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Lopsided Relationships: When Your Needs Always Come Last

Signs that your relationship is unbalanced and what you can do about it..

Esther Ann/Unsplash
Source: Esther Ann/Unsplash

Relationships require mutual give and take. Both people need to demonstrate empathy and care for each other. They need to show interest in each other’s goals and ideas, and a desire to meet each other’s needs whenever possible.

Lopsided relationships lack this mutuality. One person consistently does all the giving and caretaking but receives little in return. This is not a recipe for a sustainable and fulfilling relationship. According to one study, individuals in lopsided relationships experienced more conflicts and physical aggression, and lower levels of relationship satisfaction, than individuals in more balanced relationships (Stanley et al., 2017).

Signs you’re in a lopsided relationship

  • You feel like you’re putting more into the relationship than you’re getting back.
  • Your partner doesn’t seem interested in you as a person.
  • You make sacrifices for your partner that they wouldn’t make for you.
  • Your partner frequently lets you down or breaks promises.
  • Your partner doesn’t appreciate your help, caretaking, or sacrifices.
  • Your partner complains that you’re demanding, controlling, or meddlesome.
  • You’re reluctant to ask for anything.
  • Your partner’s needs and preferences are always more important than yours.
  • You feel like you need to take care of or fix your partner.
  • You frequently feel frustrated, resentful, and unappreciated.

Trying to fix or change your partner leads to burnout, resentment, and conflict

Sometimes you don’t realize that your caregiving has crossed the line into unhealthy caretaking, or what's often called codependency. A healthy relationship consists of two whole and independent people who mutually support each other. Several problems can result when you’re focused on taking care of or fixing your partner.

  1. Your needs don’t get met. You’re so busy meeting all your partner’s needs that you don’t prioritize yourself. Over time, you’ll probably become resentful and burnt out because you are taking care of them, but not receiving care in return. You’re also not prioritizing self-care: You don’t go out with friends or see your family. You don’t prioritize exercise because it takes you away from your partner. You may not feel worthy of spending time or money on yourself. Some people accept lopsided relationships because they don’t feel worthy of care.
  2. You become frustrated and discouraged because you are working harder than your partner to improve the relationship. Perhaps you suggest counseling, self-help books, or 12-step meetings. But all you get in return are broken promises. Your efforts to fix or change your partner could be better spent elsewhere—on your own hobbies, friendships, career, or mental health.
  3. You lose sight of who you are and what’s important to you. Because your focus is on your partner, you eventually lose touch with your interests, goals, and values. You compromise so much of who you are to please or take care of your partner that you lose yourself in the process.

How to create a more balanced relationship

If you’re in a lopsided relationship, there are things you can do to try to make it more balanced and fulfilling:

  • Prioritize meeting your own emotional needs by showing yourself the same love and care that you give to others.
  • Set clear boundaries so that you and your partner both know what to expect. Boundaries demonstrate respect for yourself and others.
  • Speak up: Ask your partner for what you need or want, and don’t assume that they already know.
  • Consider your options. Unfortunately, not all lopsided relationships can be saved. If you’ve repeatedly asked your partner for support, help, or attention and they can’t or won’t change, you need to carefully consider your options: Either accept that you will not get the support and care that you want or leave the relationship.

Most importantly, remember that we all deserve mutually caring relationships in which we both give and receive support.


Stanley, S. M., Rhoades, G. K., Scott, S. B., Kelmer, G., Markman, H. J., & Fincham, F. D. (2017). Asymmetrically committed relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 34(8), 1241-1259.

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