How to Tell If You're In a One-Sided Relationship

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Healthy relationships are characterized by mutual honesty, trust, and commitment between people. In a one-sided relationship, however, it often feels like one person is investing most of the energy and effort into making the relationship work. 

In this type of relationship, one person feels like they're the one usually reaching out to the other and giving their all. The problem with any one-sided relationship is that it can be draining and difficult to sustain over the long haul.

Although one-sided relationships don't necessarily mean one person is being taken advantage of, they often indicate a problem in communication or compatibility between two people. It's possible that one partner may not feel as strongly about the relationship as the other, or maybe one party isn't sure exactly how they feel about it yet.

This article discusses the characteristics of one-sided relationships, what causes them, and what you should do if you find yourself in this type of relationship.

What Is a One-Sided Relationship?

One-Sided Relationship

A one-sided relationship can be defined as an imbalanced interpersonal relationship where one person invests more energy or where one person wields more control.

This imbalance can be one of many factors, such as one person being more committed or one person being more interested in the relationship.

In a healthy, balanced relationship, you know that you can depend on the other person and you know where you stand with them. A mutual, equal relationship provides stability and security.

In a one-sided relationship, one person is doing most of the work, whether it is financially, physically, emotionally, or mentally. In a romantic relationship, this might involve one person initiating most of the communication, planning most of the shared activities, or taking care of most of the duties that the couple should share equally.

Recap

A one-sided relationship is characterized by imbalance where one person is giving more, investing more, and doing more. 

Signs of a One-Sided Relationship

One-sided relationships can come in a variety of forms. It might involve your relationship with your partner, but it can also involve other interpersonal relationships including those with parents, friends, and co-workers.

Some of the signs of a one-sided relationship to watch for include:

  • Initiating a vast majority of the activities and communication: The other person is rarely the one to reach out and make first contact. Instead, you are expected to start nearly every conversation, initiate almost all interactions, and plan a significant majority of what you do together.
  • Having to make most major relationship decisions on your own: The other person might tell you they don’t care either way or they may simply shrug off the responsibility of making important decisions altogether. Either way, you’re the one carrying the weight of major choices on your back with minimal input or investment from the other person.
  • Being the one who has to apologize: After a conflict or argument, the other person rarely reaches out to take responsibility for their actions or make amends for the harm they have done. Instead, you are usually the one to say you are sorry in order to move past the problem.
  • Sacrificing everything to make the other person happy: You might feel like you have to ignore your own wants and needs because you are busy holding up the relationship by yourself.
  • Feelings of insecurity and not really knowing where you stand: When the other person doesn’t seem to care or doesn't put in much effort, it leaves you doubting their intentions, commitment, and investment in the relationship.
  • Poor communication: You might feel like they don’t listen, don’t care, or don’t really understand what you mean when you do talk. When you do communicate, you feel unsatisfied and unfulfilled.
  • Imbalanced financial contributions: You are the one who has to pay for all of your shared expenses and, in many cases, they expect you to pick up the tab for their financial obligations.
  • Making excuses: You find yourself often making excuses for why the other person isn’t contributing to the relationship. The other person is frequently having a bad day or dealing with stress that prevents them from showing up for you. 

In a one-sided relationship, one partner leads almost every aspect of the relationship. This includes what activities you engage in together and when these activities take place. This can also be seen in friendships or between people who are dating.

Because of this imbalance, the person who is doing all the work often starts to feel resentful, which can be emotionally and physically draining.  If you think that your relationship may be one-sided, it's important to look at whether or not both parties are equally invested in the relationship.

Recap

Signs that you might be in a one-sided relationship include imbalances in communication, emotional investment, finances, and other aspects of the relationship.

One-Sided Relationship Causes

Sometimes relationships are imbalanced because one person is manipulative or toxic. In other cases, however, a variety of factors can contribute to a relationship becoming one-sided.

Poor Communication Skills

One or both partners may struggle with sharing their feelings, needs, and preferences. Practicing and improving communication skills can help increase clarity around possible solutions, responses, and opportunities for repair and healing if that is desired by both parties.

Insecurity

One person is afraid of losing the relationship if they don't take care of everything themselves. This leads to them taking on an imbalanced share of responsibility in the relationship.

Conflicting Expectations

Each person brings their own set of ideas about what a relationship means and what they hope to get out of it. If you are more committed and dedicated to the relationship than your partner is, it is bound to feel one-sided.

Individual Problems

If one partner is dealing with something stressful or is experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition, it can play a role in how they act in a relationship. They may not be able to give it the attention they need if they are being affected by such problems.

Attachment Styles

Attachment styles can play a role in how people behave in adult romantic relationships. For example, a person with an anxious attachment style may worry that the other person does not feel as strongly as they do.

This can lead to one partner becoming clingy and enmeshed in the relationship while the other tries to get away from it as best as possible. In romantic relationships, this type of behavior often leads one person to become emotionally dependent.

Passive-Aggressive Behavior

One-sided relationships may also be marked by intentional actions designed to burden one partner with responsibilities that the other person does not want to deal with.

One example of this is a phenomenon that has been dubbed "weaponized incompetence" in which one partner feigns an inability to perform basic tasks. In doing so, they shift the burden of responsibility onto their partner. It is a form of passive-aggressive behavior that can contribute to one-sided relationships. 

Recap

A number of factors can contribute to a one-sided relationship. Past experiences, mental health issues, insecurity, and poor communication skills can all play a role.

Impact of a One-Sided Relationship

One-sided relationships can be extremely toxic, particularly if one person is intentionally taking advantage of the other. Some of the damaging effects of this type of relationship include:

  • Increased stress: The stress of being in this type of relationship can take a toll on both your physical and mental health. While healthy relationships can act as protective buffers against stress, research has found that some relationships create stress and have a negative impact on health. Sleep issues, anxiety, depression, and decreased immunity are just a few of the potentially detrimental effects of excessive stress. 
  • Feelings of loneliness: In addition to the stress of doing the majority of the work in the relationship, the lack of mutual effort can leave you feeling isolated and lonely. You might feel like you can't really talk to the other person about the problems you are dealing with or how you really feel.
  • Decreased self-esteem: The constant disappointment you experience in this one-sided relationship can leave you feeling rejected, unsupported, and unloved. This can make it hard to feel confident and secure in yourself.

How to Change a One-Sided Relationship

When it comes to changing a one-sided relationship, both people need to be on the same page and willing to do the work it will take to make a change. Start by being honest with yourself about the conversation you may be avoiding with your partner and why.

Be Honest About Your Relationship

Try asking yourself questions about the relationship. For instance, is this person consistent in their behavior across all of their relationships, or is this one-sided behavior in the relationship specific to yours? Is this a person who you feel comfortable sharing your needs and feelings with? How do they receive feedback?

Assess what you are giving to the relationship, as well as what you are receiving and not receiving. What you would like to receive, and what are your boundaries around what you can and cannot accept?

It's important to have an honest and open conversation with your partner about feelings, needs, and boundaries. Request specific changes or greater consideration, recognizing your requests may or may not be met as you cannot change another person.

Try Attending Therapy

Couples therapy may be helpful in such situations. Through therapy, the partner who is contributing less can learn new skills that may help them function more effectively and contribute more to the relationship.

For partners who are carrying the weight of the relationship on their own, therapy can help them address some of the reasons why they have taken on this burden. It can also help them address any issues with codependency that might be playing a role in them taking on too much. Therapy can also help people to develop communication skills so they can better explain what they need and expect.

Ultimately, it is important to understand that you cannot change someone who is unwilling or unable to contribute and be a supportive partner.

Recap

One-sided relationships can be repaired, but it requires both people to start making an equal contribution and investment in the relationship.

When to End a One-Sided Relationship

Ending a relationship can often be challenging, but eventually, you may reach your breaking point or recognize that the other person is not willing to contribute to the relationship in an acceptable way. Some signs that it might be time to end a one-sided relationship include:

  • When the other person is stonewalling, even though you have made reasonable requests about what they are bringing to the relationship
  • If you have communicated your concerns and needs and they refuse to acknowledge your requests
  • If they are gaslighting you in order to make you think that what you are experiencing is all in your head or that this type of relationship behavior is normal

Because of the nature of a one-sided relationship, attempts to end the relationship might be met with resistance once the non-contributing person realizes that their source of support is leaving. Remind yourself about the reasons why you are leaving and find support from friends, family, or a therapist.

Recap

If a one-sided relationship is affecting your mental or physical health, you need to take action to protect your well-being. If the other person is not willing to listen and won't try to change their behavior, you should seriously consider ending the relationship and moving on.

A Word From Verywell

Being in a one-sided relationship can leave you feeling resentful, insecure, and lonely. If you recognize that you are in this type of unequal relationship, it is important to do an honest assessment of the situation, discuss your options, and decide if the relationship is worth saving.

Ultimately, a one-sided relationship isn't healthy for either person involved. While change is possible, it is important to be able to recognize the signs that it is time to cut ties and move on.

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4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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