A one-sided relationship is probably the most emotionally draining thing that can happen to anyone.
Imagine being so in love but feeling so alone at the same time. You feel like you’re the only one doing all the work trying to keep your relationship afloat. You’re thirsty for your partner’s affection. But no matter what you do or how hard you try, you still come up empty-handed.
If you think you’re in a one-sided relationship, know that you’re not just “imagining things.” There are reasons why you feel the way you do.
So let’s find out. Here are 9 brutally honest signs you’re in a one-sided relationship and what you can do about it.
9 signs you’re in a one-sided relationship
1. You take the initiative on everything
You text or call first. If you don’t, you barely communicate with each other at all. You’re also the one setting up dates. If you don’t, you’ll never get to see each other.
There’s nothing wrong with taking the lead in a relationship, especially in the early stages. In fact, a study published in the Interpersona journal suggests that a little imbalance at the beginning of a relationship is actually quite important.
“One partner may have been more instrumental in moving the relationship from casual dating to exclusive and serious dating due to greater initial attraction, lesser fear of rejection, and various personality attributes (e.g., attachment security, extraversion) associated with a willingness to make romantic overtures.”
It’s natural for one person to be “more into” the other person in the courting stage of any relationship. But if you’ve passed that stage and you’re still the only one taking all the initiative, that’s a big red flag.
Relationships are sustained by a feeling of mutual effort and respect. The same study even suggests that the most successful couples are the ones who are able to maintain that level of “balance.”
If someone truly loves you, they will do everything they can to be with you. You won’t have to feel like you’re always begging for attention.
2. There’s no “sense of equality” in your relationship
Relationships aren’t always equal. There’s usually a little imbalance in personalities, communication styles, and love languages, even in the healthiest relationships.
But that isn’t what equality is about. Equality is about fairness. It’s about putting importance on both your needs, not just one person’s.
Bottom line: You should never feel like you’re less important than your partner. A healthy and equal relationship has a dynamic that ultimately makes each partner feel significant.
As psychoanalyst Gerald Schoenewolf beautifully puts it:
“There is no one set way to have an equal relationship, but there is a bottom line. No matter what role each plays in the relationship and no matter how the relationship is organized, both partners have to respect each other as equals in terms of being human beings. No distinctions can be made according to gender or who brings in the most money or who has the most friends. True equality involves an ongoing dialogue about whether each feels the relationship is fair, mutually beneficial and mutually gratifying.”
3. They don’t reciprocate
Relationships are about giving and taking. Sure, we all have different love languages—ways in which we show and accept love—but ultimately, there’s a steady harmony of showing and reciprocating.
According to Marriage and Family therapist Anne Ream:
“Reciprocity requires people to be invested in their relationship. If a relationship is important enough to them, partners will be emotionally invested in it enough to work at building and maintaining it. Commitment is sustained through the improvement of reward-cost balance in relationships.”
You know you’re in a one-sided relationship if reciprocity is seriously lacking. How does your partner respond to your physical affection? Do they tell you they care in words or with actions? The answer will give you a clue.
4. You’re at the bottom of their priority list.
Couples should always have a life outside of their relationship. It’s completely healthy—even necessary—for partners to spend time doing things that contribute to their individual growth. That includes hobbies, career and having their own social life.
But that doesn’t mean they should neglect their partners. One classic sign of a one-sided relationship is if your partner never prioritizes you, especially when it comes to major life decisions.
Certified relationship coach Temi Olly shares:
“If your partner is making important life decisions without thinking about you and how it affects your relationship, that should tell you your relationship is not a priority to them.”
Ultimately, relationships are still about two people building a life together. Your partner should still involve you in their life. If you’re constantly feeling like they are not prioritizing you and your feelings, you’re not wrong to think you’re in a one-sided relationship.
5. They ignore relationship problems
You’ve already expressed your unhappiness in the relationship. You told your partner you’re feeling like you’re the only one who does the work. And every time you bring it up, it’s either they ignore you or gaslight you.
According to Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Linda Carroll, being able to talk about your problems is essential in relationships. It’s not gonna work out otherwise.
It is essential to learn how to listen to and to talk about our partners’ grievances. We need to stop pushing matters under the rug and to deal with hurt or conflict right away or discard it as inconsequential. In healthy relationships, there are no lumps in the rug; instead, we need to stay in the moment. This means that instead of keeping a black book of resentments, we try to manage the situations that cause them when they happen.
Here’s the thing:
When someone cares about you, they always make sure your needs are being met. In able to do that, they listen to you. Every time your partner ignores your desire to resolve these issues, they’re basically telling you they can’t care less.
6. You never feel secure
At any moment, you feel like you might break up. You think that everything will fall apart. Any false move and you’ll make your partner leave you.
That’s not how a loving relationship works.
Real, genuine love doesn’t make you feel insecure. Believe it or not, healthy relationships don’t make you work so hard to “earn love.” When someone loves you, you are able to trust that they will not leave when it gets tough.
Clinical psychologist Andrea Bonior adds:
“Without trust, there is the lack of a solid foundation on which to build emotional intimacy, and your potential for hurt — over and over again — grows ever bigger. Without trust, you will be left constantly unsure of whether you can count on your partner to come through for you, and whether or not they really mean what they are saying.”
A serious lack of trust is the reason why you’re insecure. And it’s likely because your partner hasn’t given you much reason to trust them.
7. You’re always adjusting to their needs
It’s always you that has to rearrange your plans to suit theirs. Whether it’s something as simple as eating at the restaurant they like (but you hate) or spending more time with their friends because they don’t like yours.
Either way: you’re the one who’s always dropping everything to accomodate them.
Sacrificing your own interests to make your partner happy isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, in his 50-year’s worth of research, Brian Ogolsky found that a willingness “to forgo self-interest and desired activities for the good of a partner or relationship is an important aspect of maintaining relationships.”
But he also asserts that it has to be mutual, saying:
“We want some balance in sacrifice. People don’t like to over-benefit in relationship, either.”
8. They make you feel like you’re asking for “too much.”
That phrase always worms its way into everything they say. Whether you’re feeling too much, asking for too much, or being too much.
Every time you ask for some attention or consideration, they always make you feel like you’re asking the world of them.
Partners of one-sided relationships feel uninterested or unfeeling towards their other half. That’s why they can’t tolerate what they consider as “excessive” needs or emotions.
“If your partner is constantly making you feel bad for expressing emotion in a reasonable way or expecting you to always be in a good mood, this can feel like a stranglehold. The real risk is that it might make you bury your feelings to the point where they start eating you up from the inside.”
9. Somehow, it’s always “your fault”
It’s not easy to confront your partner when you’re in a one-sided relationship. You feel like the odds are stacked against you. You’re insecure, afraid of conflict, and scared of rejection.
But when you do get the courage to stand up to yourself, they always manage to turn the tables.
It’s your fault because you’re imagining things. It’s you’re fault because you’re asking for a lot. You never, ever, see them take responsibility.
You might think it’s not important. But accountability is crucial for a relationship to grow.
Executive coach and therapist Angela Sasseville says:
“Accountability is the skill that every relationship has to have in order to thrive. It’s not enough for just one partner to be able to take ownership of the things that they inadvertently do that hurt the other partner. Both people in any relationship really have to be able to take accountability.”
One-sided partners never acknowledge that you may be right. Instead, they always try to get their hands cleaned. And because you love them and you’ve become so used to their toxic behavior, you start believing them.
This, I think, is the most harmful effect of being in a one-sided relationship.
When you’re with someone who has repeatedly neglected your needs, shamed your feelings, and shut your attempts at communication down—you start losing your sense of self-worth.
By allowing someone to cross your boundaries, you’ve given them permission to hurt you. That’s not necessarily your fault. Love makes all of us do stupid things.
And I’m the first person to admit that I also made the same mistake. I thought that if I could only show someone how good I am for them, I will somehow earn their love.
You may not know this now, but you never have to bend over backwards to earn someone’s love. It should be given freely, unconditionally. And I’ll say it again: it doesn’t have to be this hard to make someone love you right.
What to do next
There are two things you can do if you’ve found out you’re in a one-sided relationship:
1. Find out if your partner can change.
Be honest with yourself: Can your partner truly change?
Is there a way that they’re just clueless about the way they’ve been treating you? In long-term relationships, especially, it could be easy for couples to “lose their way” and start taking their partners for granted.
Maybe this is just a simple case of getting too comfortable in a relationship. If your partner is still unaware of your feelings, talk to them first and find out if they’re willing to fix it.
2. Move on
You’ve done everything you could. You’ve exhausted all of your options. And your partner is still unwilling to work on the relationship with you.
It’s time to face the truth.
All of the signs above are hard to admit, but they are blaring signs that this relationship is no longer good for you. So I want to ask you one question:
Is this the kind of relationship you want for yourself?
If the answer is no. Read ahead.
How to get over a one-sided relationship
1. Wake up
The first step to overcoming a one-sided relationship is to wake up from the delusion that you can somehow make someone love you.
Because you can’t.
According to Jill P. Weber, a clinical psychologist and author of Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy: Why Women Settle for One-Sided Relationships:
“Denial is a huge factor in what sustains one-sided relationships.”
Open your eyes. Everything your partner has shown you—the lack of affection, accountability, and effort—is enough sign that they will never love you the way you want them to. No matter how much you work, convince, or beg, they just don’t love you the same way.
Yes, a relationship requires work and compromise. But it should never require you to ignore your needs.
Once you realize this, you can start picking the pieces up and working on getting back on your feet.
2. Know that it’s okay to “quit”
Sometimes, we feel like we’ve invested so much in a relationship that it’s a “shame” to just up and quit. We think that if we’ve come this far, why not see it through?
That’s an admirable thought and is actually a great thing to have in a healthy, mutually loving relationship.
As clinical psychologist Seth Gillihan puts it:
“When we’ve poured time and emotions into a romantic relationship, breaking up can feel like wasting that investment. It’s like finishing a movie we’re not enjoying because we don’t want to “waste” the hour we’ve spent watching it; there’s no way to reclaim that hour, and continuing to watch means wasting two hours. The better option is to cut our losses and use that hour more productively.”
It’s okay to leave a situation that is no longer making you happy. When it comes to choosing between a relationship and your well-being, you should always choose yourself first.
3. Cut them off
I mean, block them. Everywhere. Block them in social media and cut them off in real life.
Stalking them on Instagram and drunk-texting them every weekend won’t help you forget them. Staying in contact with your ex will only send you on a downward spiral of doubt and self-loathing.
I know it’s hard. But embrace the no-contact rule. Use it as a sign that you still have the power.
Dating coach Monica Parikh sums it up perfectly:
“Instead, the no-contact rule should be about you and helping yourself move on from your ex. It’s an integral tool of self-empowerment. You want to get to the place where you’re able to say, “With or without you, my life is going to be amazing.”
4. Focus on yourself
For too long, you’ve put someone else’s needs on your own. You’ve adjusted, sacrificed, and changed who you are, just so someone will love you.
Now, you can focus on your needs, your goals, your happiness. You’re at a crossroads and I want you to really think about the next direction you’ll take.
Don’t make the mistake of jumping into the next available relationship, or even getting back with your ex, without dealing with your emotional baggage first.
There’s a reason why you’ve tolerated a one-sided relationship for that long:
“We accept the love we think we deserve.”– Perks of being a wallflower
It’s because, subconsciously, you think you’re only “good enough” for the bare minimum of love. Somehow you believe that you can’t aim higher. That you can’t find someone kind, generous, and someone who will truly love you the right way. So you simply accept what people give you, not knowing any better.
And it all boils down to self-love—how you value yourself. You need to realize that you are worthy, that you’re more than enough. You need to find yourself, work on your own journey, alone, and learn to love what you find.
Your next steps will define your future relationships—with yourself and with others. So make sure you focus on you.
Trust me, the rest will come easily, in their own time.