Have you ever been in a relationship that had you thinking that your partner had put a “spell” on you?
And not the good kind of spell, like one that allows you to have superpowers, but a spell that seemed to make you do things that you weren’t fully convinced were in line with who you viewed yourself to be?
Could it be that you were being manipulated in your relationship?
Manipulation in relationships is subtle, and because of this, it is difficult to see when it is happening.
Manipulation in relationships
What does manipulation mean in a relationship?
Psychological manipulation has been defined by social and clinical Ph.D. psychologist Dr. Harriet Braiker as a type of social influence. Its goal is to change the behavior or perception of others using different tactics. These can be:
Who’s Pulling Your Strings?: How to Break the Cycle of Manipulation and Regain Control of Your Life by Dr. Braiker gives interesting insights on recognizing and ending the manipulative cycle for good.
Manipulative behavior in relationships is part of an emotionally abusive pattern. The manipulator uses unhealthy relationship manipulation tactics to control their partner.
Because it is not an overt abuse, visible to the outside world like physical violence, it is hard for the person being manipulated to see or confront. They only know that something is not quite right with how they are being treated.
Let’s look at some of the signs of manipulation in a relationship.
Signs of manipulation in a relationship
Here are some of the signs manipulation in a relationship is present:
Your partner is controlling.
The need for total control is a blaring red flag and the number one sign of a manipulative relationship.
Does your partner often dictate when and where they will see you? Do you need to conform to their schedule, and when you suggest an alternative, do they pout, get upset, or freeze you out with the silent treatment?
Do they try and separate you from your friends and family, telling you that those people don’t care about you, that only your partner knows what is good for you? This is a typical manipulation behavior in relationships.
The manipulative partner uses guilt-tripping to make you do certain things that you might not be comfortable doing.
In a normal healthy relationship, decisions are discussed and considered by the two of you. You spend time going over the pros and cons of any big life decision; In a manipulative relationship, the decision is made unilaterally by the manipulator.
If you voice any disagreement, they will try to guilt you into agreeing with their decision.
For instance, the manipulator wants you to co-sign on their car loan. You don’t feel comfortable being responsible for such a big financial engagement, and you attempt to explain yourself.
The manipulator will refuse to listen to you, cutting you off with guilt-inducing statements, which is a classic sign of manipulation in a relationship.
Using emotional blackmail to get you to stay in the relationship.
Let’s say you have recognized the unhealthy nature of your relationship. You’ve decided to end it. But when you broach the subject of splitting up, your partner tells you that they will kill themselves if you leave.
Using the threat of suicide is, sadly, another typical behavior in a manipulative relationship. It combines a heavy hit of control, fear, and guilt to get you to remain.
While it may be difficult for you, you must not be tricked by this threat. Tell your partner that if they feel suicidal, they should reach out to a suicide hotline or a therapist. You cannot be that person for them.
But what if the manipulator is you?
How to stop being manipulative in a relationship
If you recognize that you are the one being manipulative in the relationship, there are several ways to stop this behavior and make a healthy connection with your partner.
Identify some of the ways you are using control, fear, guilt, gas-lighting techniques, and other unhealthy tactics in your interactions with your partner.
Involve your partner in this exercise, and be willing to listen to their observations without becoming defensive.
Also watch: The value of self-reflection
Learn healthy ways to communicate.
There are many resources available to help you learn how to communicate, build, and sustain a healthy, balanced relationship. The internet, personal therapists, and self-help books are all good places to start.
Respect your partner’s boundaries. Your partner is their own person. If they are in disagreement with something you have said, don’t try to negotiate this. Enter into a conversation to learn what is behind their feelings.
How to manipulate a manipulator
We aren’t suggesting that you become a manipulator to “out manipulate” the culprit. Instead, use these strategies to show the manipulator that you can stand up for yourself:
Say, no. Don’t negotiate when they try to use fear, guilt, or other manipulative tactics to convince you to do something.
Be firm with your boundaries.
Set personal goals and stick to them.
Do things to build your self-esteem, so you don’t look to others for approval.
If you sense you are in a manipulative relationship, you might want to check your co-dependency. Often manipulative relationships are also codependent relationships because the two behavior patterns work together in tandem.
Signs of a codependent relationship include:
relying on the other person to make decisions
Being unable to identify or own your feelings, seeing yourself as separate from your partner
Seeking constant validation from your partner
An inability to trust your feelings and decisions
If you recognize yourself in a codependent and in a manipulative relationship, please seek help.
There are many resources available to help you break these negative patterns and regain a solid sense of self.
It is worth the work so you can live fulfilling, healthy relationships not only with your partner but with the world at large.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Sylvia Smith loves to share insights on how couples can revitalize their love lives in and out of the bedroom. As a writer at Marriage.com, she is a big believer in living consciously and encourages couples to adopt this principle in their lives too. Sylvia believes that every couple can transform their relationship into a happier, healthier one by taking purposeful and wholehearted action.