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The Use of Manipulation in Relationships

Some people use strategic behaviors that help interactions be more successful.





Manipulation is simply a strategy. All people use that strategy to get what they need when straightforward and authentic communication doesn’t work. Even children learn very early in life what behaviors and timing they can best use to get what they need from their parents when direct asking doesn’t get them what they want. It is a form of learned, subtle social wisdom meant to oil the gears of interpersonal interaction.


Manipulation is not necessarily harmful when it is used to avoid turmoil in a relationship. Many people have confessed to me how they use strategic behaviors to help their interactions be more successful, and I’ve never witnessed a relationship where some form of manipulation is not in play. In fact, some partners have told me that they are well aware of the other’s strategy and even appreciate it.


Sadly, manipulation can turn dark and become exploitation, the use of deception to mold and control another’s response for the benefit of the manipulator at the other’s expense. The classic movie Gaslight exemplifies manipulation as exploitation, and the word itself has become a colloquialism for any behavior that intentionally destroys another’s reality to make it easier to control.


To avoid ever slipping from helpful manipulation to exploitation, both partners in a committed relationship need to be aware of when and how they manipulate the other, why and when they do, and whether those behaviors are helpful or harmful to the relationship.


There are many examples of manipulative strategies, but some are more common. The following 12 are good examples I have seen in my years of counseling couples, and you may find ones you use yourself amongst them. Do not judge yourself. As you become aware of using them, you might even be courageous enough to share them with your partner.


1. Covering Up an Act

You accidentally scraped the car, and it’s the second time this month. You are embarrassed and don’t want your partner to think you’re irresponsible, so you tell them that the car was parked when you were at an appointment and someone must have scraped it. Your partner is upset that the car needs repairs again but isn’t mad at you.


2. Softening Someone Up

You want your partner to go with you to an event that you know they don’t really want to attend. You tell them that you are really upset about something, but you don’t want to ask for their help because it wouldn’t be fair, and you don’t want to be a burden. They immediately want to help you feel better by doing anything they can to alleviate your worry. Then you ask them to go.


3. Using Other People to Sell a Point

You don’t believe your partner will agree to something you want to do. You tell them that other people they truly respect and honor have all done the same thing and raved about it. Of course, you’ve asked those people beforehand to back you up if needed.


4. Doing Something Nice in Order to Get Something Later

You know your partner’s had a hard day, but you really want to have a great, sexy night and anticipate being rejected. You make reservations at your partner’s favorite restaurant as a surprise and share a poem you wrote for them. During dinner, you talk about wonderful nostalgic memories to get the warm-up started.


5. Selling

Your partner is reticent to do something you want them to do. You begin a relentless sales pitch using everything you know to change their mind. They finally give in just to stop the noise.


6. Pretending Not to Know to Get More Information

A friend tells you something about your partner that they have not shared with you yet. Perhaps an old flame has emerged, or a person you don’t like is coming into town, and your partner is making plans behind your back. You beat around the bush, asking your partner if there is anything they need to tell you when you already know.


7. Telling White Lies

Your partner cannot stand your father’s behavior, especially when he has had too much to drink. You tell them that your father is under a lot of stress and only drinks irregularly and truly feels terrible when he has upset your partner when you know that your father is an alcoholic and actually doesn’t have any remorse.


8. Using Other People’s Needs to Gain Guilt-Free Time

You really want to spend some alone time with a good friend your partner doesn’t particularly like. You tell your partner that your friend is suffering a terrible loss and really needs you, and you really have to spend a couple of days with him away so that he will feel better.


9. Acting Indifferent to Push the Other Person Make the Decision

You really want to go to a particular restaurant for dinner, but you know your partner doesn’t care for that place, so you ask them where they would like to go, but keep finding fault with their choices until they pick the restaurant you want.


10. Pretending You’ve Done Something You Haven’t

Your partner has been asking you for a while to do something important to them, but you keep putting it off because other things come up that have a higher priority at the time. Your partner finally gets upset and accuses you of not caring about what they need. You tell them you tried hard to do it and weren’t able to, but you did it today, hoping you can pull it off in the morning.


11. Pretending to Agree When You Don’t to Avoid Conflict

You can’t stand tension or any unresolved conflict, so you always agree with whatever your partner says or asks you to do, but you don’t really want to do it and procrastinate, hoping the request will go away. You realize that you are being passive or resistant but can’t face challenging them.


12. Using Comparisons to Get Someone to Do What You Want

You want something from your partner, and they just aren’t cooperating. So, you tell them how other people’s partners have gotten that for them and how much it helped the relationship improve. You are careful to pick comparisons from people your partner respects and looks up to.



Choose Dr. Randi Gunther a Clinical Psychologist & Marriage Counselor who truly understands the complexities of human connection.


Reach out to Dr. Randi today and take the first step toward a brighter, more fulfilling future together.


Dr. Gunther is available by Zoom or Facetime

310-971-0228

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