Unhappy couple sitting on bench.

Relationships can go stale for a lot of reasons. Sometimes, it’s because one partner wants it that way. How can this be?  Well, if your connection feels one-sided, then you might be in a back burner relationship.

What Is A Back Burner Relationship?

According to psychology professor Michelle Drouin’s recent interview with Medium, a back burner relationship can look like several different things. 

“Back burners are people we are romantically or sexually interested in, who we’re not currently involved with,” Drouin explains. “We keep in contact for the possibility that we might someday connect.”

“People can have back burners even if they’re already in a romantic relationship with someone else,” she continued. “Also, a former romantic or sexual partner can still count so long as we still desire a connection with them.”

Marriage therapist Rabiia Ali told POPSUGAR that back burner relationships are usually a result of loneliness. It’s like a “break the glass in case of emergency’ person.” 

Still don’t know whether you are (or have put someone) on the back burner? Here’s how to tell.

They Communicate Often, But Not Daily

People get busy. Social anxiety makes it tough to reply timely to calls and texts. Everyone deserves a little grace now and then. 

But if your partner only reaches out to you a few times a week, that’s a cause for concern. Committed relationships thrive on communication. 

If they’re not taking the time to touch base with you regularly (at the very least), there’s a good chance their heart’s not in it.

There’s Never Enough Time For You

Do your plans always hinge on their schedule? Do they often come up with excuses as to why they have to bail at the last minute? 

A little give and take with plan-making is normal. Still, a healthy relationship involves all parties actively trying to spend time and grow together. 

Your time is just as valuable as theirs—why do they reserve the right to waste yours?

They Like Flirting With You, But You Can’t Flirt With Them

Your partner finally reaches out after a long hiatus with a flirty text. Your heart races, and suddenly, all your doubts wash away. Things are heating up! 

Then, you reply in kind—and in a second, everything is ice cold again. Your partner likes to initiate sexual or romantic conversation, but they freeze when you do the same. 

One-sided flirting could be a sign that they’re only using you for validation. Your partner might not be interested in taking the relationship to the next level, only the chase.

They Only Reach Out When They Need Something

Think about every time your partner reaches out to you. Are they asking for favors? Do they only seem to have time to talk when they need help? 

Think about the times of day they reach out, too. Is it only late at night, as though they couldn’t find anything else to do?

If you feel like you’re the last resort or the constant helper with little to no reciprocation, then it might be time to rethink your relationship.

Image of couple talking at table.
(fizkes / Shutterstock)

They Don’t Invite You To Social Events

Just as important as when you see each other is where. I’m not saying you two should attach at the hip. But if they never invite you to social functions like work parties, hang-outs, family events, etc., that could be their not-so-subtle way of saying they don’t consider your relationship serious. 

After all, if they cared for you, why wouldn’t they want you there?

You Don’t Like How You Feel

The biggest red flag of all can be the hardest one to identify: how you feel. When we have googly-eyes for someone, we are quick to ignore their faults (and our bad feelings). 

Do you feel more confused, sad, and lonely than happy, fulfilled, and wanted? Are your thoughts about them and your relationship typically positive or negative? 

Aside from the usual ups and downs, no healthy relationship should make you feel lousy 99% of the time. 

Of course, all relationships are two-way streets. How can you tell if you’re the one placing someone else on the back burner?

You Like The Idea Of Them More Than Them

Online dating, misleading social media, and general daydreaming can distort the lines between perception and reality. Maybe it’s catfishing; maybe it’s poor communication. 

Either way, it’s important to evaluate others honestly. Do you like this person for who they are? Or are you more attracted to the idea of who you thought that person was? 

It’s easy to fall in love with figments of our imagination. It’s not always so easy to notice when it happens.

You Don’t Like How You Feel

Back burner relationships are great at making both parties feel like crap. Pay attention to how you feel with and about them. 

Are you constantly put off by their “neediness” or inability to leave you alone? Do their quirks get under your skin in a major way? Do you like them better over the phone? 

It isn’t normal to hate your partner, despite what years of bickering sitcom couples would have you believe. If you find yourself constantly aggravated, suffocated, or unhappy, do both of you a favor and leave. 

“The truth is, you deserve to be accepted, respected, and loved for who you are,” psychotherapists Lin Anderson and Aaron Sternlicht told Bustle. (Conversely, your back burner bae deserves the same courtesy.) 

“Ask yourself, ‘am I happy in this relationship’ or ‘is this how I want to spend the rest of my life?’” Anderson and Sternlicht continue. 

If you struggle to come up with an answer to either question, then your heart is already speaking loud and clear. For both of your sakes, don’t ignore it.



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