by: E.B. Johnson
Finding yourself in a one-sided relationship is never fun, but there are a number of reasons our relationships take on this slant and become less-than-equal. When partner finds themselves wielding all the power, while the other one fades into the background, it’s time for a serious reassessment and a consideration of the things that are both needed and desired in future.
There are a number of a ways to put our relationships back on the right track, but that takes some personal digging and the enhancement of our understanding of self and the ways in which we attach. If you’ve suddenly found yourself stumbling through romantic uncertainty, or feeling as though you’re constantly doing all the emotional work — take heart. Things can change, but you and your partner are going to have to change them yourselves.
Though we’ve been conditioned to believe in the Hollywood dream, all relationships grow and change with time. Sometimes, we just aren’t attracted to our partners in the same way we once were, and sometimes the dynamics with which we use to deal with one another change. Often, these changes are little more than blips on the radar, but they can — from time to time — lead to an imbalance in the partnership. These imbalances find one partner putting in more time and effort than the other, in a shift in investment that can cause a lot of insecurities and shadow concerns.
The level of investment we put into our relationships is important. As partners, we each have to commit to opening up and making space for others to open up to us; in ways that are scary and challenging, but also beautiful and transformative. When our relationships shift in such a way that one partner becomes more invested in the success of the partnership than the other, it creates problematic dynamics and encourages negative patterns and behavior that undermines our longterm happiness.
We can only learn how to address these imbalances by getting honest. We have to be honest about what we want, honest about what’s happening, and honest about what causes us to cling to situations that don’t serve our greater being. By cultivating understanding, we can build this honesty within but that’s a process that takes both time and some brutally radical acceptance — within and without. If that’s a process you think you’re ready to undertake, read on.
What causes romantic imbalances.
There are a number of reasons our relationships find themselves imbalanced, or rocking on the unsteady shores of unequal investment. Life is full-on and chaotic, and it brings with it a number of challenges. From the internal struggles that we face, to the natural pressure of change and growth — if we find ourselves in a relationship that doesn’t feel equal, we have to look at the root causes first and understand what makes these negative patterns grow.
Inability to manage emotions
When we struggle to manage our emotions, it can cause a lot of problems in our relationships, and can also lead to serious imbalances. If one partner shies away from their true emotions, it might cause them to pull back, leading to the other partner to step into the gap; becoming more powerful or dominant in a relationship that should otherwise be equal. Likewise, if one partner is unable to manage their emotions and often lashes out, it can lead to an equal imbalance and a shift in dynamics that is neither pleasant nor productive.
Our past romantic experiences — and even trauma we suffered in childhood — can have a major impact on the way we interact with and manage our relationships. Taking care of a parent emotionally, or lacking emotional care from your own parent can lead you to struggle with those same aspects in your personal relationships. Likewise, if you’re forced to grow up fast through emotional or sexual trauma, you might find yourself struggling with those same power dynamics later on in life.
Sometimes, the shifts in our relationships happen naturally, and sometimes they happen because we allow them too. This is especially true of power-imbalances in relationships that might be caused by one partner making more room for societal expectations than their own desires, preferences, or truths. These pressures can range from gender stereotypes like a belief that one partner must always give-in or be in a positive mood; and it can range all the way to accepting abuse at the cost of warped beliefs on self-determination.
If you’re someone with an empathetic nature, it can make it more likely that you will tolerate or accept a recalibration of power in your relationships. Because you’re so understanding and you feel the emotions of others so easily, it can be easy to use emotion to manipulate you or take advantage.
Lack of boundaries
A lack of boundaries can come from all of the above, or they can come from new insecurities which manifest over time after life’s barrage of chaos. Boundaries are important, and they dictate the way in which we live our lives and find our happiness. When we drop them, or allow other people to trample them, we often find ourselves on the losing end of a power struggle and that’s something that includes our most intimate and romantic relationships.
Signs one of you is more invested than the other.
Our relationships don’t just default to these states of imablances or implode overnight. There are a number of signs which indicate that your relationships are heading in a direction that does not suit our higher goals or purpose. From feeling as though your partnership is shifting on shaking grounds, to a complete withholding of self and personal experiences; these are the red flags you can’t ignore if you’re feeling as though you’re more invested than your partner.
A certain uncertainty
If there’s a certain “uncertainty” to your relationship, it might be a sign that there’s a power dynamic that needs adjusting. When we’re not on even footing with our partners, it makes us feel unsteady and insecure. We don’t know where we stand with them, and that’s something that leads to complex emotions and connection errors that can be hard to untangle if not delicately and appropriately addressed.
No future plans
Find talking about the future uncomfortable? This might be caused by the fact that your partner hasn’t dropped their walls enough to consider this possibility, leaving you shut out and feeling as though you’re building a castle on shifting sands. Talking about our futures shouldn’t be a struggle. When we’re both working toward the same things with the same intentions, talking about the future becomes a joy.
When one partner (or the other) is always making the first contact, it’s a sign that something is off and not quite equal between the two. Partnerships are about give and take, and it requires both members to reciprocate both emotion and effort. Always being the first one to make an effort shows that you’re not a priority, and it might also indicate a drastic difference in both attachment styles and relationship goals.
Closed social circles
Partners share things. They share their emotions, their experiences, and they also share their social circles…or they should when they’re looking at a relationship with a long prospective future. Our friends and our family are an important part of who we are, and it’s important that we share those aspects with anyone we plan on sharing a long journey with. Refusing to let our closest partners in our friends and family shows an unwillingness to show who they are at their core, as well as an unwillingness to connect on a deeper level.
Little personal sharing
Our memories and experiences are an important part of who we are, and they reveal important clues about where we’re coming from to our partners. It’s important that we share these glimpses of insight, and an imbalance can often be indicated by a lack of personal sharing. This occurs when one partner willingly shares stories about their childhood, upbringing or experiences — while the other does not. It’s hard to connect when both parties can’t be vulnerable.
Withholding the self
In the same vein as the sharing of memories, withholding of personal perspective can also be a sign that something isn’t quite right. Balanced relationships require both parties to share their feelings, point-of-view, and opinions. When we withhold these inner aspects of ourselves we make it even harder to connect on any meaningful level; leading to rocky waters in an even rockier relationship where one or more of the parties involved aren’t quite sure where they stand with one another.
Feeling unsteady and insecure
Feeling anxious about your relationship, or feeling as though you are afraid to talk about issues (lest you look insecure, clingy or needy) can be a major sign that one partner is more committed than the other. When both parties are working equally on the partnership, things feel even, fair and comfortable. But, when we allow one partner to give nothing while we give everything? That creates new insecurities that make it hard to see things for what they are.
How to deal with an imbalanced relationship.
Some imbalanced relationships aren’t worth saving, but some are. Sometimes, shifts in our partnerships happen simply because we drop the ball on communication, or forget to pay attention to certain emotional aspects of self or our partners. We can fix our relationships and get them back on even footing (often) but that takes a lot of internal digging, and a lot of uncomfortable conversation and radical self-acceptance.
1. Pinpoint investments and sources
Our relationships are both delicate and robust, going through a number of changes and challenges throughout their long (or brief) lives. They’re dynamic, but when they aren’t giving us what we need, we have to take some time to honestly assess them and what we’re getting out of them. Only by getting real about what we’re putting in (as well as what our partner is putting in) can we start to form a plan that empowers us to restore the balance and piece together the future that suits.
Take a step back and honestly assess who is doing what within the relationship. Consider why each person might be behaving in the manner they’re behaving, and look for causes, sources and stems from which the most negative aspects of cling-and-retreat manifest. Don’t just look at the superficial factors of what’s going wrong. Consider the full package, and don’t shy away from the details that make you more uncomfortable or unlikely to move on.
The key to kicking off this process is to start with your own hang-ups and personal patterns and indescretions. Really dig into the meat of how you’re behaving, and compare that against the image you have of your authentic self and who you really want to be at your core level. Consider what you’re putting into the relationship, and consider what you’re getting out of it. Then, bring your partner and their patterns of behavior into the mix so you can compare that against what you need in order to truly thrive and bloom in your partnership.
2. Get honest
Honesty is one of the biggest and most critical foundation-stones of any intimate partnership. Our honesty is the core piece that allows us to build a castle of stability around our partner and the life we create with them. Honesty allows us to connect with one another, and trust one another — but it also allows us to fix the issues that come up and course-correct relationships that might otherwise find themselves on a downward spiral.
Be honest about what’s going on and be honest about what each of you need in order to be happy and fulfilled within the relationship. As always, start with yourself and figure out how to express what you’re feeling and what you’re not getting from this new power-shifted romantic dynamic. Leave space with your partner to be equally honest, but let them know that there are certain things (boundaries) which cannot be compromised on your end.
Communicate, honestly and openly, with your partner and don’t shy away from the uncomfortable details. We need what we need, and a part of that need is equality, balance and security. Find a safe time and safe place in which to express yourself, and let the honesty be what it is. If you find that you can’t express yourself in this way, or your partner cannot — under any circumstances — express themselves to you, consider that you might be at a crossroads that has to be addressed like the adults you both are.
3. (Re)Evaluate your relationship goals
Though we don’t often like to hear it, the goals we have for our relationships change as frequently and as naturally as our very relationships do. As humans, wee are constantly in a state of growth and change. What we want now is not always what we want in the future…and that’s okay. If you’ve found yourself in a place where one partner has the upper hand and there seems to be no moving it, take an additional step back and take a deep breath. Then, start taking some time to re-evaluate your relationship goals and the things you thought you wanted from your intimate partnerships.
Addressing anything and everything that’s bothering you, and open up (even if it’s just to yourself) about what’s actually going on. Get comfortable considering tough subjects, and don’t shy away from things like in-laws, kids and even pets or the way you manage the bills. Think about all the things that actually go into making an intimate life, and consider what you really, actually have to have in order to feel as though you’re steady, stable, happy, secure and in-love.
When we first get into a new relationship, there are so many things we don’t consider; so many moving pieces that we think won’t take up the room that we do. Between baggage and our own expectations, it’s no easy thing finding a relationship that can remain on even-footing at all times and in all-cases. That’s why it’s so important to regularly check in on your relationship goals, and make sure they are still aligned with where you are right here and right now in this moment. Is this the partnership you want? Or is this the partnership you need? The answer isn’t always the same thing.
4. Visualize relationship success
Visualization is a powerful tool and one that can improve multiple aspects of our lives — intimate partnerships included. When we use visualization and apply it to our romantic relationships, it can help us realize what true success in that domain actually looks like. It can also help us unblock some major stumbling blocks that lead to imbalances and shifts in personal power.
Spend some time (on your own) in a quiet space. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and clear your mind. Picture your dream relationship. What would it look like if it existed right now in the moment? How about 10 years from now? Get a really clear picture in your head (it might take a couple of tries) and then encourage your partner to do the same, either with you or on their own. Compare the visions and discuss what you can do to bring those two pictures of ultimate romantic bliss together.
Doing this can help you both to figure out how to get reinvested in your relationship. It can also help to inspire that old flame and new relationship energy that inspired you both so much at the start. When we tap back into these things, that can reignite passion and remind us why we used to appreciate and adore one another so much in the first place. This can go a long way to improving power dynamics, and make it clear that you’re both in this together because you trust one another to create a happy future.
5. Reconsider your free time
If you are certain that your relationship is worth saving and your problems are manageable, then learning how to redirect your free time can be a great way to bring back an equal investment in your partnership. It’s easy to get bogged down in the endless demands of modern life, and that can cause us to stop appreciating one another or trusting in one another. Getting back to our roots and building in free time that allows us to reconnect on intimate levels is a great way to combat this and make sure we stay focused on the future.
Start looking for opportunities to spend time together outside of the usual scarf-down-dinner-while-we-stare-at-the-TV. Get creative and look for new, shared experiences you both can invest in, in order to rekindle that spark that brought you together in the first place all those years (or days, or weeks) ago.
The way we spend our time together as a couple has a lot to do with how we bond, and how we see one another. If you continue to only see one another in the same grubby getting-by light day-in and day-out, it’s going to be hard to keep seeing each other as the beautiful, powerful and attractive people that we are. Do something new, and explore new and powerful facets of your relationship that allows you both to bloom and thrive.
Putting it all together…
Our relationships grow and shift over time, and though this process is natural it can also lead to some less-than-desirable results if not carefully managed. When things change in our partnerships, it can cause a shift of power that leaves us feeling shaky, unequal and raw. If you’ve found yourself on an uneven footing in your closest partnership, it might be time to take a step back and assess what’s going on and what you can do to change it. After all, our relationships are determined by both partners — not just one.
Dig into the nitty-gritty of your relationship and get real about who is investing what. Honestly assess how much you’re putting into your partnership and consider too what your partner is putting in. Be brutally and radically honest and accepting of what you find, and do the same for your own personal needs and desires. Evaluate your relationships goals and compare them against what you have right here and now. Is this what you want? Is it what you need? Ask yourself the hard questions, and visualize what relationship success really looks like to you. If your relationship is one that’s worth saving, find the balance and rethink the way you connect and spend your time together. Sometimes, it’s the simplest of adjustments that can equal big results and major happiness in our intimate partnerships.