How to Recognize and React to Manipulation in Your Marriage

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People who manipulate use mental distortion and emotional exploitation to influence and control others. Their intent is to have power and control over others to get what they want.

A manipulators knows what your weaknesses are and will use them against you. This will keep happening unless you actively and assertively put a stop to it. That said, it is not always easy.

Stopping manipulation in a marriage can be difficult because it might have started out subtle. Over time, manipulation can become the everyday dynamic of your relationship with your partner.

What Is Manipulation?

Manipulation can be subtle or quite obvious, but either one is damaging to your marriage. Here's a look at how manipulation tactics compare to a healthy, direct approach.

  • Direct and Honest Approach. "I would like to go to the movies tonight. If you don't have any plans for this evening, would you go with me?"

By contrast, if a partner is being manipulative, it might be obvious or subtle.

  • Obvious Manipulation. "If you loved me you would go to the movies with me tonight."
  • Subtle Manipulation. "Do you have any plans for this evening?" (Left unsaid: If you do, you must not love me.)

Common Manipulation Strategies

If you recognize these interactions in your relationship, it can be a sign that your partner is manipulating you.

  • Being coercive
  • Being vague about wants or needs
  • Blaming
  • Criticizing and disapproving
  • Crying 
  • Doling out threats and ultimatums
  • Giving the "silent treatment"
  • Having a temper tantrum
  • Lying or twisting the truth
  • Making you feel shame, embarrassment, or guilt
  • Pouting
  • Showing exaggerated disappointment
  • Twisting your words (or their meaning)
  • Whining
  • Withdrawal or avoidance
  • Withholding money or something of value
  • Withholding or hiding information
  • Withholding sex or affection

Why People Manipulate Others

In general, people manipulate others to get what they want. They may feel the need to punish, control, or dominate their spouse. They may be seeking pity or attention, or have other selfish motives. They might also be trying to change or wear down a spouse in an effort to have their own needs met.

People who manipulate in adult relationships sometimes come from a dysfunctional family of origin (the family one grows up in). They might have had to manipulate in order to get basic needs met or avoid harsh punishment, or perhaps they were manipulated by their parents and learned this negative way to interact with others. 

Consequences of Manipulation

Manipulation is damaging to relationships, especially those that are intimate. If you are being manipulated by a partner, you might feel:

  • A constant need to defend yourself
  • A lack of safety in the marriage
  • A lack of trust in your partner
  • A serious sense of self-doubt
  • Frequent apologizing, even when you believe you did not do anything wrong
  • Negative feelings such as dissatisfaction, hurt, resentment, anger, and frustration
  • Overall discontentment with the relationship

What to Do About Manipulation in Your Marriage

Most people know how to be manipulative, but we choose mature and healthy ways to interact with others. Most strive to be respectful of our partner through direct and honest communication, particularly in a marriage or other loving relationship,

Manipulation and other forms of emotional abuse are never acceptable from a romantic partner—or anyone else in your life. Realize and accept that manipulation is also emotional blackmail.

Here are some key points to recognize this unfair behavior and eliminate it in your marriage.

  • Do not act as if the manipulation is no big deal.
  • If the manipulation in your marriage continues, seek marriage counseling to help you both change the behavior.
  • If you discover yourself manipulating, stop in mid-sentence. Be more direct in your questions or statements.
  • Recognize when you or your spouse manipulates.
  • Tell your spouse when you experience manipulation. Be specific in describing the manipulation and your feelings.

A Word From Verywell

Manipulation might seem like an easy or "natural" way to deal with a difficult issue or to get things to go the way you want them to, but it is hurtful and damaging to your relationships. You and your loved ones deserve honest and loving communication.

Article updated by Marni Feuerman

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2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Feuerman M. Signs You're Being Emotionally Manipulated In Your Relationship. Your Tango. 2015.

  2. Stritof S. Avoid Playing the Blame Game in Relationships. ThoughtCo. 2019.