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Manipulation & Relationships Part 1

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After almost 40 years of working to help couples, I offer a podcast of substance on what relationships require to last for the long haul. I use books & movies to illustrate the points I’m trying to make. I offer challenges of things you can actually do in your own relationship at the end of every podcast which is under 10 minutes.

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Everybody manipulates to get what they want. Three year olds manipulate to get what they want. Teens are hard to live with because they manipulate. I think most young couples begin with a lot of emotional manipulation born of insecurities. We all want to win & have power.

My definition of manipulation is using power overtly or covertly to get what you want. From the extreme of physical abuse on one end of the continuum to a three year old temper tantrum at the other end. So there is a range to manipulation. Probably the most ordinary manipulation is making someone feel guilty. Using guilt to get someone to do what you want is something everyone has both used & experienced.

Many relationships have a hierarchy of power where one partner has more of the say; because they make more money, or because of religious or cultural values. Hierarchy simplifies & makes life easier. In a relationship of shared power there is more struggle & messiness because there are two points of view that must be accommodated.

There are many ways to manipulate: From loud, yelling & screaming that is all about drama to the sneaky quiet passive aggressive ways of undermining someone else. Drama most often is a clear indication of manipulation. Drama buries the real issues in a giant pile of noise.

When someone demands that they be loved no matter what, this is a sign of emotional manipulation. Only parents should give kids under 17 unconditional love. The movie Love Story perpetrated a crime against relationships when it claimed “Love means never saying you are sorry.”

Ignoring boundaries is a huge part of manipulation & drama. Boundaries about what is ok & what is not ok are very important in healthy relationships. Saying No, expecting respect & forgiveness for mistakes are all part of learning to be a better partner. We all have the opportunity to grow & learn how to love someone else well, which requires a lot of work.

Someone who is consistently manipulative usually takes up too much space. They are not good at sharing and know how to get their way. They are better at making statements about their point of view than asking questions.

Someone who is manipulated dismisses their own voice & doesn’t take up enough space. They go along to get along. They give up what they want in order to avoid conflict. They ask questions instead of making statements. They also can be manipulative by being withholding.

Being either manipulative or allowing yourself to be manipulated defeats any possibility of growth. These are patterns people get stuck in that are very unhealthy. They are also very boring patterns. We often find partners who have opposite energy from us. This is so we can learn from each other & achieve more range in who we are which has the added benefit of making us more interesting.

So the more often manipulative, take up too much room person learns to back up, edit themselves & shares their power. They learn to ask questions to understand the other & how to make more room for someone else. My loud, bossy self grew a lot from loving someone enough to figure this out.

So the person who is more often manipulated, who doesn’t take up enough room learns to step forward, to find their voice & speak up, maybe even how to be angry enough to set boundaries with the other person. They learn to stop avoiding conflict. You can only grow if you are willing to do uncomfortable things. They learn to hold their own with someone else.

I often teach these patterns in couples therapy by using a blank index cards One empty card represents the space between 2 people. One fills up the card too much, one fills up the card too little. Both have a lot to learn, which is the beauty of being able to grow up because of a relationship. Growing up is honestly facing painful situations & recognizing you have ownership in the problems instead of just blaming the other person is the beginning of real change.

Shattered Glass is an excellent movie about manipulation. It’s based on the true story of Stephen Glass who was a journalist at the New Republic from 1995 thru 1998 & it was discovered he made up 27 of his 41 stories. He charmed his way to the top with lies because he wanted success & fame. He works his magic right up until the end when he tries to get a ride to the airport from the boss he betrayed because “he might hurt himself” & the boss has learned his lesson the hard way & is able to say No.

So one example of manipulation would be someone who spends money they don’t have by shopping or gambling and keeping it secret from the other partner by opening credit cards they don’t know about. Another example would be someone who withholds sex and doesn’t talk about it with their partner who didn’t sign up for a celibate relationship. Or someone has an affair & thinks nothing of having unprotected sex. There are a million ways to manipulate.

People get divorced because they lose respect for each other. Manipulation is one of the best ways to kill off respect. If respect does not exist in a relationship then it becomes impossible to build over time, into being a team that solves problems together.

My Challenge to you is to figure out if you are the one who takes up too much room, then if you are try practicing asking more questions. Be more curious & open to your partner’s point of view. If you are the one who does not take up enough space, then practice making more statements, be more vocal about your opinions & desires.

This is Rhoda sharing what I’ve learned. My twitter handle is @rhodaoncouples.

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