What makes a relationship a good one? Or a healthy one? This is one of the common relationship questions we see here at our Woodland Hills therapy practice. You may say love, respect, honesty, and trust. Some may add adventure, shared religious practices, and/or family values. At the end of the day, we may all share some core values and, at the same time, have our unique preferences. For some people, it is more important to have activities in common with a partner. For others, it’s about communication style. What many people are typically seeking through these commonalities or compatible styles might actually be their way of trying to guarantee the one thing that genuinely creates a stable and successful relationship. They believe that they will have the same relationship goals as the other person because they have so much else in common.
That one thing that really matters is that it is reciprocal. You are putting in the same amount of time, effort, care, compassion, thought, planning, compromise, and love as your partner. So how can you tell when the relationship is out of balance? When we look at a one-way relationship, we can literally lay out all the resources that go into making it work and map out which direction they are traveling. If all or most of the arrows lead from you to your partner, then you are probably the person giving to the relationship without getting anything back.
How do you define one-sided relationships?
A one-sided relationship lacks balance and reciprocity. Often, unhealthy relationships leave you feeling drained. Feeling lonely. Feeling anxious and on edge. There is a lack of communication and consideration shown by one partner for the other. You might feel as though you’re experiencing unrequited love even though you are supposedly in a commitment with someone. If you are always the one giving, planning, compromising, sharing, supporting, waiting, helping, and apologizing, then you are the person who is doing the work of two people on your own. Every healthy relationship, whether a family relationship, a friendship, or a romantic partnership, requires both people to invest for it to work out. This doesn’t mean you can’t prioritize one another at specific times. A one-sided relationship refers specifically to those situations in which one person is always the number one priority.
Three questions to ask yourself about your relationship!
If you are having a hard time determining if you are in a one-sided relationship, you will want to consider what you are giving and what you are getting. The difficult thing about a one-sided relationship is that you wouldn’t be in it if you weren’t attached in some way. Nobody would stay in a situation that is meeting none of their needs. This process can feel very tricky because we never want to believe that a person we love isn’t giving us what we need. If you have been socialized as female, you also probably have an inherent sense that you are meant to be patient, flexible, and accommodating in your relationships. This kind of lifelong messaging can create distress and conflict inside when you realize that you are unhappy but feel guilty about why. Read on with self-compassion and curiosity to determine what your situation is.
1) Do you give more than you receive?
In relationships, we value loyalty and commitment. And one way we practice this is often by giving, whether it is giving our time, attention, or resources. We value being there for the other person. We value being supportive and caring.
You can tell a relationship is out of balance and one-sided if you constantly give and never receive. If this is the case, it can be easy to blame the other person. And yes, the other person is at fault for not reciprocating, but I would like to bring attention to you first. I want you to turn inward and dig deep into parts of you that play a role in this. What are your personal experiences or beliefs that reinforce these out-of-balance dynamics? Do you think that the other person “should just know,” or do you think asking for what you are not receiving is “needy”? When we look at ourselves and the part we play in these scenarios; we are not saying that everything is our fault. We are seeking the source of our unhappiness. If we identify that we are not communicating our needs, then we know that that is the place to start. However, if we identify that we have been communicating, but no change has come about, then we can be sure that our partner is aware of our needs but simply not meeting them. That is valuable information to have.
Not all people show love and effort in the same ways. When we look at a one-sided relationship, we are not talking about someone whose love language is words of affirmation when you would rather it was acts of service, who is trying to do more to meet your needs, but it doesn’t come naturally. Every relationship has some component that requires compromise because no two peoples’ needs will always perfectly align so that both can have what they want or need at any moment. If it is the case that the person is trying their best, but it’s not good enough for you or still doesn’t work for you, that might be another subject altogether. What we are talking about here is someone who is happy to take from you. Who will leave you waiting on a text to confirm plans, or who promises to be home by nine when out with friends but consistently can’t seem to leave the party when they said they would? Someone who doesn’t carry any of the mental load for the household (if you live together) and hasn’t even attempted to do so. Someone who forgets important dates (there is no excuse anymore – we all have calendars on our phones, on our tablets, on our computers at work, etc.) and leaves you feeling forgotten in the process. If you are wondering whether you give more than you receive, you probably do. This pattern may also be present in your other relationships, with friends, at work, and with family.
2) Do you often give people multiple chances?
You may struggle with giving chances to everyone in your life, not just romantic partners. This form of people-pleasing may have begun when you were young. You might have been raised by someone whose behavior required excusing more often than not or who made you feel insecure or unlovable. You might feel that you aren’t worthy of having your needs honored the first time or worried that the other person won’t love you if you aren’t flexible and forgiving. You might have been raised with very high expectations and zero room for error, and now overcompensate by trying to be too generous with others. There are many reasons why you might allow repeated behaviors to go on unchecked. You may want to seek therapy for yourself to feel more solid and secure before you attempt to set limits in your relationship or to gain tools that you can put into practice with ongoing support from a therapist. Individual and couples therapy can be beneficial when exploring relationships that seem to have shifting boundaries.
So many of us will say the same thing: “I’m not perfect; why should I expect them to be?” or “Aren’t we supposed to allow people to grow?” Here’s the truth: there is a limit to how much forgiving is reasonable to expect. And these limits are directly related to your boundaries. For example, if infidelity is a deal-breaker for you, then it has to be a deal-breaker. When you are single and determining what your requirements are, this may seem much simpler than it ends up being in real life. Objectively, your boundary makes sense to you. But in real life, you may feel differently when your partner is crying and apologizing and promising it will never happen again. This isn’t to say that couples cannot move on and have successful relationships after one of them cheats, but it does illustrate just how much we might try to forgive a person we love.
There are issues that tend to arise more frequently or innocuously than a big boundary cross, and they can nudge your boundaries or require consistent forgiveness. You may feel that you are your partner’s last priority, which may show up in many ways. Perhaps you are the last person your partner makes plans with; nights out with their friends cannot be missed, but you might go weeks without a date night. If you’ve told your partner that you’d like time set aside for a quality time, and your partner can never seem to make that happen, then what? If you have given your partner chance after chance to meet this need that you have clearly stated, but it never happens, and you never leave, your partner knows that you won’t. This might not be malicious on your partner’s part, but it is definitely not considerate.
3) Are you emotionally safe in your relationship?
Is the relationship holding space for your emotions non-judgmentally? Can you have emotionally vulnerable conversations with your partner? We often think that loving someone is enough to keep our relationships going, but emotional security matters the most. This is a person with whom it can be assumed you are the most intimate. Someone who has to know personal things about you in order to understand how to live alongside and work toward a shared future. Someone who spends the most time, arguably, in close proximity to you. This means that this person has the most opportunity to hurt you, whether knowingly or not. Emotional safety is the feeling of being able to let down our guard and share our true thoughts and feelings. It also means that we listen in the same way. This is because we know that the other person has our best interests and happiness at heart, and the other person knows this about us.
That couple who is true “couple goals” (not just appearing so online) is the couple that trust one another without hesitation and feels they can share anything. This is because conversations happen more easily and honestly when you genuinely feel the other person is on your side. When you approach communication as a battle of you vs. the other person, a sense of insecurity can creep in. You and your partner should value and trust one another enough to know that it is always you as a couple vs. the problem. When you feel that way, you can state that you have a need not being met and know that your partner will try to look for ways in which they can meet that need rather than spend time trying to convince you of all the reasons why they can’t. Being emotionally safe in your relationship comes with a sense of relaxation and contentment when you are with that person. It is hard to feel emotionally safe with someone who you don’t feel knows or respects you well enough to meet your needs or put work into your relationship. A healthy relationship is two people pulling in the same direction, not a tug-of-war of having our wants and needs acknowledged and satisfied.
If you’ve determined you’re in a one-sided relationship: now what? It is easier said than done to walk away, just like it is easier said than done to fix the situation. For your own good, you need to determine what it is you want and if you believe it is possible. Too often, we believe that loving someone requires unending sacrifice; we “prove” our love by enduring behavior, treatment, and inaction that doesn’t serve or support us. If you have told your partner again and again what is important to you, and your partner is going to no effort to meet your needs, you have full permission to determine that, while you love him/her/them, you love yourself more. You cannot expect yourself to love someone enough to make up for all the ways in which you feel that person is not loving you. Imagine you were looking at yourself from the outside, the way a friend of yours might. Would you expect that friend to feel undervalued and consistently like the last priority? Would you tell your friend, “It’s okay that you feel your partner isn’t valuing you because you love your partner so much”? Speak to yourself how you would speak to someone you love and want the best for. Can you show yourself the most love and care by staying in a relationship with someone who cannot seem to show you the same? Furthermore, do you want to try to? You deserve to show up for yourself, whether single or in a relationship.
Couples Therapy Services at Embracing You Therapy
Here at Embracing You Therapy Group, the goal is to create a non-judgmental, supportive, and loving relationship. With Couples Counseling in Woodland Hills, CA, It is possible to learn relationship skills that will help you and your partner be more vulnerable, emotionally open, and flexible.
Meanwhile, check out our blog library for more readings on couple’s relationships!