Strengthening A One-Sided Marriage

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14 Tips To Stay Committed and Positive When Times Are Tough

“I want my marriage to work, but my wife thinks there isn’t anything wrong.”

“I want to go to counseling, but my husband refuses.”

Dealing with a one-sided marriage is a common problem. We get asked about it a LOT on our Facebook page, and we always get really thoughtful, experienced answers from people who have been-there-done-that. Although sometimes what we read is heartbreaking, it is an unfortunate reality for so many people. We are overwhelmingly grateful for our readers and their willingness to share their experiences to help others.

So in a mass effort to help out these incredible followers, we wanted to combine advice from relationship experts, readers with experience in that area, and tips from the Diva team into one really helpful post. So, the next time we get a question about a one-sided marriage, we are armed and ready to go with the best tips we have to offer!

These really are a must-read for every couple, but especially those suffering in a one-sided marriage.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. To learn more about ’em, click here.

In the tips below, you’ll find quite a few references to an article and interview with Matt Townsend, relationship coach and expert. We adore him around here! Let us tell you, when we were researching for this article, it was slllliiiiiimmmmm pickings for references. Most articles seemed to suggest you should end it if things are one-sided. While that is reality for many people, it isn’t reality for everyone; a one-sided marriage can turn around if the circumstances are right. We found that the article from Matt was one of the very few that offered real suggestions to sustaining the relationship and helping it thrive. Toward the end of our post, we’ll talk about how and when it may be time to say goodbye. However, we encourage you to try everything else first. We’ve tried to list the tips in somewhat chronological order, so #1 being for people who might say to themselves, “I’ve just started feeling like I’m in a one-sided marriage very recently,” to #14 being “I’m thinking about ending it – I’m exhausted.”

1. Be the brave one. Let me speak from my own experience: we often say in our marriage – “someone has to be the brave one.” If you are feeling disconnected to each other, start taking it up a notch on your own. Show your passion. It’s kind of scary at first, I’ll admit. It’s easy to feel a bit silly, and it’s hard to put yourself out there so vulnerably. But don’t give up. Show your spouse that your marriage is important to you, and do whatever that takes. We Divas have tons and tons of ideas, ranging from quick and easy “pick-me-ups,” to creative bedroom games, to completely planned date nights – so your job is pretty easy. Plan a weekend away. Surprise them with their favorite treat. Finally start doing that one thing they keep asking you to do. Pay them a daily compliment. Show them that you care about your relationship, and that you are 100% in. I have found, personally, that when we get busy with life’s schedules and there’s a need to re-connect, when someone steps up to be the “brave one,” other person soon follows. It feels so good to be noticed, heard, and appreciated, so the other wants to give that right back.

2. Keeping score is for sports, not marriages. Time to get real! We often say that in marriage, each partner should not just be giving 50-50, but 100-100. But – let’s face it – sometimes marriage isn’t always exactly equal. Amazing beyond words? Absolutely. Fair? Not always. If you are dwelling too much on the “perfectly equal marriage,” and why you don’t have it, it’s not going to get any better. If you want to make your marriage work, you need to do everything you can to improve your relationship without “keeping score.” There have been times in our marriage when my husband hardly has time to sleep due to his hectic work and school schedule, so I bear the weight of “marriage nurturing” (i.e: planning simple date nights or little surprises). There have also been times in our marriage when I hardly have time to sleep (like when I’ve had babies or other heavy responsibilities), and then the roles reverse. Relationships have a way of ebbing and flowing, so “keeping score” will only hurt you.

3. Serve. I had a teacher in high school who told a story I’ll never forget. With his permission, I’ll share it here: He, (Steve), was 19 at the time, and serving a mission for his church. His “companion” (like a partner) drove him up the wall. He had all kinds of crazy quirks, and being so young, Steve just couldn’t see the big picture and handle them well. They were essentially together 24 hours a day, and it was exhausting on every level. He was attending a meeting with a large number of other missionaries, and decided to go and talk to one of his leaders about it. He poured his heart out, and said he just couldn’t stand his currently assigned companion. He didn’t know what to do. His leader then told him something life-changing: “You need to develop some love. Iron his shirt every morning…and don’t tell him.” “IRON HIS SHIRT EVERY MORNING?!” he said, “WHY?! That’s the last thing I want to do!” But he just left it at that. Begrudgingly, and not understanding at all why this would help – Steve woke up a few minutes earlier every day and ironed his companion’s white shirt. Soon, the acts of service expanded. He did his dishes for him when they weren’t done. He shined his shoes. He helped him with his religious studies. The list went on and on. His companion eventually started doing those things for Steve as well. Through service, and over a long period of time, Steve’s heart was softened, and he learned to see the great qualities that his companion had. They are still friends all of these years later, and Steve still laughs at his crazy habits. He quit focusing on the problems, and started focusing on the person. As a result, he completely forgot about himself, and began looking outward instead. As you go about serving your spouse, don’t focus on what you “should get” in return. Keeping in line with #2, we don’t want to keep score here. It takes a lot of selflessness, and you have to completely push your pride aside – but you may just be surprised at the result.

4. Understand that it’s most likely not you. In these tips from Matt Townsend, he states that in a one-sided marriage, one person is usually is “relationally challenged.” They aren’t rejecting you personally, they are just doing what they’ve seen in other relationships, as they typically haven’t had positive examples for relationships in their lives. In his words, “In my experience, there are more people in the world who are relationally challenged than people who are actually tired of their partner and ready to move on. Properly re-framing your partner’s inactivity as a sign of being relationally challenged versus a personal rejection can be the first step toward a healthier and happier life together.”

5. Stay effective. It’s just all-too-easy in marriage to fall into habits. Bad habits. Habits that might just hinder your marriage. If the other person is somewhat the “leader” or “developer” of these bad habits, respectfully don’t follow suit. Stand up for yourself and for your relationship. It’s easy to think, “Well, he’s looking at his phone, so I’m just going to sit here and look at my phone, too.” Or, “She hasn’t expressed an interest in having a date night anytime soon, so I guess I won’t either.” Remember! Be the brave one! If you don’t like a few of your current habits in your marriage, now is the time to kick ’em to the curb. Not next week. Not even tomorrow. Now! Put the phone down. (Okay, okay, finish reading this first!) Plan a date night. Go to the bedroom. Whatever you need to do. Decide what your dream marriage looks like, and work every single day to make that a reality. The inspiration for this tip comes again courtesy of these great suggestions from Matt Townsend. In his words, we should learn to lead our relationships based on our deepest values and beliefs regardless of how our partner acts or behaves. Just as you wouldn’t expect your young toddler to lead the family back to the car after a shopping trip at the mall, you shouldn’t expect the person that is most relationally challenged to take the lead on improving conditions in your marriage. If you know you have higher needs and abilities relationally than your partner, then it is time to start leading your partner using all of your relational talents and skills.”

Great Tips for a One-Sided Marriage

6. Invest. Marriages take work, especially in the relationships that feel one-sided. If you don’t like where you see your marriage going in the future based on your current habits, it’s high-time to start investing in some great books and programs if you haven’t been already. While recently testing out the new Reclaim Your Marriage Program, my husband commented that completing the tasks every week was essentially a part-time job. It was true! This will take time – a lot of time – and maybe even money. It may be difficult to initially lay that time and cash aside, but if you want your marriage to not only work, but thrive, it’s essential. To start, sign up for our newsletter and get the “7 Days of Love” challenge for free, or read The 5 Love Languages together. Also, be sure to check out this post on our favorite marriage books. If things are more serious and you are in need of something a bit more intensive, see if the Marriage Masters Program or Reclaim Your Marriage Program would be good fits for you. Membership over at Marriage Club also shows some incredible benefits, and so many of our readers have expressed to us how much it’s helped their marriages. {Not sure which marriage program is right for your unique relationship? Take our quiz to find out!}

7. You can only control yourself. Instead of focusing on what your spouse is not doing, focus on what you can do. If your spouse doesn’t want to see a counselor, you can go alone. If you want your marriage to be happier, make it happier – even if you are the only one who seems interested in investing at first. Of course, ideally, you want two people working together, but it only takes one person for improvements to potentially be seen. Going back to #1 – be the brave one. Have you ever seen the movie Fireproof? It’s one of my favorites! It shows how one person can make their marriage better – even if the other isn’t reciprocating initially. So focus on positive interactions with your spouse. Focus on being the best you can be. Your efforts most likely won’t go unrecognized. When you give it your all, you gain confidence, and that will help you in so many areas of your life…your marriage being one of them! With that said, please don’t forget about yourself. Remember that you are important, too. In the midst of focusing so much on them and your relationship, you won’t be doing anybody any good in the end if you are a hot mess through it all. Try to keep that in mind.

8. Own up.Try to have a clear, concise conversation with your partner about what you’d like to get out of your marriage. In this conversation, it would be so easy to place the blame entirely on the “relationally challenged” one. My friend, please avoid that. No one likes to feel worthless, and like everything is their fault. It won’t help much. In the words of Matt Townsend, Don’t place all of the blame on your partner, but instead take balanced ownership of where you need to pick up your game and where they can pick up theirs.” Matt also suggests several other tasks to conquer in this big conversation, like what exactly needs to change in your relationship, what the “deadline” for the changes are, and a plan to learn the new skills needed; whether it be taking classes or seeing a counselor. He also suggests “accountability meetings” every so often to ensure everybody is on track. Honestly, I feel like these types of conversations could benefit every marriage, not just those who are in a one-sided marriage!

9. Make it a Win-Win relationship. Think of your best friend – whether they’re from your childhood, teen years, or now. Why is (or was) that relationship so good? Probably because things felt relatively equal. It was a Win-Win relationship. When they gave you a birthday present, you gave them a birthday present. When they offered to cover your tab, you paid ’em back next time. Of course, there was probably some “ebb” and “flow,”( like what we talk about with #2) but overall, that’s how positive relationships work. In order for all parties involved to be as happy as possible, everyone needs to understand that it must function as a Win-Win relationship – or else there will be “No Deal.” Once again, Matt Townsend has great – although somewhat heartbreaking – advice. If it’s not Win-Win (meaning that you both feel empowered by the relationship), it’s time to talk about consequences. He says: “I’ve found that the sooner you’re willing to push the Win-Win or ‘No Deal’ position, the sooner you’ll start to see the relationship turn around. By taking the Win-Win or ‘No Deal’ approach, you are saying that you are mature and empowered enough to not be in a relationship where one partner is constantly going to lose. It shows that you’d rather change than to force either you or your partner to constantly lose. The healthiest approach is that both parties maintain enough character to continuously work for the Win-Win solution together.

10. Decide your priorities. Pick your battles. Decide what is most important to you in your relationship right now. Is it attending counseling? Not enough quality time together? What do you want to fight for? You can’t do it all at once – you can’t fix all of the problems in your marriage in one fell swoop. BUT – you can break them down, one at a time. Decide your top priority to solve in the next few months. Compromise (if you have to) to bring that issue to light and get to work on it. If communication is your main hot-spot, put everything else on the back burner and focus solely on that. This takes time, of course, and a lot of patience. However, if you try to work on everything all at once, you’ll wind up just feeling overwhelmed and want to give up. So slow down and tackle them, one at a time.

11. “How can I make your day better?” If you haven’t read this touching true story yet from Richard Paul Evans, author of novels like If Only and The Christmas Box, then drop everything you are doing and read it. It has helped so many people in a one-sided marriage, and we’ve heard that over and over again. Several readers have told us that reading it was the “turning point” for them, and that his inspiration and perspective changed their marriage. So take a few minutes, and give it a read.

These are great tips for any marriage, but especially for those struggling with a "one-sided" marriage.

12. They are still with you – that should speak volumes. A little while ago, a reader wrote in to our Facebook page, and was struggling with a very one-sided marriage. The responses she received were absolutely inspiring, but one comment from a woman named Alicia stood out to me. With her permission, I’ll share it here: You need to look at things from his point of view and figure out why he’s hurting, since you obviously both are. If he wasn’t willing to work on your marriage he would have divorced you by now. But he is still with you. That should speak volumes. Serve him, be selfless, love and cherish him and try to see all the things he’s doing silently to show love. Express gratitude for the little things and that will lead to him doing bigger things. Pray and stay positive. It’s not over yet, you’re just stuck in a rut. It hurts to not get what you deserve but make sure he’s getting what he deserves as well.” I loved that she said to put herself in his shoes, and perhaps try to understand why he is “relationally challenged” (as Matt Townsend says). She makes another great point – you are still married. If your spouse really didn’t want to be with you, he or she would have left by now. Something is keeping you together. So find out what that is, and nourish it.

13. Research mental health disorders. Ideally, you should know if your spouse has a mental health disorder before you even get married. However, that isn’t always the case. Some go undetected and undiagnosed for many, many years, (and some don’t manifest until later in life) and I have personally seen several marriages end due to untreated mental illness that no one was aware of until it was too late. It is a sickness – an illness – just like a broken leg or heart condition. It needs treatment. In recent years, I feel like the stigma of mental health is finally being removed. People are starting to realize that they don’t have to hide anymore and that help is readily available. Before you head to the divorce lawyer, be sure you’ve done your research on mental health disorders as there are many, and they are much more common than you may think. Most of the time, they can be treated. It will be an incredibly long road. In fact, it will probably never end. But knowing that there is a reason for their behavior provides a lot of freedom; more so than you can imagine. It provides an explanation, a justification of sorts. There are myriads of support groups, counselors, therapists, and doctors available at the ready to become a part of your “support network.” Only you can decide if you want to handle the burden, though, so knowledge is everything. Labels like “personality disorder” and “mental illness” may conjure up images of white straight jackets and rubber rooms, but chances are, you already know several people with these disorders, and they are living their lives just like you. We’ve provided a few resources that may help you get started:

14. Abuse is never okay. With all of our hearts, we wish we didn’t have to mention this. But we do. We see it in our Reader Questions, and we know there are strong companions out there who are sticking out an abusive marriage, because they think things will eventually turn around. We commend you for your efforts, but the reality is, if you are being abused, it’s time to walk away. Chances are small that things will ever change. Whether it’s separation or divorce, you need to find a safe path that works for you. No one deserves that, especially from those they love. We often say here at The Dating Divas that “any marriage can work” – but we really need to add an *asterisk to that little saying. “Any marriage can work – *as long as it’s not abusive.” We decided to put together a few resources (though there are many others out there) for you to decide for yourself if you are in an abusive relationship. Please give them a thoughtful read and decide where you stand in your relationship. Above all, please seek professional help if any of these “signs” feel all too familiar to you:

Not every one-sided marriage needs to end. If you feel like there is hope, then cling onto it with all you have, and know that The Dating Divas are here to support you every step of the way!

Like I mentioned in #6, “Invest Your Time”, there are several programs available to you if you feel like you could use an extra helping hand. Be sure to check out our Reclaim Your Marriage Program or the Marriage Masters Program if you feel like your marriage needs revitalizing!


The first time my husband saw me, I had whipped cream all over my face, and chocolate smothered all over my chef whites. He asked me out right then and there, and he didn't even know my name! Five beautiful years, two incredible kids, four teensy apartments, and a darling home later...he still sweeps me off my feet everyday! I am a true lover of travel, music, vintage fashion, classic literature, teaching, my faith, and midnight baking.

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Recent Comments

  1. I enjoy reading your articles but I have yet to see anything regarding my situation or I’ve just missed them. I’ve been married for 17 years and through those years I’ve caught him in too many lies to count, I’ve caught him online, phone chat lines, text messages from the woman from these chat lines making arrangements to meet later that day. Not just once has this happened and every time he’s had an excuse saying “oh I didn’t follow through with it” even though it’s happened more than once, I know I’m my heart and head he’s not telling the truth but chose to just let it be and dropped it but I’ve never forgotten and it eats at me daily. I don’t want my marriage to end and I don’t want to feel like this anymore. I feel like he should be wanting to show me how much this marriage means to him with giving me the love and attention I try to give to him, he should know how much I’ve had to swallow and be great Gil I’m still with him. What does this say about me our marriage and my life?

    1. Oh girl, saying I’m sorry doesn’t begin to cover it. As someone who was cheated on, trust me — I can understand the pain and fear of your marriage breaking up. It’s the type of hurt that cannot be explained — a soul-searing, heart-rending anguish and terror that so few seem to understand and that clouds your mind every moment of every day.

      First of all, let me say this: your husband’s infidelity isn’t about YOU. It’s not about some deficit in your character or something you SHOULD have but don’t; it’s not about you AT ALL. Think about what you’d say to your best girlfriend if she was going through this! You’d know it wasn’t her fault and didn’t mean she was weak or foolish. You’d know she loved her husband, wanted her marriage to work, and was SO strong and loving and good. And all those things are true of you, too!

      While we do have some posts about infidelity (here and here), this is the kind of marital issue that needs professional help rather than seeking information from a blog post alone. If your husband is willing to do counseling, go with him! If not, do it alone. You have dealt with pain and trauma, and counseling from a good therapist can be a game-changer in how you feel about yourself, understanding what to do about the situation, etc.

      Lastly, know that you are not alone. Dealing with a spouse’s affair, whether emotional or physical, can feel so incredibly isolating — but I promise you, there are people who understand and people who can help. Keep your chin up. I promise that it won’t feel like this or hurt like this forever, no matter how much it might feel like it in this moment. We’re rooting for you!


  2. Such a great list! You’re right when you say that one-sided marriages are an all-too-common problem. It’s great for people to recognize when they are in a one-sided and what to do about it. Thanks for putting this together!

  3. The link that you referenced for Richard Paul Evans under “how can I make your day better” is not working. Can you give me the name of the book so I can look for it elsewhere?

  4. Such a hard topic, but you addressed it so well! I love how you show that it takes work, but there is hope and it’s possible to turn your relationship around!

  5. Such a hard topic, but you addressed it so well! I love how you show that it takes work, but there is hope and it’s possible to turn your relationship around!