Are You in a One-Sided Relationship?

How can I cope with being in a one-sided relationship?
on January 10, 2024
Read time: 10 mins
by Moraya Seeger DeGeare
one sided relationship

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 and the need for one partner to lean on the other during certain periods. In a one-sided relationship, however, one partner always does most of the emotional heavy lifting.

According to Michelle Obama, she believes that marriage will never be totally equal, but this ebb and flow is what it’s all about. “There are times I’m 70, he’s 30. There are times he’s 60, 40, but guess what?” she continued. “Ten years – we’ve been married 30. I would take 10 bad years over 30 – it’s just how you look at it.”

While this sounds like a one-sided relationship in many respects, it’s a different type of relationship entirely, as equilibrium was reached when life calmed down again. These are the ups and downs of a committed relationship, rather than one-sided love. 

So, with all of this in mind, what are the signs of a one-sided relationship, and are you in one yourself? To get some clarity, Dr. Elizabeth Fedricka licensed psychotherapist, tells us everything you need to know about one-sided relationships, including how to achieve the balanced relationship dynamic you’re after. 

Key Takeaway
  • One-sided relationships are characterized by an imbalance of effort, love, and engagement, where one partner contributes significantly more than the other.
  • When a relationship is one-sided, there are many key signs, including feeling consistently responsible for communication and planning, frequent self-sacrifice, neglecting personal needs, and feeling unappreciated or unsupported.
  • Prolonged one-sided relationships can erode self-worth, create resentment, and lead to a loss of trust and connection in the relationship. It can also result in self-betrayal, where one neglects their values and identity to please their partner.
  • Such dynamics often stem from toxic or avoidant behaviors in one partner and poor communication. However, it's crucial not to confuse one-sided relationships with healthy selflessness or compromise.
  • It’s important to consider ending the relationship if there’s a persistent lack of awareness or willingness from the partner to change the dynamic, especially if it leads to gaslighting or blame-shifting.

What is a one-sided relationship?

As the name implies, a one-sided relationship involves an imbalance in love and effort, whereby one partner is more invested than the other. Instead of matching your partner’s behaviors or energy, the disengaged partner isn’t willing to wholly participate to make the relationship work. 

“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. Depending on your personality type, you may naturally tend to your partner’s needs, but this selfless action doesn’t always indicate an imbalanced relationship — as your significant other may reciprocate your behavior in other ways. 

“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.” 

By being in a committed relationship, you understand the need for this kind of compromise — with your partner’s needs and well-being always coming into consideration. 

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. (Which aligns with what Michelle Obama was saying!) 

“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.

This kind of relationship dynamic can be incredibly draining on your mental health and can have a huge impact on your self-worth — as you start prioritizing your partner’s needs over your own. You need support and validation too!

What causes one-sided relationships? 

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. 

Following on from this, sometimes it might feel like you’re in a one-sided relationship because you’re the person always planning dates or doing the household chores. While this should still be discussed with your partner, they might be reciprocating your behaviors but in different ways. 

For example, your partner might always be the one taking out the trash, or who is busy budgeting for your next romantic getaway. This could lean into their love language, and how they choose to express their love for you. 

It may be helpful to broaden your perspective on all these little things, and consider them when communicating your needs and wants with your partner. 

Is my relationship one-sided? 

If you’ve found yourself in a one-sided relationship, it can often be hard to recognize it at first. 

Especially if you’re a naturally giving person, you can excuse your partner’s lack of participation as a ‘bad day’ or use other outside stressors as reasons as to why you have to do the heavy lifting! 

However, while relationships can’t always be 50/50, one-sided love is incredibly draining, and at the end of the day — you don’t deserve that kind of disrespect. 

Red flags of a one-sided relationship

So, what are some telltale signs that a relationship is one-sided? And is a lack of reciprocating behaviors a sign of a toxic relationship? 

“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 stuck in this kind of dynamic. 

Below are some warning signs to look for.

  1. You’re always the one to initiate communication when you’re apart

  2. You plan all the dates and activities, while your partner is apathetic 

  3. You’re always the first person to apologize or make up after an argument 

  4. You ignore your relationship needs to accommodate your partner’s desires or make them happy

  5. Your partner often cancels plans or date nights last minute, even though you always make time for them 

  6. You feel insecure in the relationship or aren’t sure how your partner feels toward you

  7. When you talk, you feel like your partner doesn’t listen to you, or doesn’t care about what you’re saying 

  8. You find yourself making excuses for your partner to your friends or family

  9. Your partner isn’t there for you when you need them like you are there for them

  10. Your partner isn’t willing to address your relationship issues, either pretending they aren’t there or ignoring you when you bring them up

What are the consequences of a one-sided relationship?

Being in a one-sided relationship is not sustainable long-term, as it can slowly start to erode your wellness, as well as the strength of your relationship. 

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.”

Can you fix one-sided relationships?

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:

When to end a one-sided relationship

When you’re in a one-sided relationship, it’s natural to want to stick it out to see if things will change. While the thought of abandoning a meaningful connection hurts, the damage that a one-sided love could do to your self-esteem and wellness far outweighs these considerations. 

If your partner is not willing to change their ways or to work on the relationship with you — you deserve better. 

“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.”

If you raise these issues with your partner, and they try to turn it around on you or try to shift the blame on you — this is a sure sign it’s time to walk away. 

Particularly if they engage in gaslighting tactics to try and convince you that you’re undeserving of reciprocal love. Remember that this is completely untrue and that a healthy relationship will allow you to set boundaries that make you feel safe, respected, and supported. 

Unrequited love may sound romantic in novels, but a healthy relationship (where you both contribute equally in your individual ways) is even more monumental than the movies — trust us. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can you cope with the emotional toll of being in a one-sided relationship?

    One-sided relationships come with a lot of negative side effects, as you’re expected to do the emotional heavy lifting. If your partner is going through a hard time, it’s natural to step in and take the reigns as they recover. However, this should not be a long-term thing, as the emotional toll can have a significant impact on both your own health and the health of the relationship.
+50k reviews
Learn how to renew your connection!
Download the #1 app for couples to guide you in the process.
our app
petal decoration

Enjoying this article?

A happier relationship starts here.

Question with locked answer