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3 Warning Signs of One-Sided or Unreciprocated Love

In imbalanced relationships, one partner is always making more effort.

Key points

  • Talk about your concerns and pay attention to how your partner responds.
  • Zoom out: If nothing changed in the relationship down the road, would this be a relationship you would want to continue?
  • Give what you want to get. Even if your partner isn's giving you the love you need, show up and love yourself.

I love the paradigm that a healthy marriage doesn't require 50/50 from both partners; it requires 100/100. This means that each partner gives their best effort to help the relationship to thrive.

Now, this doesn't mean our 100% effort will be the same moment to moment and day to day. We can't always "crush it," simply because our best efforts change depending on innumerable factors—from how much sleep we got last night to whether we're feeling triggered by something that touches on an unaddressed childhood trauma.

The good news is that in a healthy relationship where both partners make an equal, honest effort to make things work, these fluctuations are totally survivable. Healthy partners see themselves as teammates, and support each other accordingly: They "pick up the slack," so to say, when necessary.

But what happens when one partner is always having to pick up the slack?

Here are three things I tend to see in imbalanced relationships, in which one partner continually makes more effort than the other in an attempt to make things "work":

A pervasive sense of loneliness. The partner putting in all the work isn't being met with the same level of energy and attention, so connection is lacking. This can lead to profound loneliness, even if the couple may spend a lot of time with each other.

A lack of physical intimacy. I find that, in one-sided relationships, people's sex lives tend to be lacking in quantity, quality, or both. Sex, if it happens at all, might feel like a chore rather than an opportunity to connect. One partner often feels like their needs are unmet or that their pleasure isn't important.

The "blame game." When one partner is willing to give their all to the marriage—and the other partner isn't—that person may end up shouldering more of the responsibility or "blame" for issues in the relationship. They may inherently feel like something is "wrong" with them or as if marital issues are "their fault" or "all in their head." The other partner may consciously or subconsciously push this narrative, as well, by not taking responsibility for their role in conflict or always suggesting the other person has a "problem."

At some point, a person in an imbalanced romantic situation needs to make a decision: Do I stay or do I go? Do I continue to pursue this relationship, or do I walk away?

It's a highly personal choice. Consulting with trusted loved ones or a marriage counselor can help, especially if the effects of a one-sided relationship have begun to affect a person's sense of self. When you chase love from someone for long enough, you may find yourself believing you that must not "deserve" love (spoiler alert: You do) or aren't worthy of someone's best effort (spoiler alert: You are).

So, whether you're still casually dating or in a committed long-term relationship, here are some things I encourage you to do if you find yourself in a one-sided situation:

Talk about your concerns—and pay attention to how they respond. Once you've expressed how you feel, do they shut down, get defensive, and turn away? Do they show any sense of recognition or ownership? Do they seem willing to address this issue together? It helps to bring up your concerns as non-critically and as calmly as possible. But ultimately, their response can give you a good clue as to how much they'll be willing to work with you.

Zoom out. Assume for a moment that your partner is showing you the truth about how they prioritize your relationship, then zoom out one, five, and ten years into the future. If nothing changed, would this still be a relationship you want to be in? Is it possible that your idea of who this person isn't doesn't actually match up with who they are? If your health and happiness depend on the other person changing, is it possible that your expectations aren't aligned with reality? "Zooming out" is a great exercise to do in written form.

Fill your own cup. Even balanced romantic relationships demand hard work and vulnerability, let alone one-sided ones. So, make sure you're giving yourself some of what you'd love to get from your partner—kind words, loving affection, special adventures. While it's true that you need to "give what you want to get," this includes giving to yourself as much as you give to others.

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