Signs of Manipulation in a Relationship

signs of manipulation in a relationship

Are You Being Manipulated?

“But if you really loved me, you’d…”

“Now I know why your ex left you, you’re such a…”

“I work so hard every day and you don’t even have supper ready for me…”

Do any of these phrases sound familiar?

Most of us have experienced manipulation at some point in our lives. In fact, most of us have manipulated others, with or without negative intentions.

Want good service at a restaurant? Be extra friendly to your server.

Want your kids to sit still during a ceremony? Bribe them with promises of ice cream.

Manipulation is controlling a person or situation to get what you want.

We all use manipulation in one form or another at some point in our lives. Some of these actions can have harmful consequences, even without a hurtful intention. Manipulation can also escalate into abuse when it is used to control someone at the expense of their well-being.

Manipulation can be deliberate, but it can also occur unintentionally with negative repercussions. Unintentional manipulation can be a result of a learned behavior from family modeling, poorly developed communication skills, or a self-protective defense mechanism. You might have learned the habit of giving the silent treatment when you’re upset because that’s what your mother did. This is a subtle way of controlling others by withholding communication and affection—it is also detrimental to healthy relationships. Your partner may deny aspects of their behavior in order to avoid conflict because they worry that you would leave them if you knew the truth. While fear of abandonment explains why some people use manipulation, it does not excuse the behavior or its consequences.

Signs of Manipulation

Within a relationship, manipulation can take many subtle and not-so-subtle forms. You need to know the signs of manipulation so you can identify and address them in order to regain control of your life and emotions.

There are two main ways of noticing manipulation:

  • Identifying the manipulative behaviors or patterns in your relationship, and
  • Paying attention to the symptoms of manipulation in your life (how you feel as a result of the manipulation)

Some signs of manipulation in an intimate relationship include:

  • Lying or withholding information
    • Zoe’s husband goes out often but will not tell her where he’s going or who he’s with, saying it is none of her business.
  • Gaslighting (when someone consistently denies your experience of reality)
    • Rachel’s partner yells at her almost every day after work. When she tries to bring it up the next day, her partner denies that it ever happened.
  • Threatening
    • Zanab’s partner threatens to leave if she disagrees with an important decision and starts to pack suitcases until Zanab complies.
  • Isolating
    • Mary’s partner criticizes her friends and limits her interactions with them. She accuses her of cheating if she tries to spend time with someone other than her spouse. 
  • Criticizing
    • Joanne is concerned about her weight and her boyfriend makes hurtful comments, telling Joanne that she’ll never find someone else who loves her because of her size.
  • Infantilizing (treating like a child)
    • Katherine’s partner doesn’t let her do anything for herself, telling her she isn’t competent to handle her own finances.
  • Guilt tripping
    • “I get up early to go to work every day. The least you can do is keep the house clean.”
  • Charming
    • Sonya’s partner verbally abuses her and then “makes up for it” the next week by bringing flowers, cooking dinner, and showering her with compliments.

Obviously, this isn’t a complete list and there are many more examples of manipulation, including silent treatment, blackmailing, and passive-aggression.

Intuition Reveals Manipulation

Sometimes, manipulation can only be detected by its consequences. You may be experiencing manipulation in your relationship if you feel:

  • Like you can’t trust your perception of reality
  • Guilty or ashamed after interactions with your partner
  • Like you need to defend yourself all the time
  • Unsafe being at home or around your partner
  • Like you can’t trust your partner (and can’t pinpoint why)
  • Increasing self-doubt and insecurity
  • Like you are constantly apologizing or “walking on eggshells”
  • Frustrated, resentful, or exhausted with your relationship
  • Silenced and like you can’t express or share how you feel (to your partner or others)

If you think you are being manipulated, here are some things you can do:

  • Use direct and honest communication—don’t try to manipulate a manipulator.
  • Seek input from a trusted third party who can give objective feedback about what is going on.
  • Spend time in solitude, meditation, or any practice that helps to hone your intuition. Learning to listen to your gut is a skill that can be practiced and re-learned.
  • Seek out a therapist or support group to help you make (and hold) healthy boundaries.
  • Practice self-compassion and self-love to rebuild your sense of self.

You Don’t Have to Accept Manipulative Behavior

At Canyon Crossing Recovery, we give you the tools to identify and address manipulation. Our supportive community helps you learn to set healthy boundaries in your relationships so you can trust yourself again. We empower you to develop healthy coping strategies that foster interdependence, self-confidence and self-esteem. Contact us today to learn more.

Benefits of Residential AddictionTreatment

You cannot heal in the same environment that made you sick. This is the philosophy behind our residential addiction treatment program. At Canyon Crossing, women learn to live life on life’s terms while staying in a safe, substance-free setting. This gives our clients the space and peace needed for lasting recovery.
Our residential program combines high-accountability sober living arrangements with first-rate clinical care. While staying in our homes, clients participate in process groups, one-on-one counseling sessions, and hands-on learning opportunities. They also receive ongoing training; in these meetings, life skills like financial management and conflict resolution are imparted. All of this happens with 24/7 encouragement, guidance, and supervision from our clinical team.
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