This is a continuation of an article written based on a question about manipulation in relationships. You can find that article here.
We are made for relationships. We need each other. We need the connectedness that relationships bring us. Relationships, when healthy, are incredible conduits of growth, connectedness, and joy. Unfortunately, however, relationships can also be unhealthy, and at times harmful. One of the factors that can make a relationship unhealthy is when manipulation is an issue. Manipulation can be overt, and it can also be subtle, flying below our radar. What are some ways that we can recognize manipulation in relationships?
First, in healthy relationships, there exists a robust consideration of the other and their wishes. Both parties take the time to find out what the other is thinking, feeling, wanting, and needing. If you find that in your relationship you seem to be making all the effort and your partner is not really attempting to find out what you think and feel, want and need, that should give you cause for concern. Does the other person ever ask your opinion? Do they seem interested in what interests you? Do they have your best interests at heart? Begin to pay attention to that detail.
...in healthy relationships, there exists a robust consideration of the other and their wishes. Both parties take the time to find out what the other is thinking, feeling, wanting, and needing.
Second, in healthy relationships, there is a give and take, a collaboration of ideas and activities. Both parties will take turns doing what the other would like to do. There is a balanced accommodation to the other and to their preferences. Does the other person make a concerted effort to plan and do things that you like to do? Are you ever told that next time your preferences will be given priority, yet that “next time” never seems to come? Is there a give and take to your relationship, where you both are considered? If not, that should be considered a red flag.
Third, when manipulation is present in relationships, the other can portray themselves as a victim, helpless and needing you to do what they want. They can send the message that there is no one else who is there for them; you are the only one who understands and is there for them. You are the only one they can count on. If you didn’t help them, they might not survive. Do you feel like you have to take care of the other person? Do they need you to do what they want? Will they cut off the relationship if you don’t do what they want? If that is the case, that also is a considerable red flag and should give you great cause for concern.
Fourthly, one last consideration about manipulation in relationships is whether you have felt pushed, nudged, or even coerced to do things that you normally would not feel comfortable doing. Have you ever felt cajoled into doing something that goes just beyond your personal boundary, your personal line for what is right and wrong? Have you ever said to yourself, “just this once,” and then did something about which you have a bit of regret or shame? Has that “just this once” ever turned into multiple times, so much so that you now actually feel a little bit numb about it? If so, it will be important for you to recognize that this relationship is not a healthy one, and the other is being manipulative with you. Stop and talk with a safe, trusted other. Take steps to protect yourself and step away from the relationship.
Have you ever said to yourself, “just this once,” and then did something about which you have a bit of regret or shame?
Manipulation in any form is unhealthy in relationships. It may not be as overt as the last paragraph describes, but even if you have a vague sense that something is not right, pay attention to what you are feeling. Don’t be afraid to bring up your concerns. Choose relationships that have a healthy consideration of both parties. Develop relationships where you are taken into account as much as the other person. That way, the relationship is healthier for both of you and there can be mutual growth.
Willa Williams is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She works at the Biola Counseling Center as a therapist and at the Biola Center for Marriage and Relationships as the Consulting Therapist. She has a Master of Arts in Religion from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL) and a Master of Arts in Counseling in Psychology from Trinity International University (Deerfield, IL). She is Level 3 Trained in the Gottman Method of Couples Therapy and also is a Certified Prepare/Enrich Facilitator. Before coming to Biola, she served overseas at the Spanish Bible Institute in Barcelona, Spain, where she taught a class on counseling skills for pastors and served as the staff therapist for the students. She has been married for more than 30 years and has two teenage children. She has a passion for healthy relationships and enjoys working with couples as well as individuals. She appreciates the immense impact that healthy marriages and relationships have on couples as well as future generations.