Changing Relationship Dynamics:
“It’s too late to start telling my boyfriend to let me know when he’s coming home late because our communication patterns have already been established.”

"Journey" by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

It’s never too late to tell a person what your needs are within the context of a meaningful relationship. These kinds of changes are important for the growth of both partners and the relationship itself.

The most effective way to make changes is to make specific positive requests rather than to make demands or silently hope for what you want.

Specific positive requests:

1. Avoid criticism: The most effective requests have no hint of criticism in them. Instead of “You never call!” you could say, “I would appreciate it…”

2. Invite empathy without being a victim: Effective requests invite the other person to see it from your point of view. “I get worried when you don’t call and I end up not making my own plans.”

3. Make a request not a demand: This allows the other person to decline. “You better call me!” is controlling and degrading, while “I’d appreciate it if you’d call,” enhances mutual respect.

4. Be specific: Rather than generalities such as, “Be considerate!” or “Respect me!” make specific requests, such as “If you call or text me by 5PM, that would be great.”

“It would make me happy if you would call before 5 when you’re going to come home late so that I won’t get worried and put my own plans on hold.”

Understand Motivation, Change Expectations

If he keeps forgetting, then see if you can figure out an alternative, such as texting him, “I haven’t heard from you and I am assuming you’ll be late and am thinking of making other plans for the evening. Let me know.”

If there is no effective alternative, then it’s time to change your expectations. How you do this depends on what you’re willing to live with. This person may be so engrossed in work that it’s difficult to break away to make that phone call. Or perhaps he or she is irresponsible, or simply expects you to be waiting for him or her despite any efforts made on his part.

Change your Actions

If you decide to stay with him despite this flaw (everyone has some flaws,) you might structure your own life differently so that you won’t feel that you are constantly in limbo. You may decide to make your own plans and go out or meet with others rather than stay up and wait. You will feel less resentment, and he will wonder where you are, or at least miss you until you come home. That may just change his behavior.

It also creates a bit of a consequence when he doesn’t call. Note that a natural consequence is very different from punishment motivated by spite.

Avoid being a doormat — it is not manipulation.

You might view making other plans when he doesn’t call as a game, but it is not. It is a way to avoid falling into a doormat relationship dynamic, which gets worse with waiting, yearning, and pleading, but improves when you move forward with your own life, friends, and interests. If you don’t want to be treated like a doormat, don’t act like one. As a consequence your partner might pay attention and, if not, your life will improve anyway.

If you feel this is too manipulative, there’s no reason not to be completely honest about your intentions. You could simply explain that you worry and resent him when you wait for him to come home and don’t get a call. It’s easier for you to go out and stop waiting.

There’s no need to become angry or barn sour, like a horse who wants to stay in the barn to brood. It’s always good to start with discussions, but follow through with actions. If you are still deeply disappointed, you can make further changes in your expectations and life. It’s your life to live.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Watch “How to avoid becoming a Doormat.”

Read “Improving Relationships.”

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