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One-Sided Love

Learn about the factors that make a difference.

After eight years of romantic partnership, Larry tells Jim that he is no longer “feeling it.” Larry says, “I still love you, but the passion has drained away, and to be honest, it wasn’t very strong even at the start.”

That last sentence sends Jim reeling. Larry deprecates the entire history of what they’ve shared. Nonetheless, Jim asks him, “Would you come with me to see a couples therapist and help me sort out what’s happened between us?”

Larry agrees to participate, but is doubtful about being able to make things better between them. Perhaps couples' work will help him leave Jim on the best terms possible? Or perhaps there is something else that can be explored which might reignite possibilities for a more romantic reconciliation?

But what might that be, and what are the chances of such a change?

Jim expresses consternation about how or why they have grown apart. Larry starts to unpack his experience, emphasizing that he’s always felt emotionally and financially dependent on Jim. For the first time in his adult life — after years of freelancing as a graphic designer and making a modest, precarious living — a string of award-winning projects have catapulted him into top-dollar remuneration and acclaim.

This "new" version of Larry — the one who feels like a winner — repudiates the notion that he has lived so long within the shadow, and not the spotlight, of his destiny. The "old" Larry — dependent, needy, lacking in self-confidence — was Jim’s partner. Larry says, “If we fit together then, how can we fit together now?”

I wonder if Larry would be interested in exploring this question: “What prevents you from generating an expectation that Jim, loving you as you were, would only love you more now that you seemingly feel better about yourself? Why would Jim wish to keep you connected to how you had been? What would be in it for him?”

Larry did not dismiss this question out of hand. Had he done so, the conversation could not have continued. As it was, he seemed interested in exploring the possibility that his lack of interest in Jim might be related to his own inner dynamics.

Image Point Fr/Shutterstock
Source: Image Point Fr/Shutterstock

Another couple I worked with recently — Aaron and Mindy — had a similar presentation in their first session. Aaron said, “Even in the beginning, I had doubts. Things never felt absolutely wonderful.” He continued, “One thing led to another, and I felt that it made sense for us to get married. Maybe it was the right time for me to be part of a permanent couple, and I was willing to put my reservations about it on the shelf.” Aaron rationalizes that what clinched his involvement with Mindy had little to do with Mindy.

What does that say about him?

By denigrating his relationship with Mindy on the grounds that it is not absolutely superlative, Aaron repudiates this notion: Love relationships require work. Long-term relationships cannot and do not exist on a rarified, ecstatic plane. Even if they are absolutely wonderful, they don’t stay that way without partners doing some requisite relationship maintenance.

Did either Larry or Aaron ever hold what I call a "relationship perspective"? By that, I mean a perspective that informed them that a time had arrived in the relationship which necessitated that they generate conscious, compassionate care and attention to emotional interchanges between themselves and their partners.

4 Guidelines When Relationships Feel One-Sided

Being in a one-sided relationship, if you and your partner are willing, creates opportunities for developing empathy. You have to be looking for them and be ready to follow through on their promise. Once a theme of mutuality — seeing eye-to-eye — is established, healing becomes a possibility.

  1. When one partner feels invisible to the other, it is likely that the feeling is mutual.
  2. If one partner feels unappreciated, the likelihood is that the other feels so too.
  3. If you feel your partner does not see or hear you clearly, act with confidence and conviction to stem your feelings of invisibility and feeling unseen and unheard.
  4. In one-sided relationships, gauge the potential for positive change by considering the degree of rigidity with which the power imbalance is maintained. The greater the rigidity, the less probable breakthroughs in repairing trust will be. Often, differences between partners are surmountable or not depending not on how far apart the viewpoints are, but on how rigidly those viewpoints are held.

Do you have experience with one-sided love situations? I am interested in hearing about your experience if you care to share.