Are These 5 Forms of Manipulation in Your Relationship?

“The measure of a man is what he does with power. ”

Greek Proverb

Manipulation is a common tool used to one up another in relationship. It helps us get attention, approval, favors, and other things we want through either passive or aggressive acts of coercion.  However, it breaks down relationships. Donald Miller, New York Times best-selling author, describes five positions of manipulation that ruin relationships by killing intimacy.

“Remember when” “ I always, you never”

A person acting as scorekeeper tracks the favors or faults of another to use as leverage later. Sheryl Paul, bestselling author who has made appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show and Good Morning America, describes scorekeeping as a “me-centered” way of operating. You’re elevating your role in the relationship to a place of superiority. And if you’re “up,” then your partner has only one place to go; “down.” Scorekeeping leads to a “not good enough” mentality. It sets up a game that can only be won by killing the relationship.

Instead of keeping score, consider

Give for the sake of giving.  Sheryl Paul describes that giving for the joy of giving makes the relationship run more smoothly. She says, “Giving is the love-juice that lubricates the rough spots and takes the squeak out of the wheels.”

“I can’t believe…”

“How could you be so…”

“If only you would….”

Everyone develops a sense of what is right and wrong and having strong standards is commendable.  However, these phrases invite judgement. A judge is a person who uses his or her morals to lord over others to harbor power and control. When in the wrong, a judge personality has a hard time admitting fault and that can be detrimental in your relationship.

Instead of judging, consider

Be open to and engage the ideas and opinions of others.

Admit when you’ve missed it. While it’s true average people do not like to be wrong, they can still take responsibility for mistakes.

Try making requests for the things you’d like of another person.

 “It’s no problem…”

“I’ve always wanted that too…”

“I’ll always be there for you….”

On the surface, these phrases sound good. They signify commitment and a desire to set mutual goals. However, they can be the words of a false hero. A false hero is a usurper, who plays on the good nature of people to boldly steal credit in broad daylight. It looks like false promises and lofty claims without hard work or follow through. These individuals have a knack for identifying the wishes and desires of another person; but, then, they present as though they can meet those wishes. Often, these desires are unfulfilled leaving the other person laden with disappointment, regret and loss.

Instead of rescuing, consider

  1. Be honest with yourself and the other person about true desires. Often, creating possibilities and dreaming helps secure temporary stability before real security can be made.
  2. Admit admiration you hold for the other and give credit where it is due. Explore how the other person got to the place you admire and ask for help. Keep jealous tendencies in check.
  3. Use the knowledge you have of the other person to his or her benefit.  One of the benefits of being a visionary is seeing and dreaming of possibilities but it can be a downside when it is impossible or impractical to actualize. A few examples include dreaming of possibilities for advancing business with a boss, discussing elaborate plans for a home with your spouse, or brainstorming vacations with your children –all without true intentions or resources to follow through.  Instead, acknowledge the desires of those in relationship with you and admit your limitations. In doing so, you give those around you the benefit of choosing a course that is best for them. Identify The need and consider your willingness to help in a practical way.

“It’s your entire fault…”

“You’re not sorry…”

“If you were sorry you would….”

They represent the adages of a flopper and tears down the hard work already invested in your relationship. “A flopper is somebody who overdramatizes their victimhood in order to get attention and sympathy,” states Miller. A flopper fakes or dregs up emotional injuries to keep a perceived oppressor indebted and laden with guilt. While it isn’t easy to move forward after experiencing pain, these actions make it difficult to move forward and lead to even more pain.

Instead of blaming,  consider

  1. Thinking through situations where you may have placed blame.
  2. Acknowledge hurts you may have caused and choose to take responsibility for things you can control.
  3. Let go of negative sentiments towards others from past pains.
  4. Practice self-compassion and begin a narrative as a person who can work towards solutions for oneself.

“I thought you …

loved me/

were my friend/

cared about this company.”

Fear based manipulation tactics can lead to contempt and hatred and should be kept far away from the bond between you and your spouse. The illusion of strength keeps fear mongers in control. In conversation, they demand total submission in exchange for a false security. Fear mongers are not vulnerable and fear being seen as weak.

Instead of demanding, consider

  1. Accept criticism at face value. Learn to separate the worth of who you are from your flaws.
  2. Take the hit. Everyone experiences feelings of inadequacy from time to time. This is  especially true when we feel there is something more we or someone else could have done about a situation. Explore the loss you are facing compassionately and with the understanding that everyone errs.
  3. Understand the impact of your actions on others.
  4. Practice authenticity even when you may feel weak or foolish. It takes great strength to do so.

Allowing manipulation into your relationship  sabotages intimacy and can wreak havoc on relationships. Manipulation distorts reality by objectifying a person as a pawn rather than a fellow human struggling with life. Approach your relationships authentically, viewing those around you as fellow travelers with you on this journey called life.  Fuller Life is here to help you have the authentic relationships you never thought were possible.

To learn more about Donald Miller and finding true intimacy, read Scary Close.

Contributed by

Angela Blocker , M.A, LMFT Associate

Clinical Supervision by Amy Fuller, PhD, LMFT, LPC


  • Propp’s Dramatis Personae. (n.d.). Retrieved October 02, 2016, from
  • Roberts, E. (2012). 5 Ways to Escape Your Victim Mentality | Building Self-Esteem – HealthyPlace. Retrieved October 01, 2016, from

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