Maybe you feel like your relationship with your boyfriend is one-sided, and you really don't have much of a say. Or maybe you constantly feel like you're going to "rock the boat" and upset him, even if things are fine. These are signs that your boyfriend may be a manipulative person, says Harriet B. Braiker, Ph.D., in her book "Who's Pulling Your Strings?: How to Break the Cycle of Manipulation and Regain Control of Your Life." Manipulators like to get you outside of your comfort zone, because then they are more easily able to control you -- i.e., "pull your strings." There are several red flags that indicate you are likely dating a manipulative person.
You're Not Who You Used to Be
It's not a good sign if everyone who cares for you is worried about you, or is feeling pushed away -- if the majority of your family and friends all say the same thing, there is usually something wrong, notes Braiker. Another sign is if you've veered dramatically from your goals -- for example, if before you were in nursing school and working full time, and now, at his suggestion, you've quit both. Lastly, consider the relationship as a whole, and if it brings out the best in you -- or the worst. If the latter is true, it's likely not a healthy relationship.
You're Walking on Eggshells
A classic sign that you're dating a manipulator is if you constantly have a feeling of "walking on eggshells" -- like anything you might say or do could upset him, says Dr. Mary Casey, author of "How to Deal With Master Manipulators," in an interview with MyDaily. You feel like you're on an uneven keel. Maybe he gives you plenty of love and affection sometimes, but then gives you the cold shoulder for no apparent reason. You might find yourself avoiding certain hot-button topics so he doesn't get upset, or you may be nervous to tell him about something you've bought or plans you've made with girlfriends.
He Calls the Shots
Manipulators also have a compulsive need to be in the driver's seat, says Braiker. Your boyfriend might like to be in charge, and make the majority of decisions. For example, say you've had tickets to your favorite play for months. At the last minute, he might demand the two of you go to his favorite restaurant instead. Manipulative partners prefer their friends to yours, and when you do want to see your friends and family, they often have a problem with it. It's always about him and what he wants -- not you and what you want.
You're Caught in a Cycle
If you're involved with a manipulator, you've likely noticed a persistent pattern of repeated hurts, quick apologies, and make-ups, says Braiker. For example, maybe your boyfriend constantly makes hurtful comments about your weight or appearance, sabotages your efforts to see your friends, or spends your money without asking. After the offense, you notice he always apologizes and promises to change, then attempts to "sweep you off your feet" by giving you expensive gifts or taking you out to a fancy dinner. This cycle seems never-ending because it is -- he has no intention of changing, because he is only comfortable when he's creating drama and controlling the situation.
Changing the Game
If you don't love your boyfriend anymore and imagine you'd be happier without him in your life, it's probably best to end the relationship. However, if your feelings for him are strong and you believe it's worth working things out, try developing some assertiveness techniques to counter his manipulative behavior. Becoming more assertive can change the tone of your relationship, notes Life Esteem, a personal consulting and coaching firm in Harrisburg, Penn. First, question your "automatic compliance," they say. For example, maybe you always agree with his view, go where he wants to go, and see who he wants to see, because you're afraid of the consequences of doing otherwise. Try treating situations as they arise. If your boyfriend says, "I hate Chinese, you know that. Let's just get pizza," say something like, "I'm really in the mood for Chinese. Let's just order separately tonight." Label his manipulation: "When you say mean things and get angry for no reason, I feel afraid. If you would tell me what would make you happy in a calm way, it would be much easier for us to get along." By becoming more assertive, you establish your boundaries -- and may be able to steer your relationship in a different direction.
- Who's Pulling Your Strings?: How to Break the Cycle of Manipulation and Regain Control of Your Life; Harriet B. Braiker, Ph.D.
- MyDaily: 7 Signs You're in a Manipulative Relationship
- Life Esteem: Manipulation in Relationships -- And How to Deal With It
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