People usually embark on romantic relationships in search of intimacy, companionship, and mutual support. Life’s challenges often become easier to manage when someone else helps shoulder the burden.
In a healthy relationship, you might turn to your partner for comfort and guidance when something comes up that you can’t handle alone.
Yet relationships can’t thrive without balance. If one partner regularly provides most of the financial or emotional support, you might have a one-sided, or unbalanced, relationship.
It’s disheartening to put effort into showing up for a partner who doesn’t seem to have a similar investment in the relationship. Beyond causing frustration, one-sided relationships can sour your affection and negatively affect your mental health.
Every relationship is unique, and partners might, from time to time, experience personal difficulties that affect their ability to contribute equally to the relationship — and that’s OK.
But when one partner is regularly contributing more to the relationship, there’s often trouble ahead.
Here are some other signs that suggest there’s a balance issue in the relationship.
A persistent sense of insecurity
When your partner doesn’t seem terribly invested, you might begin to doubt their commitment.
That’s pretty understandable. You prioritize the relationship and make a dedicated effort to communicate, spend quality time together, and help out when needed. If they fail to put in an equal effort, you might start to wonder if they really care about you at all.
Alternatively, they might show plenty of affection but seem disinterested in discussing future plans, like moving in together or planning next year’s vacation. This can leave you with the sense they prefer to keep one foot out the door.
Granted, some people are more demonstrative than others, but it’s generally not a great sign when you feel uncertain of their feelings. This insecurity can shake your faith in your partner and fuel anxiety and conflict.
Lack of communication
One-sidedness can also show up in communication patterns.
You freely talk about your frustration with your best friend after an argument or your joy and satisfaction after your boss singles out your work for praise. Your partner, on the other hand, shares next to nothing, no matter what happens in their life.
Maybe you’ve noticed they’re a great listener. They never cut in or divert your story to their own experiences. At the same time, however, they rarely offer anecdotes of their own.
When you struggle to communicate, you might feel as if you don’t know them all that well. This can also make for unproductive conflict. You want to get to the heart of the problem and talk through it, but they just brush the issue off with “It’s fine” or “Don’t worry.”
In the end, although you want to achieve more authentic communication, you may find it harder and harder to open up since they never reciprocate.
Your interactions leave you unfulfilled
How do you feel after spending time with your partner?
Maybe you have fun in the moment, but the lack of deep emotional connection leaves you feeling lonely, even a little empty, afterward. You might find yourself dissecting your encounters, worrying over their lack of engagement, or wondering what you did to upset them.
Time spent with loved ones should energize and fulfill you more often than not. Feeling drained, stressed, or dissatisfied after seeing your partner can suggest an unbalanced relationship, one where they make little effort to help meet your emotional needs.
You do all the work
In one-sided relationships, it often falls to one partner to arrange everything.
Planning trips or dates, picking up food for dinner, checking in when you haven’t talked in a few days, initiating sex — it may seem as if the relationship would collapse entirely if you stopped working to sustain it.
Perhaps when you mention this, your partner offers some excuse or looks at you blankly. Maybe they agree to try harder but soon return to their usual habits.
Either way, this can leave you with the impression they’re taking advantage or don’t care whether the relationship continues.
After a job loss or other financial difficulty, a partner with financial resources might offer to help out temporarily. There’s nothing wrong with that. Knowing you have someone who cares enough to help out in times of need is an important relationship benefit.
It’s a different story, however, when you end up paying for bills, groceries, gas, and vacations without a prior arrangement, and your partner never makes a move to chip in. This typically doesn’t represent a healthy relationship dynamic, and it can leave you feeling used and unappreciated.
While relationships can certainly become unbalanced with a selfish or toxic partner, plenty of other factors can contribute.
Different communication styles
Not everyone grows up learning to communicate productively or openly discuss feelings. Some people learn to protect themselves by hiding their emotions. If your partner was never encouraged to share feelings or opinions, they might doubt their ability to safely do so well into adulthood.
Attachment also plays a part here. People with an insecure attachment style, such as dismissive-avoidant or anxious-avoidant, tend to create distance in relationships or withdraw emotionally instead of opening up. Their strong feelings for you might be undermined by an equally strong desire to avoid getting hurt.
Very different communication patterns or attachment styles can create a large disparity between emotional needs in relationships.
Different relationship expectations
One-sided relationships can develop when you and your partner have different ideas about what the relationship means.
Perhaps you have a goal of long-term commitment, while they can’t see past the next few months. Your view of the relationship leads you to intensify your efforts, while they haven’t reached the point where they feel able to express a similar commitment.
It’s also possible they learned to rely on their parents or partners to meet their needs in past relationships and now expect you to do the same. This certainly isn’t a healthy relationship behavior — it’s not your job (or anyone else’s) to take care of them.
However, this pattern can change through improved communication and dedicated effort.
When trying to understand why your relationship suddenly seems off-kilter, it can help to consider any stressors present in your partner’s life.
Job stress, physical or mental health concerns, family issues — any one of these challenges can make it difficult to fully engage. If they’re dealing with more than usual, they might continue to feel overwhelmed until the situation improves.
Your own relationship history
On the other side of things, your own attachment style and past relationship experiences can also factor in.
People with anxious attachment styles, for example, might feel afraid of ending up alone and need more assurance of affection than someone securely attached. If your partner isn’t overly affectionate, you might feel the emotional distance more strongly.
Worry over your partner leaving can also lead you to take on more than your share in the relationship. You might eagerly offer support to keep them from losing interest.
While you may not realize it, your actions can disrupt the relationship’s balance. A partner with integrity — someone who truly cares for you — might gently refuse your offers, encourage you to lean on them for help occasionally, and work to build up your trust in their commitment.
A less-than-scrupulous partner, however, may simply take your assistance for granted.
You might also find yourself carrying the relationship if you have a habit of taking on the role of caregiver, since it’s often difficult to break a pattern of providing support.
With dedicated effort, it’s often possible to address many relationship issues, including imbalance.
As with most other concerns, it generally helps to start with a conversation. If you’ve only recently noticed the one-sidedness, you might start by mentioning you’ve noticed they seem a little distant and distracted, and ask if they have anything on their mind.
Your next steps might involve:
- working together to address whatever’s troubling them
- exploring ways to work on open communication going forward
- discussing strategies that help you both get your needs met
In the case of attachment issues or past relationship trauma, professional support can make a big difference. These issues are generally hard to overcome alone, but an individual therapist can offer guidance on navigating them productively.
A couples counselor can help you examine their impact on the relationship and find positive solutions together.
What about a partner who doesn’t want to change?
The possibility of restoring balance to the relationship generally rests on the willingness of both partners to put in the work required to create change.
Anyone can change, but that doesn’t always mean they will. Your relationship probably won’t regain much balance if your partner:
- seems uninterested in addressing relationship imbalance
- seems happy to continue accepting your support without reciprocating
- makes no effort to communicate, provide emotional support, or address other behaviors offsetting the relationship
Some people simply aren’t compatible.
If your partner shows no inclination to meet you in the middle, you’re probably better off moving on — even when you feel you’ve put in too much effort to abandon the relationship. No amount of effort is worth prolonged emotional distress.
Explain why you’ve decided to end the relationship.
Remember, incompatibility can happen without either partner doing anything “wrong.” Using “I” statements can help you avoid sounding critical or judgmental.
You might say, for example, “I need more emotional intimacy from my partner” or “I feel insecure without plans for the future.”
It’s OK to need a relationship with an equal level of commitment and investment. That’s a healthy relationship, after all.
Talk to a therapist
Working with a mental health professional can help you recover from the breakup and examine your own role in relationship imbalance.
Learning to develop healthy boundaries in therapy before pursuing a new relationship can always have benefit.
Take time to recover
It’s perfectly normal to feel sadness or grief and wonder whether you did the right thing.
Yet you can love your partner and still know you need to end the relationship to prioritize your own well-being. Breaking up may be best for you, regardless of your lingering feelings, since one-sided relationships may involve more conflict and emotional distress.
Without equality and mutual respect, relationships can easily become unbalanced, insecure, and full of resentment.
If your relationship has become somewhat one-sided, an open, honest conversation about your needs can help you bring it back into balance.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.