I am in a one-sided relationship

-- Question for John --

I’m feeling lately that the relationship I’m in is a one-sided deal. I’m 40, and have been in this relationship a little over 2 years. I would, and when I’m able, do anything for my girlfriend. I am constantly doing things for her, both big and small. But this is a very one-sided situation. It seems though, that when I’m out of sight, I’m out of mind.

I know her kids come first, and her mother is very important to her. Lately though she compares me to her ex-husband. Should I get out while I have a little self-respect left, or can something like this be fixed?

-- Answer from John --

There is no question that if a relationship is one-sided, it will not stand. Love that works is the result of both partners putting energy and intention in building a mutually satisfying relationship. This includes being around when things are not so great, not so comfortable, and not so happy — and being willing to stay the course towards finding a path that leads back to positive love, fulfillment, passion, joy, and all the other things we truly want in a relationship.

Of course, there are many factors that may be at play in your situation that are not obvious from your description. I’ll give you an example of what I mean. This is not meant to be an analysis of your case, because I don’t know what your exact pattern is. This is just an educational example.

Some people are more comfortable with giving than they are with asking for what they want. The “giver” type of personality naturally believes that others should be doing the same thing, hence he would think that his partner ought to be giving also. But not all people operate this way. And an unbalanced “giver” — who cannot clearly state his own needs and negotiate for his wants being met — is really adding an unhealthy facet into a relationship by his omission. This often can lead down the road to a situation where the “giver” wakes up and takes stock, and then he feels utterly ripped off. One of the most important things to change in this kind of relationship — regardless of the interlocking characteristics of his partner — is to address the unbalanced and self-silent approach of the “giver” and bring more wholeness and balance to him.

This is only one of many possible examples. I’m not thinking you are necessarily that “giver” personality type. I don’t know one way or the other. The example is really to show that where on one level, you may rightfully blame your partner for what is going on — on another level you , yourself, may be adding your contribution to that very pattern you dislike. It is difficult to see ones own personality patterns at work. Most of us tend to look at the other person as the source of the problem.

It actually empowers you to look at your own input into the situation. Ask the question, “How did I make this relationship the way it is?” It is not enough to just look outside yourself at your partner — hoping she will address and make right the missing pieces for you in the relationship. You also need to confront yourself and do serious self-examination and soul searching to discover what it is that YOU need to learn and improve in this situation.

For the “giver” above, it would be to more clearly know and state his own needs and wants, to more clearly and non-blaming discuss his unhappy feelings, and to stay with that process and invite his partner to negotiate some new solutions and co-create some new patterns. These are all fairly difficult things for a “giver” to do. A “giver” often blanks out in this department. And there are actual risks involved. Like rocking the boat. Or worse.

Maybe in that process, the “giver” might risk finding out that she is completely disinterested in working together to improve the relationship. And he risks finding out that despite his most mature effort to invite her to improve the relationship — in a way that would clearly benefit both of them (i.e. more passionate loving, happiness, joy) — in spite of all that, she may claim it’s all his problem, and she is not interested in joining him on that journey.

From the outside, we could see this is a risk worth taking. If he finds out the worse, then so be it. At least now he will have a very clear picture from which he can make a much clearer choice. But there is an even more important reason for him to take that risk. Because unless the “giver” speaks up clearly and constructively, and sincerely invites his partner to join him in improving the relationship, he would never give her a chance to do so. Instead, the normally self-silenced “giver” would be holding back this opportunity, and instead blaming her, building more resentments, and probably unconsciously he would be adding the negative energy of all his resentments into the relationship — in a way that would ironically push her away even more.

So this is the example of how a “giver” might be asking me a question very similar to yours, and how there would be much more for him to look at and learn in that scenario. Things that could improve his ability to get what he wants in this relationship. Or if that failed, he would have the ability to make sure his next relationship did not fail from this same pattern. This is true for each of us. In order to ever have a successful longterm happy relationship, we need to wake up to our own patterns and learn new, more healthy and constructive patterns. The upsets that occur in an intimate relationship are our wake-up calls. They let us know exactly what we need to work on in ourselves.

So before you throw in the towel, I suggest you take a moment to look at the relationship from this slightly broader viewpoint. See the bigger picture of the two of you, and spend some time examining what your particular role is in the way things are. Look to what you, yourself, might need to change in your behavior in order to move things in the direction your heart truly wants. Self-examination is not particularly an easy thing to do. Often it is very helpful to get the input of an experienced third party, and spend some time in counseling with the goal to address whatever part you have in the situation — so that you can transform it now, and not have to repeat it again in any possible future relationship.