Learning the early signs of a one-way relationship may help you avoid heartbreak and build stronger connections.
Having someone who values and cares for you feels good, no doubt. But the benefits can go beyond that.
For example, when we feel valued at work, we tend to perform better. When our feelings are valued in romantic and friendship relationships, it can deepen the bond and our self-esteem may be strengthened.
But relationships are complex, and sometimes we may give but not get much in return.
Things can get tricky if the other person doesn’t care about your feelings. Sometimes, you may not realize this until you’re hurt.
So, before you get to that point, it may help to learn some of the signs that someone doesn’t care about your feelings or the relationship. It may also help to explore whether you tend to establish this type of relationship often.
Certain signs that someone may not value your relationship are easy to spot.
A common one is not asking you about your feelings, life, or what’s important to you. This can look different depending on the relationship.
They may not check in to hear your ideas on certain projects at work, for example. They might organize a gathering and leave you out, even when you’re part of the team. Or they may spend all the time talking about themselves and never get to you.
Jenny Walters, a licensed therapist in Los Angeles, California, says you may feel like you need to walk on eggshells around that person and that you generally don’t feel seen or heard.
“This feeling may be literal in that they interrupt you often or it might just be a feeling you notice you have when you’re around them,” she says.
Couple’s relationship coach in Fairmont, West Virginia, Cheri Timko says other signs that someone doesn’t care about you may include if they:
- don’t value mutuality in the relationship
- fail to show any interest or curiosity in you or your life
- have a different agenda for the relationship than you do
- don’t ever seek you or your opinion out
- ignore the impact of their actions on you
- don’t respond to your requests to change their behavior
In some cases, these actions don’t mean much if they happen once in a while. It may be the other person is having a tough day or needs some support.
But if they’re emotionally unavailable most of the time, then it becomes an important sign to pay attention to.
Melissa Zawisza, a licensed clinical social worker in Arlington, Texas, shares some conversation examples that may feel familiar if you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t care:
- You: “I just learned my ex got married and I’m sad and shocked.” Friend: “Why do you still care?”
- You: “It was a day. Nothing seemed to go right with my daughter or at work.” Friend: “At least you have a job or daughter.”
- You: “I have so much to do and not sure how I am going to get it all done.” Partner: “You think you have a lot going on, let me tell you what I have to do.”
- You: “I am really worried about what’s going on at work.” Partner: “Give me a break. It’s not that big of a deal. You just need to deal with it.”
“The person may minimize, dismiss, invalidate, or ignore your feelings,” Zawisza says.
But what about not caring versus not recognizing how you feel? If someone’s trying to understand you, says Walters, they’ll often stay in the conversation with you, even if it’s an argument.
But some people who live with trauma or other mental health conditions may have an impaired capacity to connect with other people.
They may care about you but don’t have the tools to form meaningful bonds. It’s not a personal choice, but instead a result of the condition they live with.
For some people, not valuing and caring for other people is a sign of low empathy. In short, empathy is when we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.
So, when someone doesn’t value how you feel or isn’t active in the relationship with you, is it because they lack empathy? It can be.
From a psychological perspective, Zawisza explains that lack of empathy can be a symptom of a number of different mental health conditions.
But this isn’t always the case. Research from 2019 suggests that some people may not practice empathy because of its emotional cost.
According to Walters, these could be some signs that the other person has low empathy:
- cutting you off emotionally
- walking away and refusing to discuss your feelings, even after they’ve calmed down
- shutting you down while you’re speaking or cutting you off from speaking
- speaking to you in a condescending, devaluing, or disparaging way
Again, these are concerning signs if they’re persistent and constant in the relationship.
The short answer is: maybe.
The key here, Zawisza says, is to observe how the person responds and interacts with others. Is there a pattern? Has anyone else shared similar feelings about how that person behaves?
“Maybe the person has a traumatic history and has difficulties trusting anyone,” Zawisza offers. “Maybe they’re dealing with some stressors you do not know about. The individual may be guarded and closed off.”
In that case, it’s not about you. But if you’re the only person they treat this way, it may be personal.
Regardless of the cause, it may be helpful to realize that people don’t change unless they want to and make active steps to do so. It may not be up to you how this person acts and it’s important you protect yourself, too.
What you decide to do depends on many factors.
One thing to consider is emotional safety. Do you think the other person will care and change if you express your feelings? Or will showing vulnerability end up in more hurt to you?
This is when you may want to consider all the times when they were or weren’t available for you.
In general, it’s important to express your feelings because suppressing your emotions can add more stress. But it doesn’t mean you have to do it with that person. Perhaps another friend or a therapist may help.
If you decide not to express how you feel and stick around, it may be helpful to explore your reasons.
“There may be some healing work to do if being around people who don’t care about you feels familiar,” says Walters.
“Talk it through with people you trust or a therapist, if one is available for you. From there, you can get clear about what you need in a relationship and that need will be validated by those who do care about you.”
Once you gain that clarity, she says, what to do next becomes clear.
If you’re willing to talk with this person directly, here’s Zawisza’s checklist for consideration:
- Check in on your own feelings and review your boundaries.
- Reflect on your interactions with this person and the role they play in your life, and list what the person adds to your life.
- Make a decision about how you’d like to go forward. Some options include:
- Setting a time to discuss your observations with the person. Think about it beforehand and write down what you want to communicate.
- Share your concerns and then listen to the other person. Be prepared for a variety of reactions.
- Keeping in mind that your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors are yours, and remember that this applies to the other person, too.
- After you both share, make a decision of how to move forward.
“The situation may be resolved and you go on with your relationship, or it may turn into an argument where you both need to calm down and talk again in the future,” Zawisza says.
“In some cases, additional conversations may be warranted — an email or letter may be easier or talking about it in person. You or the person may ultimately decide to end the relationship. If the relationship ends, give yourself time to grieve its end.”
She also adds that if you’ve tried addressing this with the person in the past and their behavior has not changed, it may be important to consider what type of role this person is going to have in your life from here.
Sometimes you may not have a choice about the person’s role in your life — co-workers, for example. In those cases, it’s important to cater to your emotional needs, knowing you can’t necessarily remove that person from your day-to-day.
Amanda Enlow, a licensed professional counselor in Fort Mill, South Carolina, says that though we don’t always get what we need from others, we can always give this gift to ourselves.
“Reassuring yourself by creating a safe and grounding environment can be a powerful step toward feeling acknowledged and understood,” she says.
“Check into your five senses and find something to soothe each — light a candle that smells amazing, surround yourself with things that feel soft and comforting, or listen to empowering music for starters.”
It can be hurtful when someone in your life doesn’t value or care about your feelings. We all like to feel heard, seen, and valued.
There are some signs that may help you identify if the person in your life genuinely doesn’t care or if they don’t have the emotional capacity.
But there are steps you can take today — for example, planning an open conversation with that person, journaling, or talking with a therapist.
This may help tend to your own needs and find some resolve or better footing with this person in the future.