Written by Amy Beecham
If your friend only ever replies or your work colleague doesn’t respect your boundaries, you could be in a one-sided relationship. Here, a psychotherapist explains how to deal with the imbalance.
Ebbs and flows are part of the natural course of any relationship. Sometimes, all we want is to be around the other person. We’re all in, fully invested, but at other times, when our own lives start to get busy or we begin feeling some distance, they cool off a little. Messages take longer to be replied to, plans end up being cancelled or not made at all.
It’s something we’ve all done and had done to us. But while it’s often completely normal, if you continually feel under-valued or de-prioritised by someone in your life, you could be in a one-sided relationship.
In a recent Instagram post, Amber Elizabeth Smith, a psychotherapist with over 54,000 followers on her account @alifecoloredamber, nailed exactly how to tell when a relationship crosses over that boundary, and what positive action you can take once it does.
How to tell if you’re in a one-sided relationship
“A one-sided relationship occurs when one person does more of the heavy lifting in a key relationship,” explains Smith in the post, whether this is mentally, physically, emotionally or all of the above. These key relationships can also be romantic, friendships, work related and within families.
Smith identifies the signs of an imbalance as a feeling of insecurity about their commitment to you, whatever the context of the relationship. This could look like the other person constantly flaking on you, or not giving you space to express your feelings and thoughts when you do make plans.
A one-sided relationship can be characterised by this communication that only goes one way, whereby your friend or partner doesn’t respond to you sharing your own emotions. You might find yourself lending an ear to listen, but not being listened to yourself, only to have the other person’s trauma dumped on you without being allowed space to do the same. Or you might have a reply-only friend who never does the reaching out or organisation, and who leaves you responsible for making plans and tending to the relationship.
In its simplest form, if the relationship feels like it would collapse without you, it’s likely to be one-sided.
Life in 2022 has a lot of stressors to juggle and we’re all increasingly busy, plus there’s a lot of pressure to respond immediately to social contact, which isn’t always healthy. Sometimes we let things slide, accidentally ghost our friends and have to slide back into their DMs with a “sorry and wine is on me” message. And that’s OK.
However, if you’ve come to the realisation that your friendship or relationship is imbalanced, you might start to experience feelings of emptiness or frustration after spending time together, suggests Smith.
If this becomes the case, she suggests asking yourself a simple question: is the relationship worth saving?
How to tackle being in a one-sided relationship
According to Smith, the best way to tackle this is gently, but head-on. “Start with a gentle conversation to see if they notice the imbalance,” she writes. “You’ll need to work together to address the needs and expectations of the relationship to find positive solutions.” However, the other person must be willing to recognise the imbalance and work collaboratively towards change.
Whether this means paying more attention to your feelings, respecting your boundaries more or taking back their share of the relationship load, it’s up to the other person to take some responsibility for their actions, even if they were not intentional.
“I understand that a conversation may be particularly difficult if there is a power dynamic in which speaking up could have detrimental consequences,” Smith says. “In my own personal experience, I have learned that by not speaking up sooner that you may get hurt even worse at the end.
“The bottom line is, feeling under-valued in a relationship hurts. If you are suspecting that you are on the giving side of a one-sided relationship, remember that the other person may not recognise this dynamic. You may discover that you have different attachment styles and have different needs in the relationship, or that the relationship is something you no longer wish to continue to invest so much in.”
Both of those outcomes are perfectly acceptable, as long as you’re both approaching the situation with compassion and maturity.
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