It’s hard to overstate the value of healthy relationships. They bring joy, comfort, support, and significance to our lives. Healthy relationships are a real blessing, but unhealthy relationships can be a drain, and a source of great discouragement. There are hundreds of ways in which our relationships can be unhealthy, but one example is the one-sided relationship. When you are more committed to the relationship than they are then love will look naturally different.
It’s always important to do some self-investigation when there is a relational imbalance. The difference in commitment levels may not be a result of their disinterest in the relationship, but rather have more to do with your own estimation of the relationship. It may be that you are not really as close as you had thought. If you aren’t relating in reality then you will always be disappointed that they aren’t as committed as you are. Make sure that you have clearly understood the nature of your relationship. Do you have real tangible reasons for thinking of your closeness the way you do? Are you thinking about your relationship in terms of ideals, fantasies, or reality? Are you trying to force a level of intimacy that isn’t really there? Evaluate your own heart on this matter. Consider too, whether you are making the relationship more significant than it should be. It’s not just an issue of the whether it is as significant as we think, it’s an issue of whether it should be. Sometimes we hang more hope and fulfillment on a relationship than it can possibly bear. In those moments our relationship can never live up to our expectation and we will always be disappointed. If the relational imbalance is owing to your faulty estimations and expectations then you must repent of that and strive to relate realistically and graciously. If, however, it seems that the other person has neglected the relationship and has lost interest in it, then a different course of action is needed.
Relational imbalance is significant because of the emotional toll it takes on us. A one-sided relationship can feel deflating, discouraging, and even tempt us with lots of self-doubt. We begin to wonder, “what’s wrong with me?” “Why don’t they want to talk, hang out, or spend time together?” “Did I do something wrong?” The self-doubt becomes, then a drain on our mind and emotions, and begins to strain the relationship even worse. We start to become desperate, striving to force the relationship to a new level. Trying to fix the dysfunction all by ourselves and seemingly becoming more annoying to the other party in the process. So, for our sake and the sake of the relationship itself we must change the way we express our love. Consider these following modifications to a relationship under these conditions.
You Must Love – there is no option for Biblical Christians that simply says stop loving those who don’t love you back. In fact, Jesus speaks directly to this when he says to the disciples, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?(Matt. 5:46)” His point is that there is nothing supernatural about mutual love. Rather if we are called to love our enemies (v. 44), then surely Jesus expects us to love those who are just somewhat distant too. This is especially true in marriage, where leaving the relationship would be adding sin to sin (the exception to this rule being cases where safety is at risk). Abandoning the relationship is not an option, though it certainly tempting and easier.
You Must Live within Reality – Paul urges us to “live at peace with all men,” but he has a qualifier to this phrase. He states that “so far as it depends on you, live at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18). We only have so much responsibility within a relationship. We can’t control it, we can’t force it to become something that it’s not. we can only do our part. Living in reality means accepting the limitations of our role and ability. Relationships require that the others involved must do their part too. We must accept this. The relationship is only what both parties make it. Accepting the state of the relationship means we don’t have to pour all our emotions into this relationship and continue to be hurt and disappointed.
You Can Love from a Distance – Not all relationships can be deep and meaningful. In cases where one person in the relationship has created distance, or allowed their end of the friendship to decline, then we can only love across the distance. Jesus models this well. He comes in the flesh to demonstrate His love for us, and yet He is rejected and scorned. “He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11). Jesus weeps over an Israel who refuses Him, and watches as the rich young ruler walks away. Jesus loves at all times, but He never forces relationships to conform. He loves across distances, giving people the freedom to reject or receive Him. We must do the same.
Practically speaking, loving from a distance will look different from our other healthy relationships. Loving from a distance means seeking to do good to the other person without constantly subjecting ourselves to relational grief. We can send notes or messages of encouragement, and reminders of love. These demonstrations of love don’t require pouring out your heart. These acts also don’t expect anything in return. We can also be sure to attempt contact on special days like birthdays, national holidays, or special events. We should also pray for the person. This involves not simply praying for a renewed relationship, though that is good, but rather it involves praying for their own success and well-being. That is what true love wants, even when the relationship has become disappointing.
Within marriage this is a bit more tricky, since you live in close proximity to the other person. You want to avoid being passive aggressive and attempting to manipulate the other person into some deeper commitment. Love in these scenarios is going to strive to be honoring as best it can, but is not going to expect your spouse to meet your relational needs. You will want to develop good same-gender friendships outside of marriage. Love in these scenarios can mean being attuned to their interests and desires, doing kind things, being kind and thoughtful in small ways, without expectation. The key is to balance kindness and respect without risking too much.
The Bible tells us a lot about the importance of persevering in love. Proverbs 17:17 states:
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
This means we have no excuses when our relationships become strained or when others wane in their commitment. We must love. Yet, this does not mean that the way we express our love must be as involved, deep, meaningful, and vulnerable. There is a sense in which all love is risky, we must always be vulnerable and exposed when we love. Yet, this does mean the level of risk is always the same. When we have tried, when we have put forth the effort to sustain the relationship, and the other party has simply not reciprocated, it is okay to let them go. It is okay to acknowledge the relationship for what it is. Love changes as the relationship changes, but love never goes away (1 Cor. 13:7).