What to do When You Are in Unequal Relationships



image by postaletrice


It happens. People in your life don’t necessarily value you to the same extent that you value them. For example, say Joe is really important to you, but you are less important to him. Or vice-versa. Perhaps Joe considers you an integral part of his life, whereas for you, he’s not so important. 

It doesn’t matter what this relationship is. It sucks. Particularly for the person who cares more. 

So what to do about it? 

Let’s first of all accept the difference between feelings and relationships. You may have feelings for a person, which they are in no way obligated to return. But when you are in relationship with someone – be it, friendship, romantic, or familial – that creates expectations.

Best relationships are at least almost equal. By this, I don’t mean you should keep tabs on who does what for whom, or take turns to call each other. It’s not accounting or trade. It’s feelings. But where there is mutual affection and mutual respect – there will be give and take. 

It may not be exactly the same – for example, your way of expression affection may be to give hugs and make dinner for people, whereas your friend may do it by listening to you talk about your minute problems, and your sister may do it by bringing you practical help. It doesn’t matter if everyone’s way of showing affections is different – what matters is that their actions make you feel like you are valued in their life. 

But what if it’s not like that? What if most effort or show of affection (I mean their actions, not just words – words are easy) is one sided?

Then you have a decision to make. It’s going to be different from person to person and relationship to relationship, and therefore a very subjective decision. But below are few things you can consider. 

  1. Be honest whether this inequality exists only in your head

    If you are expecting things from someone, because of your feelings for them, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they owe you something. You need to be honest with yourself here. Is this person on the same page as you about the relationship? This applies less to familiar relationships – because the relationship agreement is already in place there, someone is related to you or they aren’t – but definitely applies to romantic relationships, as well as friendships. Just because you feel someone is your best friend, doesn’t mean they have to feel the same. Just because you are in love with someone, doesn’t mean they have to be in love with you. No one owes you anything. This honesty is important. So if you feel your relationship is unequal, first be completely honest, if the other person has anything to do with it, or whether you are just trying to project your feelings onto them. 

  2. Evaluate the importance of this person in your life

    Evaluate this person’s importance in your life, and yours in theirs. Why do you think there is such disparity? It may simply be because your personalities are different, or because you are at different places in life. For example, if you just made a new friend in a new country, they could become really important to you, while you may be one of their many friends. Or does this disparity exist because one of you simply doesn’t appreciate the other person more, or is too wrapped up in their own concerns? Again, honesty and clarity is important. If they are so important to you that you can’t reduce the intensity of your feelings, but also can’t do without them – then decide whether you need to have an honest conversation with them. 

Remember, not all relationships have to be equal. As long as both parties are satisfied with the state of the relationship, it’s not an issue. But if the inequality leads to resentment then it’s time to re-evaluate, take a step back, and decide what you want to do.

Do you want to have relationships that are massively unbalanced? If you are the receiver of affections that you can’t return, then it may make you feel guilty (if you are a nice person). If you are comfortable taking advantage of someone else’s affections, then well, you have other issues. If you are the giver of affections, but feel unappreciated, under-valued, and feel like you don’t matter as much in the other person’s life as they matter in yours, then you need to make a choice – if you already feel this way, then that means you know things are unequal. Continuation of these feelings may lead to eventual resentment. Resentment sours all relationship. So decide if the time to take a step back from the relationship is now. 


Each relationship nurtures a strength or weakness within you.

– Mike Murdock


Think about what your relationships are nurturing within you, and whether they are bringing out the best in you, or the worst.