Managing any relationship can be a difficult proposition. I am not talking just about romantic relationships either. Each relationship is different, just as there are many different types of relationships, so keep that in mind when trying to integrate any information from any source into your life. Taking and following advice, can have consequences not all bad, but you don't want to burn any bridges or sever any ties.
The secret to managing any relationship comes down to understanding the underlying power dynamic between the people involved and from there understanding the expectations that is party is supposed to meet for the relationship to proceed successfully. The dynamic between two or more people, including groups of people most always involve power differentials between the parties. The word power is not necessarily bad in the sense some people have of the word. Often times upon hearing the word people think of oppression by some evil overlord and that all people are created equal therefore if there is a power difference, it is always bad (unless it benefits the listener). Power in the relationship sense, comes down to social status between the parties, the nature of the dynamic, and who needs whom more.
- sibling or other blood relative
- friend or acquaintance
- business - boss/employee, employee/employee or a relationship from employee/client
- stranger or new person
Looking over the above list with what we know about status and power of the people involved, things are starting to become clear about who is in more control of how the relationship evolves. Since most relationships are either personal or business relationships, we will cover the topics in a general way, since we can apply our understanding of one dynamic to another quite easily. Just looking at the list we can also separate each dynamic into two groups, chosen relationship and non-chosen. We can choose are friends and lovers, but we can't choose who are family members are (outside of marriage of course). We can choose whether to accept or stay at a job, but unless we are the one running the show, we don't choose our boss or people we work with. Our interactions with strangers are often not of our choosing unless we are the initiator and are often transactional and of little consequence to our life for any length of time.
Identifying the power dynamic and expectations
Once we understand the fact that we don't always control who is involved in our lives, family, social, or work, things become a little more easy to identify. Identifying who is the more powerful person in the relationship is actually quite easy. All animals, especially primates, organize their social hierarchy based on status. The person with more status, usually has more power in the relationship dynamic. Looking at our list of basic relationship types, it is quite easy to identify the more powerful party just using tradition and general information. The easiest power dynamics to identify are the ones where it is obvious one party has more status than the other. It all comes down to who needs who more. In family dynamics, children need the parents to survive, at the workplace, the employee needs the boss more because of the dependence on a wage. Other relationships, have even power dynamics, or are of a less obvious lopsided nature. Friendships and romantic entanglements are this way. The power dynamics are less obvious in most of these relationships and misidentifying your position in them can cost you.
This is where managing expectations comes in to play. Each party in a relationship is supposed to fill some roll in the relationship and meet some requirement or need of the other party. Most of the time in our social dynamics it is simply spending time with the other party and sharing some aspect of your true self with them. Sharing your inner life if you will. Thoughts, desires and needs are communicated and reciprocated. In work environments, it is accomplishing goals and tasks set by the superior. Once we identify what the other person requires or needs us to do for them, the easier it is to manage the relationship in a healthy way. It is also necessary to communicate your needs for the relationship to the other party. This communication can be subtle or overt but it needs to be expressed if needs are going to be met, humans can't read minds after all!
Managing a relationship isn't easy but it is fairly simple and straightforward. Understand the power dynamic involved between you and the other party. Once, the nature of the relationship is identified, you can determine the expectations that the other person has of you in the relationship and you can convey your expectations. After that is just comes down to meeting and enforcing those expectations.