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

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”.[1] 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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

Featured photo credit: Ashley Schulze via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Dr. Robert Glover: No More Mr. Nice Guy

More by this author

Kevin Thompson

A breakup and relationship expert who writes about reconciliation and becoming a better person

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Last Updated on October 22, 2020

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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