Healthy romantic relationships require give-and-take. Although relationships won’t be 50/50 all the time, both partners usually recognize the importance of compromise. In a one-sided relationship, however, one partner always does most of the emotional heavy lifting.
Dr. Elizabeth Fedrick, a licensed psychotherapist, tells us everything you need to know about one-sided relationships, including how to tell if you're in one and how to fix it.
“A one-sided relationship is a relational dynamic in which there are not equal efforts put into the quality and functioning of this relationship by both individuals,” explains Dr. Fedrick. “It’s a relationship that is focused more often on the wants and needs of one individual versus both.”
Dr. Fedrick cautions not to mistake one-sided relationships with good olf selflessness or compromise. “Compromise is a crucial component of any healthy relationship, [it’s] a really effective way to build trust and respect in a relationship, as it allows both individuals to feel seen, heard, and valued within this dynamic” she explains.
“Compromise sends the message that while our wants and needs are important, our partner’s wants and needs are equally important and must also be considered and met when possible.”
There will be times when one partner will have to compromise a bit more and vice versa, but Dr. Fedrick reassures that that’s normal in a romantic relationship.
“Despite the common misconception that relationships must be 50/50 at all times to be healthy, this is simply not the case,” she says.
“This ratio will fluctuate based on the needs of each partner and at times, one partner will be doing more of the giving or compromising, and at other times, it will be the other partner.”
However, when a relationship is one-sided it becomes the norm for only one partner to be doing most of the giving or compromising. “When this becomes the case, it is no longer considered compromise,” adds Dr. Fedrick.
So, what are some telltale signs that a relationship is one-sided? “Some ways you can tell if you’re in a one-sided relationship is if you feel you are constantly sacrificing your wants, needs, and boundaries to make your partner happy,” says Dr. Fedrick.
If you start to notice that there’s not much compromise in your relationship, but rather you’re the one to constantly give into your partner’s expectations or desires, you might be in a one-sided relationship.
Below are some warning signs to look for.
You’re always the one to initiate communication when you’re apart
You plan all the dates and activities, while your partner is apathetic
You’re always the first person to apologize or make up after an argument
You ignore your own needs to accommodate your partner’s desires or make them happy
Your partner often cancels plans last minute, even though you always make time for them
You feel insecure in the relationship or aren’t sure how your partner feels toward you
When you talk, you feel like your partner doesn’t listen to you, or doesn’t care about what you’re saying
You find yourself making excuses for your partner to your friends or family
Your partner isn’t there for you like you are for them
Your partner isn’t there for you when you need them like you are there for them.
Over time, you might start to feel unfulfilled or resentful toward your partner. “The partner who is making all of the efforts doesn’t feel seen, heard, or taken care of and instead feels unimportant and insignificant in this dynamic,” adds Dr. Fedrick.
“This starts to endanger a relationship in multiple ways, including creating conflict, distrust, and resentment. When one individual is frequently the only one giving or compromising, they will inevitably have a difficult time trusting that their partner cares about them or values them in the same way. Over time, this leads to a rupture and disconnect in the relationship.”
Another reason why one-sided relationships can be unhealthy is that they can lead to what Dr. Fedrick refers to as “self-betrayal”. “The individual who is doing a majority of the sacrificing might abandon some of their personal values, beliefs, or priorities to please their partner,” she explains.
Maintaining a sense of individuality is very important in romantic relationships. “When individuals in a relationship feel they have to frequently betray their own wants and needs to keep their partner happy, they will start to lose their identity and authentic self in this dynamic, which ultimately results in a shallow or disconnected relationship.”
Sometimes, one-sided relationships happen because one partner is toxic or has an avoidant attachment style.
“Generally, this type of dynamic takes place when there is someone with narcissistic tendencies in the relationship, as well as the other person demonstrating codependent tendencies,” explains Dr. Fedrick. “These personality types are often attracted to each other, which makes a one-sided relationship much more likely to take place.”
But being in a one-sided relationship doesn’t always mean your partner is taking advantage of you or doesn’t care about you. More often than not, one-sided relationships indicate poor communication. It might be that they don’t know what your boundaries or expectations are, or that their behavior is upsetting you.
This is why improving your communication skills is so vital. Open and honest communication can help you express each other’s needs and concerns better.
Although you can’t change your partner, you can change your relationship dynamic as long as both of you are on the same page and willing to put the effort in.
“Yes, it’s absolutely possible to change a one-sided relationship if both partners are aware of the issue and both make intentional efforts towards change,” says Dr. Fedrick, adding that the first step will be working on compromise.
“The relationship is worth saving if your partner can recognize that the relationship is lacking compromise and that they need to become more intentional in showing up for your wants and needs and respecting your boundaries,” she adds.
“Essentially, self-awareness and intentional efforts towards change are the most important aspects of determining if the relationship is worth saving.”
The first and foremost way to fix a one-sided conversation is by engaging in open, honest, and safe communication.
Dr. Fedrick recommends having guidelines in place for these types of conversations, such as:
not attacking or being critical of each other’s opinions or perspectives
coming to the table with a list of what is really important to you, and what you’re willing to compromise on or not.
“It’s worth considering walking away from the relationship if your partner lacks self-awareness regarding their role in this dynamic,” explains Dr. Fedrick.
“If they are unable to see that the relationship is one-sided, as well as unable to see how they are contributing to this, it’s likely in your best interest to cut ties and move on.”