My partner feels more strongly about me than I do about him

Dear Alice,

I'm currently in a relationship. The person I'm with has strong feelings for me. The only problem is that I don't feel the same about him as he feels about me. I'm scared that if I break up with him that he will tell people private stuff that I told him, and also I have strong feelings for someone else. I have no idea what to do. I don't want to hurt the person I'm with, but I can't keep telling myself that I do have strong feelings for him when I don't. Help me please!!!!

Dear Reader,

One of the most challenging aspects of any relationship is listening to your inner feelings. You may find your internal voice overpowered by those of your partner, your family members, your friends, or even societal expectations. However, as you've discovered, when you don't share the same feelings for someone that they have for you, things can become quite confusing, painful, and even a bit threatening, as it sounds as though you may doubt how much you can trust your partner with private information you've shared. And while hurting someone you care about is difficult, staying in a relationship where you don't feel fulfilled or excited can be draining.

Before you make any decisions about what you want to do and when, it might be helpful to think about your doubts in more depth.

  • When did you first become aware that you didn't feel as deeply for your partner as they do for you?
  • Have you ever talked about this with your partner before? If so, how did they react?
  • Even if you haven't talked about it, do you think your partner may sense that you're feeling less interested?
  • What past experiences might make you worry that your partner will gossip about you or betray your confidence?
  • How would you feel if your partner does talk about you behind your back? What would you do?
  • Is this fear so great that it makes you want to continue the relationship?

Furthermore, you could also take this time to explore your feelings for your new romantic interest. Does this person make you feel good about yourself? Do you find yourself thinking about them throughout your day, or seeing something that reminds you of them? Are they the first person you want to talk to when good or bad things happen in your life? If this other person wasn't in the picture, would you still feel the same about your current relationship as you do now? Writing down your thoughts or talking it out with a friend, family member, or someone else you trust can help you better understand your feelings towards both your current partner and your newfound romantic interest, as well as how to move forward.

After taking some time to think through these feelings, your next step may be to spend some time thinking about how you'll want to approach your partner. Few situations have clear-cut solutions, so you'll have to decide what feels best for you. If you do decide to break off the relationship, it can be useful to rehearse what you want to say and how you'll handle his reactions. Some topics you may want to discuss when you talk to your partner can include:

  • Particular things that you've appreciated or enjoyed in the relationship
  • Your desire to be upfront with your partner
  • The fact that the two of you seem to want or need different things at this point
  • Your readiness to move on and explore new things
  • Your hope and expectation that he'll be sensitive about private information and moments you've shared with one another
  • How you envision your relationship in the future

While you may not be able to predict how your partner will act or what they'll say, even if you know them well. All you can do is to treat them with the respect you're expecting from them.

Lastly, you may want to ask yourself if unbalanced feelings have been present in past relationships, as well. If so, how did you handle them? If reciprocating strong feelings for someone has repeatedly been an issue in your relationships, it may be worth exploring this a bit further. Sometimes this can indicate that a person needs more time to focus on themselves and their own goals, has fears about relationships, perhaps due to personal or family issues, or has been trying to make relationships work with folks they know aren't good matches for them. Exploring these possibilities and others, by yourself or with a mental health professional, can help you learn to develop meaningful bonds in future relationships. 

Hope this helps!

Last updated Jul 29, 2022
Originally published Feb 13, 2004

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