Feeling like your relationship is one-sided can be painful and upsetting. It can make you feel like a spare part in someone else’s life - as if you aren't as important to your partner as they are to you.
There are a variety of things that can make a relationship feel as if it’s one sided. Perhaps you find you’re always making the plans while your partner is ambivalent or apathetic. Perhaps you feel like it’s always up to you to maintain contact when you’re apart. Or perhaps it’s just a general feeling that you’re putting the relationship first in ways they aren’t – as if it’s one of the most important things in your life, but just ‘something’ in theirs.
What does it mean?
The first thing to say is that feeling like your relationship is one sided doesn’t necessarily mean your partner doesn’t care about you as much as you care about them.
It may be that your partner has trouble expressing themselves when it comes to affection or emotion. It may be that they have trouble with commitment. Or it could be that they simply don’t understand that these are the expectations that you have of the relationship – and it hasn’t occurred to them that you’re finding this upsetting.
Although these are all relatively different scenarios, they each have a common solution: talk about it. Without gaining an understanding of why it is that your partner doesn’t seem to be as interested in the relationship as you are, you’re not going to get any relief – and the tension and upset is only likely to keep increasing.
Talking it through
When you do talk to them about it, it’s important that you make it a conversation, not an interrogation. You might like to consider the following:
- Set aside some time. Don’t bring things up when you’re already feeling frustrated or upset. This is likely to make your partner feel as if they’re being attacked – or that you’re just saying them because you’re in a bad mood. Make it a proper conversation: sit down without any distractions and take the time to explore what’s going on.
- Listen as well as talking. When you’re the one feeling aggrieved, there can be a temptation to simply vent without actually listening to what your partner has to say. But a conversation only works if there’s two people in it. The whole point of the exercise is to gain a better understanding of each other’s feelings and thoughts, so, even if you find their explanations frustrating or upsetting, try to take them seriously.
- Take responsibility for your own feelings. Explain how things are affecting you, rather than just going in with accusations and anger. ‘I’ phrases can be a useful way of taking ownership of your feelings and not turning everything on your partner, i.e. ‘When you don’t talk to me for days at a time, it makes me feel isolated’, rather than ‘You’re so distant! What’s wrong with you?!’.
Thinking it over afterwards
After talking things through with your partner, you may be feeling relieved. You may have been able to reach a greater level of understanding, where your partner has come to better appreciate what you want from the relationship and you’ve been able to get a better idea of how they’re feeling too.
Or you may have discovered that your partner simply doesn’t see things the way you do – that they see the relationship as having a completely different role in your lives. This can be frustrating or upsetting, but ultimately it’s better to have this understanding of your relationship than no understanding at all.
Either way, you can now go forward with a better idea of what staying in the relationship would mean. You don’t need to be part of something that isn’t satisfying to you, but equally, knowing more about partner’s ideas or values may mean there’s room for compromise or change.
If you're worried about your relationship, we can help.
- You can talk to a trained Relate counsellor for free using our Live Chat service.
- Find out about Relationship Counselling and how it can help.
- Thinking of getting married? Our partners Marriage Care have lots of useful information on their website and run thought provoking and fun marriage preparation courses.
- Book a counselling session at your local Relate Centre or by calling 0300 100 1234.