Manipulation in a Relationship

Manipulation in a Relationship

You may find yourself in a relationship where you feel a degree of manipulation from your partner. But, What is manipulation and what is the best way to handle it?

Manipulation in a relationship is based on the premise where one partner encourages their partner to do things that do not benefit them in any way. Commonly the partner who is being manipulated is seeing as a victim of such manipulation. However, it is up to each person to set their boundaries and avoid doing things that do not contribute to their well-being. Manipulative behaviour can be conscious or unconscious. Manipulation is underpin by emotions, which is the reason why it is hard to break out of such dynamic in a relationship.

In this article, you will learn how to recognise manipulation in a relationship and more importantly different ways you can deal with it.

What Is Manipulation?

Let’s have a look at what it means to manipulate according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

1: to treat or operate with or as if with the hands or by mechanical means especially in a skillful manner

2a: to manage or utilise skillfully

b: to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one’s own advantage

3: to change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one’s purpose

Now, let’s have a look at how manipulation expresses in a relationship.

What Is Manipulation in a Relationship?

Manipulation can be present in any kind of relationship. You may experience manipulation in romantic relationships, friendships, family, and work-relationships.

Manipulation can be done consciously or unconsciously. People who use manipulative behaviours tend to have a need for control and act defensively. The aim of using a manipulative behaviour in a relationship is to influence or change the behaviour of your partner in a way you would benefit.

In a relationship, the idea of manipulation carries the intention of one partner benefiting from a certain situation. Regardless if the same situation benefits their partner or not.

When one person tries to manipulate their partner at some level they know that they are the only ones benefiting form the situation.

So, when confronted about it, they would exhibit a defensive behaviour. Another common behaviour is avoidance . In this case the person that is manipulating tries distancing themselves from the situation and sometimes even from their partner.

What Causes Manipulation in a Relationship?

You may be prompt to be manipulated if you struggle to set boundaries.

As well as guilt and insecurities can make you more susceptible to manipulation.

For example:

  • When you experience displeasure from others about something you say or do, you are likely to give in to make the other person happy
  • When you don’t have a clear sense of self. You are likely to follow other’s peoples opinions and do things that doesn’t necessarily interest you. But, you will do those things to be with others or to please others.
  • You don’t feel safe. When you don’t feel safe, you are more likely to perceive others behaviours as threatening.
  • If your partner displays a manipulative behaviour it can come from their inability to express their own needs and wants. And more than all from the believe that when asking you or anyone else to meet those needs directly, you will not do it. Hence, they resource to behaviours where they indirectly coerce you to do what they want.

How Manipulation Affects a Relationship

Manipulation has negative effects in your relationship and your well-being.

  • You will experience stress and anxiety in your relationship
  • You could develop depression
  • You may lose your sense of self
  • You won’t no longer know what you like and don’t like
  • You will have a hard time trusting others
  • Your relationship grow distant
  • The trust in your relationship will be compromised

Signs of Manipulation in a Relationship

Some forms of manipulation are more subtle than others. There are things that you will experience and others that you will see on your partner’s behaviour.

How Do You Recognise Emotional Manipulation?

Signs that you are being manipulated in your relationship

  • You doubt yourself
  • You question if you are the problem
  • You feel guilty if you don’t do some things for your partner
  • You feel responsible for your partner’s feelings
  • You are confused on what you really said and what your partner says you said
  • You feel obliged to do things for your partner
  • You act defensively most of the time, without really understanding why you are defensive
  • You end up apologising even if you think it wasn’t your fault, but you do it anyway to bring peace back to your relationship
  • You have constant stress and anxiety when you are around your partner.

Signs that your partner is manipulating you

  • Your partner tends to have emotional outburst when they don’t get what they want
  • Your partner turn either emotional or confrontational when you bring up the manipulating issue
  • Your partner lies
  • Your partner uses a nicer than normal approach to get certain things from you
  • Your partner uses sex as a means to get something from you
  • Your partner tends to shower you with love and affection one moment and act distant the next
  • Your partner will give you the silent treatment when they disagree with something you did and would avoid talking to you to resolve the issue
  • Your partner tends to belittle you in front of others
  • Your partner doesn’t like you being with friends and family
  • Your partner tends to blackmail you in a way to get you do what they want
  • Your partner criticises or disapproves things you do
  • Your partner gives you ultimatums
  • Your partner twists your words
  • Your partner withholds sex, affection, money, or information after a disagreement or argument with you
  • Your partner is constantly seeking attention

How to Deal with Manipulation in a Relationship

When you are in a relationship, you need to trust another person that they wish you well in everything they do. If you feel that their intentions are not directed towards helping you fulfil your needs and achieve your goals, then it becomes a question of trust. Being in a relationship with someone you cannot trust isn’t healthy.

So, if you have objective reasons to doubt your partner’s intentions then you need to address them in your mind and bring them up to your partner. If you are unsure about your partner’s intentions, they easier thing is to ask them what are they trying to achieve by doing something.

Then, you can have a discussion on how their choices and actions affect you practically and emotionally. If your partner is willing to recognise your doubts and help you to clear them up. Then, your relationship can get back on track and you have every reason to trust that you are in it together ad they wish you well.

However, if your partner is unwilling to hear you and address your concerns that is a red flag. Going forward you should be very mindful about the dynamic in your relationship.

How to Deal with Someone Who Is Manipulating You

There are many reasons why your partner would have manipulative behaviour. The best way to deal with it, it’s to understand your partner’s intentions without accusing them of manipulation and setting yourself up as a victim.

When manipulation is present in your relationship, it is your responsibility to recognise how you feel and what you want. So that, you know when you are doing something that doesn’t serve you. It is also your responsibility to express your thoughts and feelings, as well as address the discontent about doing something in a certain way that doesn’t contribute to your well-being.

Declaring yourself as a victim of manipulation won’t help you to address this problem. All it will do is to reinforce the idea that you are powerless against the will of someone else. If anything, this will promote the manipulation.

If you find yourself feeling like a victim of manipulation from your partner. It is worth reflecting on why you are in a relationship and choosing to stay the way it is.

One of the reasons could be that you have a people pleasing behaviour, which would natch you on doing things that your partner wants regardless if they benefit you or not.

While, it can be very challenging to break this pattern of behaviour and snap out of the manipulative dynamic of your relationship. It is worth finding a way to do it. Manipulative relationships are toxic to both partners and can develop into a damaging behaviour that may end up being detrimental to your well-being.

How to Avoid Manipulation in a Relationship

  1. Establish boundaries
  2. Stay connected to your feelings
  3. Be clear about your preferences
  4. Express your feelings and preferences to your partner
  5. Avoid doing anything that doesn’t feel right or that you disagree on
  6. Recognise if there are signs of manipulation in your relationship
  7. If you have any concerns bring them up to your partner
  8. Try to solve address this issue together, but if you struggle, consider getting professional help

Ending a Manipulative Relationship

If manipulation has been a part of your relationship for a while. By the time you become aware of it, you may already be in a very toxic relationship feeling powerless and overwhelmed.

In this case, it may be best for you to take a break from your relationship. Stepping away from your circumstances can relieve you from the pressures from manipulation. It will also give you an opportunity to see things from a different perspective.

Help and Advice with Manipulative Relationship

Tips on How to Deal with Manipulation in Your Relationship

  • Notice yourself doing things without clearly understanding how they benefit you
  • Use the signs mentioned above to identify the possibility of a manipulative behaviour
  • Stay connected with your feelings
  • Express your preferences
  • Set your boundaries
  • Avoid doing things that do not contribute to your life and well-being

If you don’t know how to deal with manipulation and you need professional help and advice, get in touch and we’ll be happy to help!


Personal insecurities, guilt and people pleasing tendencies are some of the reasons that make you more susceptible to manipulation.

Manipulation in a relationship can be very subtle in the beginning without being really aware of it. By its nature, manipulation involves you doing something that does not benefit you in anyway. This leaves you with your needs been unfulfilled. With time, you may feel an insignificant participant in your relationship and at the same time powerless to do anything about it.

The reason is hard to deal with manipulation in a relationship is that you feel powerless to implement a change. The longer such relationship lasts the more powerless you feel. So, if you were unable to change it earlier, What would it take for you to change it now? One of the things is that you have reached a point where you recognise that the negatives of such relationship outweigh the positives and the need for change has become desperately needed.

By the time you recognised you’ve been manipulated, the chances are it probably already gone too far. At this point, you have two options:

  1. Bring up your concerns to your partner and try to change the dynamic of your relationship where your needs and preferences matter
  2. Take some time apart to get a fresh perspective and a clearer idea as to what has been going on through out your relationship.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a manipulative person love?

Manipulation can be intentional or it can be without one’s awareness. This behaviour is the result of not knowing how to have a meaningful connection and a healthy relationship with others.

How to overcome manipulation in a relationship?

If you have been in a manipulative relationship for a long time, the chances are it had already affected your well-being. You may be able to get over manipulation by yourself, but it is most recommended for you to seek professional help than doing it on your own.

What Does a Manipulative Relationship Look Like?

A manipulative relationship leaves one partner being unfulfilled because the things they do not benefit them in any way.

How Does Manipulation Work in a Relationship?

By one partner allowing themselves to do things purely because their partner wishing them to do so. The person who’s being manipulated doesn’t see or feel any benefit from doing so and are not even sure why they do it.

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