In the 2014 thriller Gone Girl, a couple’s seemingly perfect marriage comes apart as the wife goes missing one day and the husband becomes the prime suspect. As things unravel, the one lesson that the viewer gets from the many twists and turns is about manipulation in relationships – a critical aspect that makes or breaks a relationship.
Manipulation in relationships comes with many faces, and some of them are so subtle, you’d probably laugh if someone told you that you were being manipulated. But remember, one of the hallmarks of master manipulators is that you never see them coming. In this piece, we talk about how to recognize signs that you’re being manipulated in your relationship, with the help of counseling psychologist and relationship coach Kavita Panyam.
What Is Manipulative Behavior In A Relationship?
Frankly, an equal relationship is a myth to a large extent. Sure, there would be love and affection but even in the most perfect scenarios, there is some amount of control and manipulation in relationships.
“The definition of manipulation in relationships is when you try to be the controlling partner and directly or indirectly, try to steer the course of the connection,” says Kavita. “You neither allow the other person to give as much as they want to, neither do you contribute as much as you should.”
In other words, it’s all about being the controlling partner in the relationship. The control and power games can be overt or covert, subtle or definite but there is always one partner who tries to gain the upper hand in every situation.
The manipulation tactics list is rather long for those who practice it. From psychological manipulation in relationships to downright physical abuse, there are various forms where a man or woman tries to dominate his or her partner. “Anger, impulsive behavior, gaslighting are all manipulation strategies in relationships,” adds Kavita.
And the underlying reason behind such behaviors is the same: these are people who are dishonest with themselves and their partner. They do not know what they want and hesitate to ask and communicate in a direct manner. Hence, they resort to manipulation in relationships to feel powerful and in control.
What Does A Manipulative Relationship Look Like?
A manipulative relationship almost always has two aspects – the bully and the bullied. In most cases, the manipulator plays mind games, sends his or her victim on a guilt trip, cooks up stories to justify his or her stand and then uses situations to his or her advantage. “This happens to such an extent that the victim starts believing something is wrong with them. They attack your insecurities and self-esteem,” says Kavita.
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Ever seen a person who constantly magnifies problems or complains about loneliness to attract the attention of their busy partners? Or someone who cries, sulks, gives the silent treatment or the cold shoulder until their exasperated partner gives in to their tantrums? These are some examples of romantic manipulation practiced by both men and women in their own ways.
When there is manipulation in relationships, one partner is always subdued or eager to please. Such marriages are unequal as one partner gets his or her way through everything. Over a period of time, the one being manipulated feels suffocated and stifled – certainly, it’s not healthy nor does it lead to the foundation of a strong relationship!
11 Subtle Signs Of Manipulation In Relationships
As mentioned before when manipulation in relationships is practiced overtly, it’s at least somewhat easy to fight them. However, the challenge is when a person resorts to underhanded, subtle and undecipherable means to win an unnecessary war against their partner.
Subtle manipulation in relationships is manifested in many ways. From deciding what is to be made for breakfast to taking important life decisions related to finance or children, the manipulator plays different cards to bulldoze their way through. At other times, they are also clever when they indulge in romantic manipulation you that it might not even strike you that you are being used!
Here are 11 typical yet subtle signs of manipulation in relationships to watch out for:
1. Forcing you to do things you don’t want to
In other words, bullying! The bully might ask you something rather politely. You don’t want to but you can’t bring yourself to say no. It may be due to the tone or the hidden threat but you end up doing their bidding.
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Such forms of manipulation are easy to recognize because the bully does not really make any effort to hide their lack of respect for your opinion or choice “Financially, emotionally or spiritually, they know how to get things done,” says Kavita. “They have the ‘my way or the highway’ approach.”
2. Taking you out of your comfort zone
They may cajole, convince you, argue with you or give you a treat…they do everything to ensure you parachute out of your comfort zone and land into theirs. So, if you find yourself ordering Mexican food ONLY because your partner loves it or you visit ONLY his or her favorite clubs, know that you are a victim of manipulation.
A relationship is all about gender equality but not giving you a chance to exercise your choice because your partner is too egoistic to listen to you, is a sign of imbalance and inequality. You might think it’s no big deal but remember that these small things add up to the larger issues in life.
3. Indulging in cyclical bad behavior
“Manipulation in relationships is everything that stops you and freezes you on your tracks,” says Kavita. “Often you will notice a pattern to their responses.” So if there is a fight or an argument, regardless of who is wrong in the situation, a manipulative partner begins a cycle of bad behavior.
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They may first cut off emotionally and then the physical distance begins. They may carry the resentment for such a long time that you begin to feel guilty. This way they subtly pass on the burden of guilt on you. Once you apologize, things get back on track only for the same cycle to begin again after the next fight.
4. Withholding sex
One of the most common techniques of romantic manipulations in relationships is the withholding of sex. A lot of times, couples fight and make up later in bed but manipulators deliberately deny sex to ensure you never forget the fight. They may withdraw and act cold.
Good intimacy is the foundation of a healthy strong relationship and by staying away from you, they try to send a very strong message that they are not willing to forgive or forget. They won’t relent until you give in and even when they do agree to sex, they make it seem like a favor.
5. Blaming you for things gone wrong
Manipulators rarely take up responsibility when things go wrong. In fact, they may use every trick in the trade to fire from your shoulders. This can happen in professional as well as personal relationships.
Related Reading: 5 Ways Blame-Shifting In A Relationship Harms It
Basically, they want you to feel dependent and when you don’t comply, the cycle of abuse continues. The key aspect to be noted here is that it doesn’t matter who has made a mistake – in the end it’s always your fault and you are the one trying to overexplain and justifying things you need not justify.
6. Giving the silent treatment
Emotional manipulation is as bad as physical abuse and one of the classic emotional manipulation examples is the infamous silent treatment that people indulge in. Does your partner put on a ‘stoneface’ when the two of you have a problem?
Does s/he answer in monosyllables to your attempts to have a decent conversation? Do you feel confused when s/he keeps saying ‘I am fine’ but his/her behavior indicates just the opposite? “Sulking, going silent, stonewalling conversation are all ways to manipulate you into doing what they want,” says Kavita.
7. Giving you wrong advice
Manipulation in relationships occurs mainly because one person is insecure and does not want to lose his or her control over their partner. Be it friendships or relationships, manipulators are often seen dispensing wrong advice under the garb of ‘caring’.
So be it discouraging you from taking a new job or withholding new opportunities for your growth or painting the worst-case scenarios when you want to try something new, they try to stunt your growth. As Kavita says, “They simply don’t want to see you move ahead in life.”
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8. Being the good guy/girl
Don’t presume manipulators are evil people with horns who make your life miserable. Often, they are charming and over sincere. In fact, they come across as so nice that it almost seems fake. They might make you feel you are the most special person in their lives.
But the hidden agenda behind all the praise and compliments is to manipulate you into doing what they want. When someone is too kind and too flattering, you will find it difficult to say ‘no’ to their requests. And that’s precisely what manipulators prey on – your inability to draw relationship boundaries.
9. Playing the love card
Guilt-tripping you with love is one of the classic emotional manipulation examples. ‘I love you so much, can’t you even do this for me?’ ‘You don’t value my feelings’, ‘How can you be so brutal when I love you so much’…. These lines get thrown at you way too often.
The idea behind tugging at your heartstrings instead of explaining things logically is to avoid reasoning and proper discussion. In a strange away, they lay the onus of proving your love for them time and again. ‘If you loved me, you would….’ is one way of making you give in to their wishes.
10. Being calm and in charge
In some cases, manipulators tend to overreact and be dramatic but the opposite is also a form of manipulation in relationships. Your beau might be calm, cool and collected and while that’s a great quality. sometimes it’s used as a tool against you.
The objective might be to make you look overdramatic in a situation that perhaps warrants your drama and anger. And in the end, you end up looking silly, immature and over-emotional while they are the mature, cool cucumber. When this happens over and over again, you may feel defeated – which is what they want.
11. Constantly comparing you to others
Insecurity in relationships rises from comparisons. You can never really achieve what you set out to do if you compare your journey to that of others. Constant comparisons that make you somehow look inadequate in front of others is a form of manipulation in relationships.
‘Why can’t you look like him/her?’ ‘Why can’t you make money like XYZ’? There are many points of comparison which makes you feel that you are never good enough in the eyes of your partner. The objective is to ensure you never grow larger in stature than them.
Manipulative relationships can wreck your peace of mind. They may not sound as bad as physical or verbal abuse but bit by bit, they chip away at your self-confidence. To deal with them, you first need to recognize that you are being used and only then can you take steps to seek your real self out and set boundaries. You deserve all the happiness and let not anyone – be it your colleague or partner – make you believe anything else.