Nobody enters into a relationship that they know will be damaging or cause abuse, be that physical or emotional. Despite not knowing it from the start, many relationships can become damaging in both obvious and subtle ways. No matter how negative the relationship may become, leaving your partner is never an easy decision. For those in emotionally abusive relationships, their damaged self-esteem may keep them trapped with their partner and have them not know what a healthy and loving relationship feels like. They might make excuses for their partner or state things about how great the relationship is even if they are hurting.
Dr. George Simon, psychologist and leading expert in manipulators and character, discussed different techniques that people may use to manipulate their partner. In outlining the different techniques, Simon, hopes to raise awareness of those who are in unhealthy relationships. Everybody deserves to feel loved and respected by their partner. Unfortunately for many relationships, that respect diminishes. In such situations it is with hope that awareness of different signs can be a wake-up call on how they deserve to be treated.
The first warning sign that your relationship may turn manipulative is the amount of lying your partner engages in. People that are manipulative may lie about many aspects of their lives, including smaller details such as what color shirt they were wearing. As Simon points out, lying is all about trying to gain an advantage over your partner. By responding with vague answers or outright lies, your partner is showing from the get-go that they do not have the maturity to handle the accountability that a committed relationship requires. On top of that, feeling that your partner is always lying can leave you feeling frustrated and create distrust. The negative partner may react by yelling at you for calling them out on their lies and immediately grow defensive. Lying may seem like a small sign of disrespect, but it provides tremendous insight on the type of person your partner may be.
While lying can be a significant warning sign to any relationship, it is not the only sign to be on alert for. Simon advises patients to be on the lookout when partners engage in the ‘blame game’. It is easy to feel like everything is your fault, especially if your partner is constantly blaming you for problems. People in relationships are going to make mistakes—this is unavoidable and can lead to opportunities for growth. However, when your partner fails to take accountability for their own fault in a disagreement and instead blames their you or others, it can be incredibly damaging. The unhealthy individual may react in a hostile way, projecting their anger or insecurities onto you. By failing to take accountability for their actions, they are failing to grow as a partner and someone you can trust. By constantly being blamed for mistakes, an abused partner may feel their sense of self-esteem or self-worth being weakened. If you think that every time you and your partner fight—that it is always your fault—you may start to internalize the conflict as a defect in you, as well as in your relationship. This may happen even if they know the accusations are untrue.
When a partner is called out on their actions that are manipulative, the accused may try and trivialize the reaction of their partner. This can manifest itself in sarcasm or refusing to have a serious conversation. At best, it is a sign of disrespect and at worst, it is a clear sign that your partner does not care about you. It may lead you feeling like you are always blowing things out of proportion, but you are justified in your level of emotion. You do not deserve to deal with a partner that is cold or distant when you come to them with issues. Minimizing problems can be dangerous and may lead to a repeat performance if the negative patterns are not identified and broken. If there are never any conversations about the resolution of a disagreement, then there is no area for your relationship to grow. Similar to the problems that emerge from playing the blame game, trivializing how your partner feels shows disrespect and a severe failure to communicate.
If your partner is not trivializing the problem or blaming you for it, they may also engage in the tactic of denial. When you refuse to believe that an event happened or that it was your fault, it can lead to some damaging conversations. The partner caught in ‘denial’ may react with anger and project that on their partner, but it is not an excuse for their attempted manipulation. Denial shows a lack of accountability and an unwillingness to communicate with your partner. There is no value in remaining in a relationship if you know you cannot rely on them when the going gets tough.
The most dangerous type of manipulation may arguably be ‘gaslighting‘. As explained by Simon, ‘gaslighting’ involves creating “so much doubt in the minds of their targets of exploitation that the victim no longer trusts their own judgment about things,” and this can often be a long process of manipulation. The manipulator may repeat stories, but change details and do-so with such conviction that their partner starts to doubt their own memory. Other manipulators may outright deny past events happening or stating, “No, you said this, NOT this” in order to excuse their patterns. When your relationship is already beating down on your self-esteem through other means, gaslighting is another trick to make you doubt your own sense of self. It is unhealthy and consciously manipulative on your partner’s behalf. It is done to manipulate and create an advantage over you, and leaves you feeling incapable of leaving your relationship.
It is important to know that it is normal to want to defend your partner. Letting someone in, especially to the level of emotional manipulation, entails above all a great deal of love at the start. Remember that love is an everyday effort and if you beat yourself up for staying with a partner that is not healthy, you will never have the strength it takes to leave. Do not let your relationship become a “He’s a great guy…but..he yells at me sometimes, but it is my fault because I upset him!” By using the ‘but’ game, you are further excusing his actions while also putting down your own sense of self. You will need to be strong to leave this partner and the first step towards that is knowing you have the confidence in yourself to leave. Remember there are resources out there to help you and you have inner strength not utilized yet.
Relationships are not always easy. They require a lot of work and commitment and it is not easy to throw away. When you are with someone for an extended period of time, you may feel like your identity is completely wrapped up in them. You may also feel like you have put so much time into the relationship, that it is selfish to throw it away. Remember, your partner needs to show that you are loved everyday. If your relationship is not a healthy one, re-evaluate your daily interactions to see how you are treated.
Nothing is more important than how you and your partner decide to communicate with one another. Abuse and manipulation does not always have to be obvious to the outside world for it to cause real damage. Disagreements happen, but respect must always be at the forefront. There is a difference between fighting and disagreeing, a topic I covered recently, but abusive relationships rarely have healthy communication. Relationships that are rampant with manipulation fail to have the accountability and respect that a relationship needs. Disrespectful partners fail to see a relationship for what it is—a team—and without a teammate, you can never be in a healthy relationship.