your partner, can read minds. For instance, if you'd like them to emotionally check in with you regularly, tell them. Changes and compromises can happen.

4. Give gratitude

If your partner listens and acknowledges the validity of your feelings, express your gratitude. Let them know that you appreciate their openness, even if the conversation was difficult.

How to End a One-sided Relationship

If your partner doesn't respond to your needs or follow through on changes, Dr. Cohen advises ending the relationship.

Be very clear, she says. State that you're breaking up and explain why—whether it was because they weren't receptive to your feelings, or they still weren't matching your effort after a certain amount of time. Then, clearly outline your boundaries for moving forward. (You deserve someone who puts in the effort, after all!)

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