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Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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Lop-Sided Relationships and Depression

A lop-sided relationship is where one partner is the greater beneficiary of favors, decisions, financial rewards, contribution to household chores, decisions than the other partner. The outcome of decisions or activities on balance favors one over the other. In other words, one partner is apt to get the ďdirtyĒ end of the stick on most occasions while the other comes up clean.

Common to these situations is that the partner in the one-down position is apt to be a people pleaser and often hails from a family background where there was a greater likelihood of abuse, parental alcoholism and/or parental separation with an acrimonious ongoing relationship between the parents. The partner in the one-down position may not realize it, but is inadvertently used to being second fiddle and tries to please others as a misguided strategy to gain affection and reward while avoiding displeasing the other for fear of reprisal.

In this scenario, the partner who is one up on the other tends to lead a more charmed and happy life albeit at the expense of the partner who is in the one-down position. This person is usually oblivious to their one-up status and assumes their partner is equally satisfied with the structure of the relationship. Further, this person is apt to have little empathy, seeks to have things their way and is likely to be very argumentative to wear down their partner to achieve personal desires. Once their one-down partner acquiesces, the view is that their partner is in agreement with the outcome versus browbeaten into submission.

Over time this dynamic falls under its own weight. Eventually the partner in the one-down position gets dissatisfied, coming to terms with their strategy of people pleasing not achieving their goal of recognition and reciprocity within the relationship. Unable to help their one-up partner understand the dilemma faced and the partnerís role in the lop-sided relationship constant defeat leads to depression. If the woman in the one-down position, she may seek medical attention and be prescribed anti-depressant medication. If the man in the one-down position, he may be seen to turn to alcohol as a coping strategy. Should the man seek medical attention, he too would be prescribed antidepressant medication then.

When this couple presents in therapy, the challenge is to empower the partner in the one-down position and help the partner in the one-up position to empathize and understand the impact of the lop-sided relationship upon both persons. This is quite a challenge as it typically means the partner in the one-up position no longer getting their way a disproportionate amount of time and at the expense of the partnerís well being. The partner in the one-up position is apt to project blame upon their partner and disassociate their behaviour or role in their partnerís depression, thus leaving the depressed partner feeling stranded and abandoned, only exacerbating the divide between them.

The partner in the one-down position is apt to try and explain their situation better, harder, louder, smarter to their partner who may be quite resistant to the outright pleas for understanding, appreciation and emotional connection.

Resistance garners attention and from the one-up partnerís point of view, they are apt to see themselves as persecuted unfairly, particularly given they are happy in life and within the relationship. On the other hand, however, the person in the one-down position must be helped to understand that their cajoling, begging, whining and/or pleading falls on deaf ears and that rather than seeking validation in the hands of their one-up partner, they must come to their own defense and not succumb to a false reality projected upon them by the partner in the one-up position.

To improve this relationship both persons must come to understand their respective contribution to the oneís distress. From counseling, the partner in the one-down position may feel validated for their view of the situation, yet seek to still change their partner instead of themselves. If the one-down partner does seek to change her or himself, this can destabilize the relationship.

Once the dynamic is made clear though, even if just accepted by the partner in the one-down position, it is like a genie that cannot be place back within the bottle.

It remains this personís choice as to what to do; now understanding the dynamics of the situation and their place within it. Live a life of acquiescence or learn to assert oneself within the relationship which if unacceptable to the one-up partner may lead to the dissolution of the relationship. The partner who is in the one-down position will likely need greater social supports outside of the relationship to assert themselves and carry forward.

As for the depression, it will continue if the dynamic doesnít change by the will of one, other or both partners.

Lop-sided relationships create depression. If balance to the relationship cannot be facilitated balance to mental health will remain at risk. It is bad enough when someone else bangs your head against a wall, worse still is when we then continue to do it to ourselves. If this is your situation, consider your options and strategies for leaving the relationship. Bear in mind, you will be blamed for the dissolution but if you develop a more independent sense of self, that will wash off you and you will see it for what it is Ė an abusive projection by a remarkably self-centered partner whose only happy getting their own way.

Time to finally take care of yourself. Then depression can lift.


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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
(905) 628-4847  


Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.


Call Gary for your next conference and for expert opinion on family matters. Services include counselling, mediation, assessment, assessment critiques and workshops.



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27 Sina Street, Georgina, ON, Canada L4P 3E9 Tel: (905) 628-4847 Email: gary@yoursocialworker.com