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bad romance
does relationship imbalance actually exist?
by maigen thomas (@Maigen)
pop culture

It seems that in any relationship, one person always feels more strongly than the other does.

“I love you.” “I love you more.” “No, I love YOU more!” etcetera, ad nauseum.

I’ve heard it from many friends regarding their romantic connections, I’ve seen it in marriages observed since childhood and I’ve experienced it firsthand.

However, even as we suggest that this is how it *seems*, we have to admit that such a claim is purely a subjective perspective.

How does one measure love? How do we know the capacity for love or the depth of feeling one person has for another person? There's no real way to quantify it as even a person’s actions and words (or lack of them) don't always reflect what is in their heart.

Of course, it's entirely likely that the two people that form a couple do not feel exactly the same feelings for one another at the same exact time. But that’s because they are different people, with different feelings, different life experiences and different emotional triggers. As each individual reacts differently to stimuli, emotions may wax and wane. In a long-term, committed relationship, this is completely normal. Do you calculate the amount of love based on how either party feels at a particular moment, or on the accumulation of feelings over the length of the relationship?

I think we’re just expressing ourselves differently, and the interpretation of those expressions is what causes these perceived power struggles in relationships.

I know I’m personally guilty of accusing my ex-husband of not loving me as much as loved him. It frustrated me that I felt I was always the one ‘showing’ how I felt, and that I felt he didn’t ‘show’ me back.

My mom sent me a book about love languages that I skimmed through at the time, barely glancing at the information. I didn’t need a book to help my marriage, I needed a husband to tell me every five minutes that he loved me and always held my hand, damn it!

But ultimately, we really were speaking different languages.

Apparently, I’m primarily a person who needs to hear unsolicited verbal expressions to know I’m loved. Secondarily, I crave physical touch. Not just sex (though, that’s pretty important), but the sensation of a touch on my lower back as I’m escorted through an opened door, a hand casually resting on my knee as we drive, walking arm in arm – all of these are reassuring and comforting to me.

If these aren’t your particular ‘languages’, then you don’t instinctively know to offer them. If you’re a person who feels most loved when your partner spends quality time with you – phone on silent, no distractions, just coffee or wine and a long conversation or quiet time – you wouldn’t always know what your partner needed, and might feel neglected if your partner doesn’t recognize what YOU need to feel loved.

But if that’s the case, it’s just a miscommunication, rather than an imbalance. And, as it always seems to do – a happy, healthy relationship boils down to knowing yourself, being able to communicate your needs and desires and being willing to understand the desires and needs of your partner.

Ultimately, in a relationship, no matter how close you feel to the person you love; you have to remember one thing: You can never truly be in another person’s head. You can’t feel their feelings, you can’t think their thoughts, you can’t participate in their emotions and you can’t see yourself as they see you. Work toward being able to express your affections and love toward the person you care about in ways you both appreciate, but don’t make assumptions. Doing so might nip a promising relationship in the bud before it even has a chance to bloom.


Maigen is simple. is smart. is wholesome. is skeevy. is spicy. is delicate. is better. is purer. is 100% more awesome than yesterday. She';s traveling the world and writing about her experiences with life, love, yoga, food, travel and people. Mostly people. Because they';re funny. hear more of her random thoughts @maigen on twitter.

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dan gonzalez
2.22.10 @ 4:25a

This is very insightful.

I mean, we're all practically doomed to love somebody more than he or she loves us, just by virtue of the miserable, unfortunate fact that we feel things more strongly than we can properly express. It's not our fault, certain shit just resonates louder to ourselves, certain things ring the bells of our hearts, because we're more sensitive to the ephemeral truths of those particular things than anyone else is.

We seek things like 'true romance' and 'lifelong friendship', but only with conditions for the most part, the conditions being that we get something - camaraderie, empathy, or in the worst possible case sympathy - in return.

I'm not saying that we are doomed to be unhappy, or unsatisfied, I'm just saying that the brightest of stars invariably make the dimmest ones appear vulgar and ordinary, and all of these romantic mismatches we suffer result from that disconnect.

ETA: The 'disconnect' being the disconnect between what we really feel and what we can literally express.


adam kraemer
2.22.10 @ 10:18a

I think the imbalance might stem from need, rather than love. If X and Y broke up tomorrow, which one would suffer more from it? I think that might be the question that "I love you more" is really trying to answer.

I know this is kind of a bleak outlook: measuring love based on its affect on loss. But the truth is I've had girlfriends for whom breaking up with me was probably pretty easy. And I've had girlfriends for whom the breakup was, from my point of view, harder on them than on me. I'm not necessarily saying that one of us loved the other more or less (as you said, Maigen, not really quantifiable), but the end of those relationships definitely signalled which one of us had been more emotionally invested.

However, if, as you say, some of what appears to be an imbalance is just miscommunication, then that's both an easy and hard fix. It's tough to adapt to someone else's needs, in this sort of situation, if they don't come naturally to you. It's easy to say, "you should communicate more about what you need your partner to do," but it's another for both of you to actually follow through. So maybe the imbalance has more to do with who's more willing to give the other what he/she needs than it is with measuring any intangible depth of feeling.

reem al-omari
2.22.10 @ 12:57p

I think it all boils down to the fact that we spend most of our lives running into people and hoping they're the right people for us. With that hope come misplaced feelings. And they're misplaced feelings, because the people we're running into, 9 times out of 10, are not the right people we're trying to convince ourselves they are, because we're so damn sick of looking for someone to like and like us back. Not to say that we don't love these people we love more than they love us for real, it's just that when the person is the right person, it all just balances out... or, at least, I hope.

adam kraemer
2.23.10 @ 11:40a

Well, as I tend to point out when friends are nursing a broken heart, the actual percentage of "successful" relationships is really small, and getting smaller with each new relationship, because the number will always be 1 against your total. So, overall, every relationship ends, except the last one.

We're all just looking for that last one.


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