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How to Recognize Manipulation in a Relationship

It is interesting to observe how the understanding of what psychological manipulation is and the attitude to this phenomenon are changing. A few years ago, trends in popular psychology were topics like "How to get a man to make a proposal," "How to get a girl to have sex," "How to make my husband stop drinking."

It’s not that these problems have ceased to be popular, but now articles about what manipulation in a relationship is, how to resist manipulation, how to recognize a manipulator (a sociopath, psychopath, etc.) are coming to the fore. The very concept of manipulation and the definition of manipulation are changing. Previously, the opportunity to influence someone else, manipulating them in various ways, was assessed rather as a good way to achieve a goal (especially if a jerk imagined themselves a wise imperceptible leader, and the one who was getting manipulated was perceived as a weak person who would die if left to their own devices).

being manipulated in a relationship

Now, a manipulator is perceived as a soulless, cynical villain that uses other people, and their victim is completely helpless, unable to withstand all of the pressure.

Everyone gets accused of manipulation at one point in their life or another: children crying in a shopping mall (they want to force their parents to fulfill their whims); young people expressing sympathy in indirect ways (they give their partners flowers and invite them to watch a movie, but they are too afraid to admit their feelings, and thus, there is nothing to refuse); and even those who simply cause us some unwanted feelings (such as guilt).

As you can see, this topic is very much a complex one. So, let’s now discuss the following issues: control and manipulation in relationships, signs of manipulation in a relationship, how to spot manipulation in relationships, and manipulation techniques in relationships. Let’s start off by discussing manipulative behavior in relationships.

What You Need to Know About Manipulation in a Relationship

Manipulation is most often defined as the type of psychological or social impact on a person or a group of people to achieve a definite reaction from the person to whom this influence is directed.

It is usually stated that manipulation is a hidden effect, and the purpose of a manipulator is to obtain a certain benefit for themselves. That is, it is believed that a manipulator knows the purpose of their actions, and a person that is being manipulated does not understand what motivates them to do what they do.

Such manipulations in relationships do take place, but the manipulative actions as well as the reaction to them, are often not fully realized by the manipulator and the manipulated one. And the roles (who is manipulated by whom) are constantly changing. As mentioned above, people constantly influence each other with their behavior, words, expressions of feelings. In addition, people often want something from each other (and this is normal) and try to achieve their goals. But it is possible to distinguish those properties that distinguish manipulative, “malignant” relationships from fairly healthy ones.

Perhaps the main property of manipulation in relationships is the following: the one who is being manipulated ceases to be perceived as a free person, that is in of possession their own feelings and will. They are just a tool for someone else. manipulation in a relationshipOne may want attention from their partner and seek it. But for the manipulator, attention is the only thing that is important, and not the one who shows it.

For a manipulator, the desire of someone else that goes against their own interests is an obstacle in the way that needs to be overcome, and not a reason to learn something about their partner. Another important property of manipulation is not just its hidden effect but also a hidden agenda. In manipulation, there is always a hidden agenda. A manipulator may tell you one thing, but there will be a hidden agenda that will be the reason for their manipulative actions.

If a girl smiles at a young man who likes her, and she wants him to become interested in her too - this is not a manipulation, although her message is not direct (she is too afraid to tell a guy that she likes him). She just wants to be understood correctly. But if a girl demonstrates her sympathy to a guy, so that he starts hoping for a relationship with her, helping her with some kind of domestic problems just to get her affection, then this is a manipulation. Once again, there is a message that the manipulated person gets, "I like you and you have a chance of getting my affection." And the hidden agenda is, "I need you to do certain things for me."

But why not achieve your goal directly, why do we need to jump through hoops to get what we want? The fact is that the manipulator, deep down, is sure that no one cares about their problems. No one would willingly want to help them. The world around is indifferent at best and hostile at worst.

In addition, manipulators are usually very afraid of uncertainty. Fear of rejection and fear of losing control can be found in every person inclined to manipulation. The goal itself may not necessarily look selfish. For example, parents of a teenager who wants to choose an unpopular or creative specialty may intimidate their child, convince them that nothing will come out of it, threaten to leave them without support if they make the “wrong” choice.

At the same time, they are convinced that they are acting in their child’s interests, and the child simply does not know anything about life. The goal is to ensure a good future for their child, and it becomes more important than the child themselves. Why would parents do something like that? Most often, they do that to cope with their own fear for the child, to calm their anxiety. The desires of their child go beyond the limits of parental interests. Here are the signs of being manipulated in a relationship.

How to Spot Manipulation in Relationships?

Intentional manipulation is more difficult to recognize because a person understands what they are doing and thus, they are trying to confuse you. How to spot manipulation in relationships? Here are just a few basic patterns of manipulative behavior:

Emotional yo-yo. Its main feature is inconsistency. A partner may surround you with caresses and attention to then disappear and behave detached and weird. And thus, you want to get the feelings of love back, you do your best to make them happy to make yourself happy.

Gaslighting. Being manipulated in a relationship that involves gaslighting is an awful thing. A partner may do this to develop uncertainty in you. You do not understand how this happens at the beginning of a conversation, you catch a partner lying to your face, but at the end of it, for some reason, you apologize. This is one of the most dangerous types of manipulation, but it can also be resisted.

Resistance. To silence or to ignore is also a form of manipulation that can be damaging. A partner just stops talking to you without explaining the reason for it. At first, you think that they had a bad day. By the end of the week, you start digging into yourself, remembering everything you said or did and feel like you are to blame. Here it is: your partner made you feel guilty without scandals, accusations and any efforts. There can be no objective reasons for such behavior. Do they really believe that the magical power of their silence will reveal extrasensory abilities in you?

There is only one way to make it clear that you have problems - open your mouth and talk about it. And the most painful thing in ignoring is that a partner makes you feel that you mean nothing to them. Now let’s look into some relationship manipulation tactics and their examples.

Manipulation Techniques in Relationships

There are many different manipulation tactics in relationships, but here are the most popular ones.

emotional manipulation in a relationshipGuilt manipulation

Guilt manipulation is one of the strongest techniques of emotional manipulation in a relationship one can use. By making your partner feel guilty, you can inflict mental trauma on them. The image of the victim and the shifting of responsibility onto the partner gives the manipulator dividends in the form of power and control over the resolution of the conflict. Often, this technique may poison your relationship for years, provoking aggression and irritation of the victim once in a while. The more emotions are, the stronger the result.

Examples of guilt manipulations, "I cannot communicate freely with my friends with you around," "You never have time for me," "You never buy me any gifts," "I am bored with you," etc.

Ignoring as a way of manipulation

Silence, withdrawal, indifference are the aspects of one of the most popular forms of manipulation in relationships. It has a particularly striking effect when manifested in the midst of family conflict. Its destructive nature never contributes to the resolution of a disagreement. By silence, the manipulator reports something like, "I see no reason to prove anything to you, I am angry, you do not deserve to hear an answer." A partner uses this technique to prove their partner that they are wrong. Examples: to suddenly leave the house, slamming the door, "I said everything I wanted to say."

Love manipulation

This is one of the most widespread types of manipulation in relationships. The inner need to love and be loved pushes us to different actions, forcing to sacrifice our own principles. Love manipulations can be different, and not all manipulators do it consciously, more often they lend themselves to emotions and the established pattern of behavior. However, the skillful approach to this technique may be quite effective (not that we want anyone to use it, it can be quite damaging.) Examples, "You are the best person in the whole world, can I ...?", "If you love me then ...."

Fear manipulation

Threats are a way to achieve something that a person wants in the simplest way possible, using one’s strength and power. No agreements are allowed, and aggression, blackmail, intimidation, personal attacks are used. Basically, such manipulation is used by people to confirm their status in a family, to compensate for external problems and self-realization at the expense of their spouses. In family conflicts, divorce is often used as a way of intimidation, based on the fear of a person that is being manipulated of losing their partner.

Examples, "If you do not do this, then I will ...", "You will act as I like if you don't want to...”

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