One-sided Relationships

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Relationships can be incredibly difficult, but when one person is giving more than the other, it can be even harder. One-sided relationships occur when one person invests a lot of time and effort into the relationship while the other takes a lot of time and energy, without putting in any effort. Unfortunately, many people stay in these relationships, either because they are afraid to leave or don’t realize that it isn’t normal. If you notice you’re in a one-sided relationship, it’s important to know there’s help available. You don’t have to stay in a situation that isn’t working.

Recognizing toxic relationships and patterns can help you make the decision to get out and move on. It’s important to identify signs of a one-sided relationship in order to protect yourself from emotional distress and damage.

What Are One-Sided Relationships?

For starters, it’s important to understand what a one-sided relationship is. This type of relationship usually involves one partner giving a lot more effort and time than the other, while the other partner does not reciprocate. The giver may be trying to keep the relationship afloat and make the relationship work despite how unbalanced it is, while the taker takes advantage of this dynamic without feeling guilty or attempting to bridge the gap. This unhealthy dynamic can exist in a romantic relationship or a platonic relationship. Some signs you might be in a one-sided relationship include the following:


One of the most common signs of a one-sided relationship is codependency. This happens when one person in the relationship relies too heavily on the other, often to their detriment. Instead of two partners giving equally in a balanced relationship, the giver may feel like they need to take care of all their partner’s needs, even if it means putting their own aside. One partner may also feel like the other party isn’t giving enough in return, or that they can’t be happy without them.


Enabling is when one partner enables the bad behavior of the other, often making excuses for them or covering up their bad actions. This can be a sign of an unhealthy relationship and may lead to resentment on both sides.

Emotional Abuse

Another sign of a one-sided relationship is emotional abuse. This can be anything from verbal insults to manipulation, intimidation, and control. Emotional abuse can be hard to recognize, as it may not leave any physical evidence but it can still have a deep impact on the victim’s mental well-being. Some signs can be:

  • Put down: Does your partner belittle you or make you feel worthless?
  • Isolation: Do they try to isolate you from friends, family, and activities?
  • Threats: Do they use scare tactics to keep you in line?

If any of these behaviors sound familiar, it’s important to take action. Recognizing the signs of emotional abuse can be the first step to starting the healing process.

Unrealistic Expectations

In one-sided relationships, the giver often has unrealistic expectations of their partner. They may expect the other to change or become someone they’re not. They may also expect their partner to meet all of their needs without ever meeting the other person’s. For instance, they may expect their partner to always be understanding or nurturing without ever showing those same qualities themselves or being on the same page.

If you find yourself in this type of situation, it’s important to remember that no one is perfect, and expecting someone to change is often a recipe for disaster. It’s also important to realize that meeting your own needs is just as important.

No Respect for Boundaries

One-sided relationships tend to have a lot of blurred boundaries, as the giver may be willing to put up with anything from the taker. This lack of boundaries can lead to the giver feeling taken advantage of and resentful, as they’re not being respected as individuals. In healthy, adult, romantic relationships, both partners set clear boundaries that are respected. However, if your partner’s behavior is selfish and they constantly dismiss your feelings, this can lead to low self-esteem and a breaking point in the relationship.

Examples of boundaries that might be broken include:

  • Talking to you in disrespectful ways.
  • Expecting you to drop everything or be available whenever they need something.
  • Demanding that you do things that make you uncomfortable.
  • Talking to other people or even cheating outside of the relationship.

The most important thing is to establish your own boundaries and communicate them clearly and consistently to your partner. If they don’t respect your boundaries, then it may be time to reevaluate the relationship.

Unbalanced Effort and Time

In a one-sided relationship, it’s usually pretty obvious when one person is putting in more effort than the other. This manifests in a variety of ways — from someone always initiating conversations or making plans, to one person never reciprocating the kind gestures of their partner. In addition, you might begin to feel as if your partner’s calendar takes priority, leading to an imbalanced relationship and feelings of low self-worth.

It’s important to recognize when this is happening and make sure both people are putting in the same amount of effort and time. If you find that you’re always the one initiating or doing more than the other person, it may be a sign that you’re in an imbalanced relationship. Finding time to spend together is one of the best ways to build meaningful connections, but unbalanced effort and time can lead to people not feeling heard.

How Do One-Sided Relationships Develop?

While some relationships naturally fizzle out and some partners can move on healthily, other one-sided relationships are the product of grooming, manipulation, and control. This type of relationship often involves an imbalance of power, with one person taking advantage of the other’s vulnerability or fear. But, how does this process start? When dealing with a narcissist or someone with an unhealthy attachment style, there are several key steps to the process of creating a one-sided relationship.

Love Bombing

Love bombing is one of the first stages of a one-sided relationship. It involves an intense bombardment of romantic gestures, compliments, and promises that can seem overwhelming to the other person. The goal is to make the target feel special and loved — so much so that they will overlook any red flags or suspicious behavior from their partner. While not everyone love bombs their partner, this is a common tactic for narcissistic and abusive partners that want to groom and prepare for an abusive long-term relationship.


Once the victim has been “love bombed”, the abuser may start to use a tactic known as “gaslighting”. This involves making their victim question their own reality and perceptions by denying facts or manipulating them into believing that what they know to be true is actually false. By making the victim feel insecure and confused, one party can become easier to control and manipulate, therefore creating a relationship that feels one-sided.


Once the abuser has gained trust and control over the other person, they may start isolating them from friends and family in order to further increase their power over them. This makes it harder for the victim to get out of the situation or seek help since they have no one else to turn to. In addition, it can make them more dependent on their abuser and increase the one-sided dynamic of the relationship.

Getting Help For a One-Sided Relationship

If you’re in a one-sided relationship, it can be difficult to recognize and address the problem. The first step is to seek help from a trusted friend or family member who can provide emotional support and advice. You should also consider talking to a professional therapist or counselor who can help you identify any underlying issues or patterns of behavior that may be contributing to the unhealthy dynamic.

Ultimately, there is no “quick fix” for a one-sided relationship — but taking the time to assess your situation and seek help if necessary can make all the difference in helping you move past it. With patience, understanding, and self-care, you can start rebuilding healthy relationships in your life and create healthier boundaries and relationships. Some possible options for getting help include:

Relationship Counseling

At times, even healthy relationships can turn one-sided, and seeking help from a professional can be beneficial in addressing the problem. A relationship therapist is trained to identify relationship issues and provide guidance on how to create more balanced interactions between partners.

Support Groups

Support groups offer a safe and understanding environment for those struggling with one-sided relationships. It’s an opportunity to connect with others who have had similar experiences, share your struggles, and find support from people who understand what you’re going through. You can gain insight into your own feelings and also understand what a healthy relationship looks like.


It’s important to take care of yourself when dealing with a one-sided relationship — whether that means taking time out of your day for leisurely activities or reaching out to friends and family for support. The key is to focus on rebuilding your self-confidence and boosting your sense of worth so that you can move forward with a healthier outlook on relationships.

No matter what kind of one-sided relationship you’re in, it’s important to remember that it doesn’t define who you are — or the type of relationships you should seek out in the future. With patience and understanding, you can build healthier relationships and create boundaries that will keep you safe from toxic behaviors in the future.

Get the Help You Need Today

If you need help navigating a one-sided relationship, or if a toxic relationship is affecting your mental health, don’t hesitate to reach out for support. At Clear Behavioral Health, our team is dedicated to helping you recover from the effects of one-sided relationships and rebuild healthier ones in the future. Get started today, and start on your journey to a stronger, more balanced life. Contact us for more information about our online mental health counseling program or to schedule an appointment. We are here to help you get the support you need.

Last Updated on June 8, 2023

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