What Is a One-Sided Marriage?

And how to know if you're in one.

two people with their backs to eachother

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Many people are discovering themselves in what is now being called a one-sided marriage. And according to psychologists, it’s more common than ever.

What Is a One-Sided Marriage?

A one-sided marriage is when one partner has more control in the relationship.

You go to their parents' house for the holidays, you hang out with their friends, you go on vacation where they want to go. You don’t have a lot of say in the matter. Then one day you wonder why and when you signed up for this. 

Signs of a One-Sided Marriage

You know you’re in a one-sided relationship when you feel like you’re putting in more effort into the relationship than your partner is. If you feel insecure about yourself or the relationship, exasperated, disappointed, or exhausted by giving in to what they want, you are not in an equal partnership. Other symptoms are feeling jealous of your partner, feeling like you do the heavy lifting in the partnership, or feeling controlled by your partner. Sometimes, however, it's so subtle, you may be in a one-sided relationship and not even realize it. 

"Awareness makes all the difference," clinical psychologist Dr. Jill P. Weber tells Brides.

Meet the Expert

Dr. Jill P. Weber is a clinical psychologist and author of Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy, Why Women Settle for One-Sided Relationships.

Dr. Weber explains, “I know that many women choose a life of what I call 'sextimacy,' which is offering sex to gain emotional intimacy.” But the problem is, many don’t get the intimacy. She calls it the “sexitmacy trap.”

The thing her clients are missing is “emotional intimacy.” One after another, they come into her office complaining about their “exhausting” and disappointing relationships. But she says, "By steadfastly staying in touch with yourself it becomes easier to separate your own desires from those of others and when you are being completely honest you are being your authentic self.”

How to Fix a One-Sided Marriage

So once you have realized you are in a one-sided marriage and feel that you want to change things, what do you do next? 

Realize it might be them not you.

With hook-up culture as the way many people in their 20s and 30s “came of age” socially, some of them just don’t have the skills to navigate a complicated adult relationship. And you may find that these “relationship challenged” people may have had previous partners where there was no friendship or real bonding. “Many developed their sense of worth in a sexual context,” Dr. Weber explains. Therefore, they need to establish their sense of worth outside that context in order to sustain a long term relationship.

The goal, she says, “is to have emotional intimacy and emotional closeness along with the sexual aspect of the relationship.” 

Discuss the undiscussed.

Many complain about their relationship to their friends, their family, and everyone else—everyone except the person they are in the relationship with! If you are unhappy with the way things are going, you need to talk to your partner. He or she may have no idea that you are unsatisfied, and may think everything is just great. Bring it up when you are both relaxed, not angry, and not distracted by work.

Write down a list of grievances before the big talk, which can make conversation more cathartic and less stressful. 

“Poor communicators often rely on expressing their feelings in a physical or sexual manner, which can make it harder for a relationship to develop,” says Dr. Weber. "When you do not speak of your anger, or assert yourself emotionally, you become vulnerable to maintaining a relationship that is one-sided.” 

Stand up for yourself.

Your partner is getting what they want, why don’t you do the same? Stand up for yourself, and ask if you really want to be a doormat for the rest of your life. Write down what you want. Then ask for it. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Like with any relationship, whether you are dating, engaged, or married, when things get rough you have two choices: leave, or make things better. 

Lift your self-esteem.

Stop putting your energy into getting their approval—instead of always caring about what they think of you, you should worry about what you think of them. Focus on other things, like career goals or other projects. Don’t be so available. Let your partner miss you! Replace your depleted self with a more powerful self by being brutally honest with your partner, and creating an authentic relationship. Dr. Weber suggests looking at your “history of love,” and take inventory of the power dynamic in each relationship. While you may want a strong “alpha” who is the leader in the relationship, you may also not want him or her to control you. It's a common relationship dilemma.

Know what you want.

You don’t have to “settle” for a one-sided relationship if you make your partner aware of how you feel. Deep down, they are in a relationship with you because they care about you. All relationships need to grow and evolve. Decide what your deal breakers are, what you can live with or without, and don’t be shy about negotiating. Make it a win-win situation. 

Don't be afraid of change.

Also, start by changing things up. Change your routine, change your activities. Seek some novelty, take a road trip. Go on more dates and have more fun. Express gratitude to your partner so they will want to do better. Relationships need affection, attention, emotional bonding, and romance to survive. You just need to bring more of that to your side. 

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