7 Signs of Manipulation in Relationships (And How to Handle It)

Manipulation is more common in relationships today than ever. With the rise in social media and the decline in interpersonal relationship skills, people are being more and more manipulative. But manipulation in relationships is not always the result of an evil intent. In fact, a lot of times it’s innocent and harmless. In most cases, the person doing the manipulation is not even aware that they are manipulating their partner. In some cases, they are aware of it, but they believe it to be harmless. In a few cases, manipulation is part of a toxic pattern in the relationship and it keeps going on and on forever. But you should be wary of any type of manipulation in the relationship. Even though it may sometimes be harmless, manipulation can soon turn into a toxic pattern if you don’t handle it properly and speak about it with your partner.

Signs of Manipulation in a Relationship

Let’s look at a few common types of manipulation in a relationship:

1. Covert Contracts

The term “Covert Contract” is described by Dr. Robert Glover in his book “No More Mr. Nice Guy”.((Dr. Robert Glover: No More Mr. Nice Guy)) This type of manipulation is very common in men who are insecure in a relationship. But it can also be seen in women. A covert contract is simply a contract that a lot of people make in their minds but never really discuss it with their partner. They will do something nice for their partner and expect something in return. For example, “I’ll buy her the dress she liked. I am sure she will have sex with me tonight.” Or an extreme case of such a contract could be something like, “I’ll pay for her education and support her in her career. In return, I am sure she will love me and stay loyal to me.” Of course, when things don’t go as planned, they become angry and it leads to a fight. Sometimes, they hold the anger inside and it festers until it blows up. But such type of manipulation never really leads to anything good.

2. The Trap

"Do you think she looks good in that dress?" "Yeah, sure." "I knew you liked her. How long have you been obsessing over her?" A common type of manipulation that people use is setting up a trap for their partner. It could be as simple as a word trap. Or something extremely complicated and manipulative as getting a friend to hit on their partner. In either case, it’s wrong to do it and how you should react depends on their intentions and reasons behind the manipulation.

3. The Silent Treatment

The silent treatment is the preferred type of manipulation for a lot of people. Instead of speaking about the issue at hand, they choose to give their partner the silent treatment. Now, the silent treatment in itself isn’t bad. A lot of times, being silent and thinking about the issue can help you come to a conclusion. But some people do it with the intention of punishing their partner and winning the argument. But if they keep the silent treatment going until you apologize, even if you weren’t wrong, then you have a master manipulator at your hand, and you need to address this issue as soon as possible.

4. Checking Your Messages

Another type of manipulation people use is they will constantly check your messages behind your back or in front of you. It is, in most cases, a betrayal of trust and invasion of privacy. But some people learn to manipulate their partners into accepting this behavior. They will say things like, “If you don’t have anything to hide, why do you care?” This type of manipulation is usually common in relationships where one partner has trust issues. These trust issues are often a result of something that happened in the relationship. But in a lot of cases, these trust issues are simply the insecurity of one partner seeping into the relationship.

5. Social Media Shenanigans

Social media has made manipulation very easy. You will often find passive aggressive comments and a boatload of different manipulative tactics used by people who love social media manipulation. If your partner is using social media to manipulate you, it’s most likely that they are doing it to make you jealous or to put you down. They may do things like,
  • Post pictures with someone of the opposite sex.
  • Post passive aggressive quotes that may be directed at you. Things like, “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at your best.”.
  • Actively like and comment statuses or pictures of an ex or someone they know you are jealous of.

6. Withholding Sex to Get What They Want

The first thing that comes to mind is a very direct type of manipulation that a lot of people see in their relationship. It’s quite common with women but men have been known to do this too. They withhold sex from their partner because they are not getting what they want. Sometimes, they withhold sex to punish a partner for doing something they didn’t like. “Didn’t take out the trash? Well, don’t expect any action tonight.” “Didn’t buy me that necklace I wanted? You won’t be seeing me naked until you do.” Withholding sex is not always a big deal in a healthy relationship. So, if your partner is doing it just to tease you or they are playing, it’s okay and you should not worry about it. It’s also understandable if they are genuinely upset with you about something and they need time to let go of the anger before they can feel comfortable enough to have sex. But it becomes a problem when they are withholding sex purely to punish you or to get something out of you. To figure out if this is manipulation, or your partner is genuinely upset with you, you need to put on a little empathy hat and try to see how you would react if you were in their situation. Did you lie to them about something big and they feel that they can’t trust you right now? If so, it’s understandable that they don’t want sex right now because they don’t trust you. Give them some time and listen to them. Try to talk about the issue and come to a solution together. Treat them with respect and understanding and they will soon start trusting you again. Are they upset because you didn’t get them the birthday gift they wanted? If so, there’s a good chance they just want you for money and are trying to “train” you to do what they want.

7. The Life Controller

This type of manipulation is subtle. Because you won’t even realize that they are manipulating you. It will feel like they are helping you. But in reality, they will be controlling your life and will be molding it the way they want it. Now let me be clear, healthy couples support each other and help each other take major life decisions. But some people take this to the next level where it merges with manipulation. If you have a partner who controls all aspects of your life, you will eventually stop feeling like yourself and you will feel like you are living someone else’s life. It’s a good idea to confront them and speak about it before you resent them and end up in a bad breakup.

How to Handle Manipulation in a Relationship

Handling manipulation in a relationship comes down to 3 things:

1. Introspection

The first step, introspection, is to look inside yourself and ask yourself if you have been doing something to warrant this manipulation. Has your partner tried to talk to you, and you ignored them? Have you been neglecting some needs that your partner has told you about? And most importantly, have you been doing some type of manipulation that has caused your partner to manipulate in return? It’s important to be honest with yourself. If you are unsure, it will help to speak to someone close to you and get their opinion on the topic. If you choose to discuss it with someone, make sure you give them an unbiased view of what happened.

2. Intention and Showing Empathy

The second step is figuring out the intention of your partner. In another words, it’s to put yourself in their shoes and try to feel what they were feeling. Your aim here is to try to understand them and figure out where they are coming from. Is your partner being manipulative because they are insecure and don’t know how to communicate properly? Or is it that they are just upset about something serious and this manipulation is just a way to get some validation from you? If you are not sure about their intention, it’s best to not make any assumption. Instead, just speak to them about it. When you speak to them, make sure you are doing it with the intention of understanding them and coming to a conclusion; not to blame them and get the moral higher ground.

3. Communication

The third step, communication, is the most important step of all. With proper communication, you can pretty much solve any problem in your relationship. You may not be able to resolve childhood issues of your partner and bad habits formed over the years. But you can bring these issues to light and figure out a way to tackle them together. Remember, whenever you choose to communicate, do it clearly and with the intention of resolving the issue. It’s best to follow the template below when you are tackling any type of manipulation issue. “When you did [the exact manipulating action], I felt disconnected from you because it feels like manipulation and that means you don’t trust me enough to communicate directly. I want this relationship to work and I want us to communicate better. I really want to understand why you did it. Is it because [your guess of their intention]?” If your partner gets angry, remind them that you love them, and you are not trying to blame them or make them feel any less. You just want to understand them and to make sure you both can communicate with each other. If they are unwilling to work on the issues and discuss it, even after trying multiple times, then there is a good chance your partner is unwilling to learn and grow. And you should seriously consider ending such a relationship.

Final Thoughts

Manipulation can turn into a toxic behavioral pattern in the relationship. It’s best to address manipulation as soon as possible. The longer you ignore it, the harder it will be to acknowledge the behavior and change it. It will take some effort from both the partners to get rid of toxic manipulation in your relationship. If one partner is unwilling to make the effort, it’s best to consider ending the relationship. 
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