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Signs of Manipulative Relationships


Signs of Manipulative RelationshipsAmateur manipulators are fairly obvious in their tactics: They slather on guilt. They goad you into doing things for them. They whine, wheedle and try to force their way. If you give in, it’s because your partner wore you down, not because he or she fooled you. This type of manipulation is annoying, but at least it can be easily detected.

With expert manipulators, it is much harder to put your finger on what is wrong. Your significant other may make a compelling argument. But a little voice in your head says something is off. In such situations, it is important to listen for tone, attitude and approach as well as words. Do you feel cornered, pressured, or guilted into certain actions or reactions? If so, your partner may be manipulating the situation.

Common forms of manipulation

  • Uses money, gifts or favors for control
    Manipulation may come wrapped in conditional presents or favors: “I gave you that lovely gift, so now you must do this for me.” Other people tightly control the purse strings to force their partner to be economically dependent. It is certainly thoughtful to scratch someone else’s back when they scratch yours. However, a real favor is not offered in the spirit of, “What can I get in exchange for this?”
  • Makes you feel guilty for spending time with others
    It’s natural for your significant other to want to spend time with you. It’s not natural for someone who “loves” you to systematically deny you other close relationships. Manipulators want to control every variable in the relationship, so other affections are seen as threats.
  • Plays the “If you really love me…” game
    It’s a predictable ploy. When you don’t do exactly what your partner wants, he or she may insist it is because you really don’t really love him or her. This forces you to “prove” your affection by abandoning your own wishes, even when those wishes are perfectly reasonable. But the proof of your devotion is in your ongoing respect toward your partner, not accommodating his/her every whim.
  • Uses sexual coercion
    You should never be forced into sexual situations you are uncomfortable with, nor should your partner withhold intimacy simply to get his or her way.
  • Makes you feel bad about yourself
    Put-downs and backhanded compliments are intended to keep you in a state of perpetual self-doubt. Creating insecurity in others can make manipulators feel more secure in their position.
  • Threatens self or others
    When all else fails, manipulators may resort to threats of suicide or violence. Such a threat likely stems from something far deeper than the relationship itself and may require professional counseling or intervention. If your partner’s manipulation is accompanied by violence or threats of violence, seek help immediately.

Responding to Manipulation

Ordinary manipulation often can be diffused simply by 1) exposing the manipulation and 2) refusing to bow to it. Say something like, “I’m not comfortable with how you are approaching this situation. I’d like to hear your candid thoughts, needs and concerns. Then we can discuss how this decision affects both us and how best to respond.”

With manipulators, consistency is more important than showy displays of independence. If you regularly resist your partner’s efforts to control you, he or she will eventually learn that your boundaries cannot be trampled. Strong boundaries help your partner be more aware of and honest about his or her core relationship needs.

Manipulators are not just trying to make you into someone you are not. They are usually trying to be someone they are not—someone who cannot be hurt by others. Individuals with pronounced manipulative tendencies may need professional help to understand what is triggering their need for control.

The goal of a manipulator is to bend your will to his or hers. Those who are most proficient at manipulation may be able to manipulate you without you even being fully aware of what is happening. Listen to your intuition and work with your partner to address relationship challenges head-on, rather than through indirect maneuvering.