When I first started dating my long term girlfriend, my Mum gave me one very sound piece of advice which was to be careful how I acted early on in the relationship as it would end up setting a pattern for the rest of our time together. The way we acted in the first year, she warned, would create a 'blueprint' for our relationship and would decide the dynamic that we would follow for however long we were together.
And what do you know, she was right! Most of the habits and routines we got into four years ago still define our relationship in a number of ways. Everything from the number of kisses we put at the end of our messages, to who wears the trousers and where we draw the line in a debate.
Fortunately, I heeded my Mum's advice for the most part and so I'm generally happy with how my relationship has turned out. But when there are elements that you aren't happy with, you need to know how to raise them and how to change them. And this doesn't just go for romantic relationships either – it applies to your friendships, your working relationships and your family life too. Read on to find out how you can change up the dynamic in all those situations.
Know That It's Okay to Change
The first thing you have to be aware of is that it's okay and actually positive to speak up when you're unhappy with your role in a relationship. Too many of us seem to believe that raising issues with our friends and partners is going to instantly mean that they leave us and don't want anything to do with us, or that it will badly hurt their feelings. But then search what you know about yourself, if someone asked you to change a certain behaviour, or to freshen things up, would you suddenly abandon them? Would you take terrible offense? No, of course not. You might make your friend or partner feel momentarily uncomfortable, but that is for the best in the long run if you want to improve your relationship and in all likelihood they'll respect you for it.
Likewise, don't worry about coming off as 'erratic' or inconsistent. People tend to have a desire to remain consistent in their behaviour, but usually that doesn't actually work in our favour. Instead, be willing to change things up and to say things that are 'out of character'. It will earn you respect and liberate you to make life better for yourself. Of course you also need to be able to deal with the ensuing awkwardness and bad mood if you're going to make a complaint – but it will pass.
Fix Things Up
As my Mum said, going into a new relationship is a perfect time to set the ground rules and to get into a routine. It sounds insane, but if you walk your girlfriend to work one morning early on when you start dating then you will probably end up walking her to work every morning for the rest of your relationship (unless you are able to break that habit by learning to let go of your desire for consistency). The problem is, that if you walk your partner to work once and then don't do it next time, they are bound to ask themselves why. You've shown that you can walk them to work, and that you think it's nice, so if you don't do it every morning it will now be notable in its absence.
Setting these patterns early then is the ideal situation, but if it's a long-term relationship you're looking to change it may be too late for that. So what do you do instead? Well, one thing you can do is to change things up and alter the context of your relationship by creating some kind of fresh start. That might mean changing job, or it might mean moving house. Either way, it's going to get you out of a rut and give you a chance to re-address your routines. Now you have a different way to walk to work and there will be no expectation for you to carry on. Learn from your mistakes and start as you mean to carry on.
The other way to change the dynamics of your relationship is simply to be honest and straightforward. As I said early, you mustn't be afraid of coming across as 'inconsistent' and you mustn't be afraid of having an awkward conversation. Once you overcome those fears you can stop being passive aggressive, or quietly sulking whenever the other person is out of the room, and you can instead start to say when something isn't okay and start to ask people to modify their behaviour. If you're tired of always being the one to answer the phone at work then say to your colleague that they need to start pulling their weight more, or say that you'll answer the phone all the time if they do all the photocopying. What are they going to say, no on both counts? At work there is even more reason to make these complaints because you aren't there to make friends – don't worry so much about being liked by everyone.