couple on a bed. Woman is sad, staring and frustrated. Man is sitting behind her looking at his phone
Illustration by Marta Pucci

One-Sided Relationships. When it's Just You Doing the Work.

Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Katherine Hertlein,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Date published:
5/11/2022
Last updated:
5/11/2022
Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Laura Vowels,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Date published:
5/11/2022
Last updated:
5/11/2022

TL;DR

  • If you feel you're always the one putting the effort in to your relationship, it could be that it is unbalanced or one-sided.
  • A one-sided relationship is extremely unhealthy as it can lead to feelings of bitterness and resentment.
  • In a one-sided relationship, only one partner tends to get what they need from the union.
  • If you feel that you are putting in more effort and energy than your partner, consider whether it is a temporary situation or something that has been happening over the long term.
  • Things will only change if you are both willing to put in the effort, so consider seeking expert help if you feel it might benefit you.

Ever feel like everything is on you? You’re always the one who suggests going out. You’re always the one who instigates sex? And you’re always the one who wants to engage in the ‘deep and meaningfuls’?  Wears you down after a while, doesn’t it?

That’s why we spoke to our expert sex therapists to find out some of the signs to look out for if you suspect you’re in a one-sided relationship. We've also got some tips to help you improve relationship satisfaction for both parties involved.

What do we mean by a one-sided relationship?

We often talk about different types of relationships, and it can leave our readers questioning their own pairing, wondering whether it ticks the boxes for whatever it is we’re describing. Oftentimes you’ll find, when you’re in a long-term relationship, you have witnessed elements of all different types of relationship issues. This does not mean that you are in a fundamentally unhealthy relationship. It could just indicate that you’ve had the odd rough patch or identified problems in the past and have worked through them together.

By its nature, a romantic relationship grows and changes over time. As we move through the different periods in our life - kids, jobs, caring for elderly parents - the stresses and strains can mean that passion and desire ebbs and flows. Sometimes on one side, sometimes on both. In a loving relationship, this doesn’t have to be a problem as long as you both have the desire to make things better and come back together. As long as you know that ultimately you love one another and you are both getting what you need from your relationship.

A one-sided relationship happens when that reciprocity does not exist. When only one person is getting what they need from the relationship and their partner is giving, giving, giving the whole time. When one person is ‘carrying’ the relationship or doing all the hard work.

What are the signs you’re in a one-sided relationship?

In healthy relationships, you tend to find an even power balance. Both partners contribute equally to the alliance, putting in roughly similar amounts of effort and energy. And both getting out, on balance, what they need.

In a one-sided relationship it might feel, day to day, that you’re the only one putting the effort in. Stop and think about a few areas though, and you’ll be able to work out whether this is a temporary glitch – perhaps your partner has a big project on at work – or whether it’s a lasting pattern that needs to change.

Consider your priorities and those of your partner. If you have some free time in a busy week, do you tend to seek to spend that time with your other half, or do you immediately run out the door to indulge in a solo sport or hobby? If your answer is the former and your partner’s the latter, there is a good chance your priorities may be out of line. Of course, it’s healthy to have interests outside your relationship, but it’s also important that your partner knows they are equally important.

The same goes for money. If you feel you’re putting every spare cent you have into the communal ‘pot’ while your partner is receiving multiple Amazon deliveries every day, it can start to grate on you.

And when you notice these behaviors, how do you react? If you tend to make excuses for your partner’s lack of respect or bad behaviors, it’s time to really look at whether you need to set some clearer boundaries.

Does it really matter?

In a word 'yes'.

Being stuck in a one-sided relationship can actually be a great source of anxiety.  If you don't have a balanced relationship you’ll never feel like you’re getting what you need, no matter how much you want things to change.

Reciprocity, or the balance of fair giving and receiving, is a key characteristic of building intimacy. Having trust in one another and in each other's motives allows us to open up, be vulnerable and share our thoughts and feelings. If we feel our partner is withholding something from us, it's common to worry that there is a problem. In time, as we continue to give more to our partner, without receiving anything in return, we start to feel a growing resentment, frustration, and even doubt in the foundations on which the relationship is built. 

In this way, the relationship may fail to thrive and grow, instead languishing as issues fester with only one person pushing to discuss and resolve them. Other communication issues such as emotional withdrawal, contempt, criticism, and stonewalling may appear. And without the determination of both parties to resolve the situation, things can quickly escalate.

So what can you do?

Try to deal in facts. Don’t imagine that you can come to terms with living in a one-sided relationship for the rest of your life. It is not fulfilling and it is not sustainable. But in order for something to change, both people need to want it to change. Be honest with yourself. If you can't imagine yourself without the other person in your life, consider whether a purely platonic relationship might be a better fit

Don’t be afraid to tell your partner how you’re feeling. Sure, if your partner is a narcissist or is gaslighting you, they may react with anger and not take the accusation well, but for the most part, you should be able to have an honest conversation. At worst, you may find it difficult to get your partner to open up and invest in the conversation - which in itself is telling. At the end of the day, you can only put your own point of view across... how your partner responds is not your responsibility. It might be worth talking about relationship rules that you come up with together, which reflect what you both need from the relationship.

If you feel extra support might be needed, seek expert advice, perhaps couples therapy or counseling. If your partner is determined to change, they should be willing to put in the effort and overcome the perceived discomfort of seeing a therapist. If you’re unsure how to broach the subject read: How to bring up the idea of sex therapy with your partner.

And if face to face is too much, why not consider the Blueheart app, designed to improve connection and intimacy? All from the comfort of your own home. Take the assessment, check out the outcome and see your personal therapy journey. You can get started for free for 14 days, to see if it's for you.

Unfortunately, sometimes despite your best efforts, it’s almost impossible to bring an unbalanced relationship into balance. Reassure yourself that it is no reflection on you. If your partner is not willing to talk about the situation or put in the work required, then you can’t be expected to be the one over-investing forever.

It might be that you have a difficult decision to make.

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