Do you find yourself giving into your partner’s increasing demands, wondering if you’re being manipulated? You’re not alone.
Anyone who has a caretaking personality is the perfect target for a manipulator. Psychology Today points out, “An emotional caretaker is someone who looks out for the feelings, needs and wants of an emotional manipulator. The caretaker defers to the manipulator’s wants, giving up their own wants and even their own health and well-being needs. They give in to ‘keep the peace’ and to please the other person-all with no improvement in the relationship.”
These eight manipulative tactics, (visually outlined in the Duluth Power and Control wheel) define how a manipulator gains control.
You may be in a relationship with a manipulator if they:
1. Minimize their behavior, blame others or deny reality
If everything is always someone else’s fault, your partner is using blaming as a tactic. For example, your partner stays out late. When they return home intoxicated, they immediately blame you. They say they didn’t come home because you’re a bad cook and they needed a decent meal. The blame has been shifted and you find yourself arguing about your cooking, instead of the real issue.
Your partner may minimize to reduce the importance of their actions. If you point out they had too much to drink, they minimize by listing what they had to drink, their body weight and then point out how their friend’s wives don’t complain. They use phrases like, “It’s really no big deal.”
Denying reality can be as simple as a white lie or as complicated as gaslighting – a tactic used to deny reality. For example, although clearly intoxicated, they insist they didn’t drink anything at all. You can smell alcohol on their breath, but they gaslight you, to make you feel more than a little crazy.
2. Threaten or coerce you
A form of coercion is blackmail. Your partner may ask you use an illegal substance or take immodest photos. You find out later that your partner has photos or recordings as evidence and insinuate your behavior could cost you a job, losing your children in court or public humiliation.
If a manipulative partner feels you aren’t bending to his needs, they might use photos, recordings and history as a threat to get you to comply. They may also threaten to physically harm you.
3. Emotionally and verbally abuse you
Emotional abuse includes many things: Put-downs, insults, verbal attacks, public humiliation, attacks on self-esteem and mind games. Small things, like asking if you are “really going to wear that in public” can be abusive. Their tone of voice, insinuation and attitude make you feel bad about yourself.
4. Isolate you
Manipulators work to isolate their partner from friends and family. It may start by simply complaining when their partner has a night out with friends and escalate to sabotaging the night out. For example, you go out with friends and return to a messy house, upset kids and a frustrated partner. Soon you feel the night out comes at too high a cost and you start canceling time with friends.
Manipulators will also tell you family or friends aren’t good for you. They portray themselves as your caretaker and hero, using phrases like, “No one else understands you like I do.”
5. Financially or economically abuse you
Early on, an economic manipulator might say they are trying to help you with your finances. Over time they cut off access to accounts, and restrict your spending.
Manipulators may sabotage you in more subtle ways, like controlling where you work or causing you to lose a job, so they have control. They might call you at work repeatedly or show up when they know it will cause problems for you. If they are extremely manipulative they might even damage your vehicle so you’re late to work, or get in a fight with your boss at a company party.
6. Use privilege as a male or superior
Manipulators may point out that everyone does it “this way,” and as your spouse or as a male they deserve privilege. You may be trying to tell them you want to help make decisions but they find a scripture or quote, and remind you that women must submit to men.
7. Use intimidation to make you do things you don’t want to do
Getting in your face during an argument or kicking your dog to punish you are all forms of manipulation using intimidation and fear. Intimidation is usually accompanied by anger and an implied threat. If you find yourself weighing your words or actions out of fear, you are in a relationship with a manipulator.
8. Use children as pawns or leverage
Manipulators might imply that if you leave them, they will take the children. They may also undermine your relationship with your children. For example, you have a new baby together, but decide things aren’t working as a couple. You ask to separate. They threaten to tell the judge you’re a bad parent and keep you from your child to force you to stay.
These eight tactics (and others) are used by manipulators to gain power and control. When these efforts fail, occasionally they resort to verbal, physical or sexual violence to get what they want.
The bottom line? If to keep the peace in your relationship, you watch your words, give up your identity and values, change your behavior and desperately want to please your partner out of fear, you are in a relationship with a manipulator.
Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 to get the help you need.