When your involvement in a relationship is not mutual, the result can be painful for both of you, but especially for the one who is more committed to the relationship. Unrequited love —one of the most popular movie and novel themes—has indeed been known to trigger extremely painful emotions. Sometimes just the recognition that your relationship comes under this category is all that is needed to help you make some necessary choices. Sometimes it’s to stay in a relationship that most would define as “unworkable“, but more often, it means getting out. Most people I’ve seen as a psychologist over the years, start by demanding change in the other person that will—at last—make involvement in their relationship mutual. Occasionally, they do get what they want. But changing your partner’s attitude toward you without his or her consent is the only route that’s truly impossible.
Why do so many people find themselves repeatedly in one-sided love affairs in the form of painful crushes, rebound relationships or relationships where one person is married or otherwise unavailable (physically or emotionally)? There are plenty of good people out there from which to choose; and it is not because you are unlovable, unattractive, or in some other way cursed to remain sans a decent relationship. In my experience as a psychologist with a specialty in the relationship area, I am here to tell you that there is a fulfilling relationship for practically everybody. However, those who typically enter into or stay in one-sided love affairs do so for several reasons, for example:
1. You might tend to be love-prone. By that I mean you consider yourself a person who habitually falls in love in such a way that you act as though you have no control whatsoever over your emotions. You may even feel as though you catch “love at first sight” almost as though it were some kind of virus. Sometimes it is great to have feelings that are fantasy-based about being involved with someone in a spontaneous way. But the downside is when you realize, but refuse to accept the reality that whatever it is you are fantasizing about won’t go any further. It’s only when you insist that your fantasy must go further than reality dictates, that things become painful. Love-junkies spend a lot of time being hurt, until they move on after accepting the reality that having what they fantasized about is just not going to happen.
2. You might have a preoccupation with vulnerability in relationships. Although it has been romanticized that being vulnerable is the way to go, vulnerability also means weakness or the inability to choose. In fact, the word “vulnerability” literally means weak. The best couples are those who can feel strongly and deeply for each other while standing on their own two feet. When you give up your autonomy along with the ability to choose to leave—if that becomes necessary— you open yourself to being exploited by the other person and/or your own painful emotions.
3. You could be ambivalent about commitment. On the one hand you want it and seek it; on the other hand you pick the kind of person who gives clear and early signs that commitment is not really for him or her. So think twice about dismissing those signs when they are present.
4. Maybe your self-esteem depends so much on being in a relationship that anyone who gives you the slightest hope of involvement makes you “smell” love and ignore the realities of who that person is. In this case, it’s your self-esteem that’s the culprit. As you work on that, see if the person still interests you.
Perhaps long-term or committed involvement is not what you want, but if it is, recognizing the one-sided nature of the relationships you enter and your patterns in these relationships can help you take a step back, and allow yourself to find the relationship you’ve been hoping for. In my book Can Your Relationship Be Saved? How to Know Whether to Stay or Go, you can find help in either getting out of an unfulfilling relationship, or work on the one you’re in to make it a relationship that’s more mutually fulfilling.