by Gideon 

November 19, 2021

manipulative and controlling behaviour

This post discusses how to handle manipulative and controlling behaviour while dating a new person so that you can be prepared to make the proper decisions before the relationship progresses too far.

Meeting someone new and starting dating can be both exciting and nerve-racking.

You realise you like the person and want everything to go smoothly.

You may have noticed, however, that the individual has a tendency to exert control over you at times.

What does that indicate?

Is it significant?

Is it something you should worry about?

To be honest, manipulative and controlling behaviour in relationships can be difficult to identify for a variety of reasons ranging from a desire to avoid seeing the truth to the often subtle nature of manipulation.

In fact, some manipulation techniques are so subtle that you may find yourself constantly scrutinising your own behaviour rather than the other person’s.

Regardless, learning to recognise and manage manipulative and controlling behaviour is critical, even more so when dating someone new, because being the victim of manipulation tactics in a relationship can have a significant impact on your mental health.

You can protect yourself from impending relationship disaster by learning to recognise the danger signs and reacting to the situation early on.

manipulative and controlling behaviour

Let’s first look at,

What is manipulative and controlling behaviour in a relationship?

According to Psychcentral.com,

Psychological manipulation frequently refers to statements, omissions, and acts intended to exert control over another person’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviour. This may have an effect on their view of themselves, the relationship, and the world at large.

Psychcentral.com

WebMD.com states that,

Manipulation can occur in both intimate and casual relationships but is more prevalent in intimate relationships. It is the act of exerting undue influence over another person. Individuals who manipulate others target their mental and emotional states in order to obtain their desired outcome. The manipulator strives to create an imbalance of power and exploits a victim in order to obtain power, control, rewards, and/or privileges at the victim’s expense.

WebMD.com

In summary, manipulative and controlling behaviour appears to be about exerting influence over another person, subtle or otherwise, with the intention of exploiting them in order to exert control and profit the manipulator.

Additionally, because manipulation can be emotional, psychological, or even physical, it has the potential to have a profound influence on victims.

Characteristics of a manipulative person

According to Abigail Brenner of PsychologyToday.com, manipulative persons are only interested in persuading others to engage in their plans against their choice.

As a result, dealing with a manipulative person necessitates remaining vigilant, remaining in touch with one’s own truth, and predicting what will happen next. Managing manipulative and domineering behaviour while dating someone new is very crucial.

According to Brenner, manipulative people are only interested in you as a means of gaining control over you so that you become a reluctant participant in their goals.

She lists nine characteristics of manipulative persons in her post, which might help you spot manipulative and controlling behaviour when you see it.

I’d like to highlight six of them.

manipulative and controlling behaviour

More significantly, understanding the fundamental mechanics of manipulative and controlling behaviour protects you from falling too deeply into a manipulative relationship.

  1. Manipulators are the centre of all situations and interactions, and what others think, feel, and want is irrelevant.
  2. They have no notion of what constitutes a boundary. They are adamant about getting what they want, and they don’t care who gets wounded in the process. They are unconcerned about crowding into your space, whether it be physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual.
  3. Manipulators absolve themselves of responsibility for their actions by blaming others. Importantly, manipulative individuals grasp the concept of accountability yet find no problem with refusing to accept responsibility for their acts, even as they force you to accept accountability for yours.
  4. They target and prey on people’s emotional sensitivity, especially conscientiousness, which makes anyone who is open to a relationship an ideal target for exploitation. They may first compliment your decency and charity, but they will eventually begin to exploit it for their own gain and goals.
  5. Pay attention to how they speak about others in relation to you to distinguish manipulators from empathic people. Brenner asserts that manipulators are experts at “triangulation”—creating circumstances and dynamics conducive to intrigue, competition, and jealousy, as well as encouraging and promoting disharmony.
  6. Actions are more powerful than words. This is particularly true when it comes to recognising manipulative and dominating behaviour. If you pay attention to a person’s activities without making excuses, their actions will typically tell you everything you need to know.

Examples of forms of manipulation in relationships

Manipulation can take many different shapes and forms, according to Psychcentral.com, with the three most prevalent varieties being as follows:

Induction of guilt

They may imply that something bad has happened to you as a result of someone else’s actions, or they may prey on your vulnerabilities in order to make you feel bad about yourself. This involves acting as if you are the victim.

Ingratiation

Some people will intentionally build a relationship with you in order to acquire something from you or to get ahead.

Deceit

They could be dishonest by presenting or concealing the truth in a misleading manner.

However, according to the same article, manipulative and controlling behaviour in relationships can manifest itself in a variety of ways that are more difficult to detect and distinguish.

manipulative and controlling behaviour

One may argue that these are particularly harmful while dating a new person since you may not become aware of them until later in the relationship when the relationship has already matured to a certain extent.

These other types of manipulation could include:

Love-bombing

They may show you a lot of love and care, which can easily turn you into a victim of their adoration and dependence.

Gaslighting

The purpose of dismissing you is to cause you to doubt and question your own abilities.

Passive-aggressive behaviour

Sarcastic statements or jokes that can be afterwards dismissed with “I was only kidding” or “You take everything too personally,” for example, are commonplace.

Triangulation

In order to support their point of view or to make you feel insecure, they may introduce a third party into the discussion.

Threats that are either covert or overt

Some of their statements or acts may be intended to arouse fear in you, and they may do so intentionally.

Silent treatment

As a sort of emotional punishment, they may choose to ignore you or avoid communicating with you.

As you can see, manipulative and controlling behaviour can be devasting to any relationship but especially if it happens early on and is left unattended.

So the question becomes, what can you do to manage manipulative and controlling behaviour early in dating relationships?

I want to suggest eight ways to deal with manipulative and controlling behaviour as well as psychological manipulation while dating.

You can use the following strategies to manage a partner’s controlling habits early in dating relationships to prevent slipping into the trap of becoming accustomed to someone who is increasingly dominant.

8 ways to deal with manipulative and controlling behaviour while dating

From the start, be open, honest, and transparent about your personal feelings.

Psychological manipulation can occur subtly and without your knowledge, which is why you must learn to refuse to participate in activities that you would rather avoid.

Even if you aren’t directly asked, tell the truth about what you like and don’t like.

When we make it very clear from the start what our likes and dislikes are, will help the relationship develop in the right direction.

Oftentimes when we start dating someone we tend to be somewhat loose and flexible with our boundaries resulting in doing things that we don’t typically enjoy doing.

But we do them or allow things to happen because we want to impress this other person.

That is a mistake in the long run, however.

It is an even bigger mistake in the case of allowing manipulative and controlling behaviour to happen from the start and allowing it to grow.

It’s a much better idea to be open, honest, and transparent from the start about how you feel about things because that will quickly determine where this new person is at.

If they don’t like it, then too bad.

It might mean that you’ve perhaps dodged a bullet.

Make a list of things you’d want to do on a date.

Leading on from the previous point, rather than allowing this new person to make all the decisions, make a list of the things you want to do on a date.

Doing that will quickly teach them more about you and also reveal to you more about them and whether you’re compatible or not.

For example, choose the restaurant if they ask, ff you don’t like a certain type of food, say so.

It’s vital that you consider your own feelings and preferences in the same way that you consider your new partner’s.

If ever there was a time to be truthful about what you want, the beginning of a new relationship is it.

Establish unambiguous boundaries.

Establish appropriate boundaries right away.

This point cannot be overstated in the early stages of a new relationship.

If you do not establish very clear boundaries from the start, you are inadvertently setting the precedent for what is allowed in the future.

So, if someone comes to your house without calling, for example, it’s appropriate (and important) to say, “I’m not comfortable with you coming to my house unexpectedly. Text me next time ahead of time so that we’re both aware of what’s going on and can plan our schedules accordingly.”

Avoid going along with everything only to avoid upsetting the status quo.

As mentioned earlier, during the early stages of a new relationship we tend to overlook a lot of things that might bother us later on.

We typically do this in an attempt to avoid upsetting the status quo, but that’s a mistake.

If you want to avoid manipulative and controlling behaviour taking root in a new relationship, which will only worsen over time, you must avoid going along with everything at first just to avoid upsetting the status quo.

The expression “we teach someone how to treat us” applies here.

Speak up if something makes you uncomfortable. Make it very clear if something is not to your liking.

Part of getting to know someone new, and setting healthy boundaries from the start, is being open about your desires and needs from the beginning.

You have the right to express your emotions.

Leading on from the previous point about avoiding going along with everything to avoid upsetting the status quo, it’s important to realise that you have a right to express your emotions and how you feel about something.

As an example, if you were disappointed or displeased with your new friend’s public behaviour in a restaurant, remind yourself that you have the right to express your concerns, and that it is critical that you do so early in the relationship.

When you’re alone, think about the situation and decide what you want to do about the public behaviour.

Do you want to discuss it with them?

Is their misbehaviour a deal-breaker for you, or is it something you’re willing to overlook?

For instance, imagine you got together with some of your coworkers after work and he flatly refused to let you sit next to a male coworker with whom you’d been friends for years.

In fact, he was so pushy that you quickly exchanged seats just to get him to quit.

When that type of situation occurred, the question becomes “are you okay with that,” and “wouldn’t you want to communicate your thoughts about his behaviour immediately so he knows how you feel and has a chance to alter his behaviour in the future?”

If he doesn’t see anything wrong with what he did, that may give you a good idea of what a future relationship with this person would be like and whether it’s something you want.

Deal with difficult situations quickly and tactfully.

This way, your new acquaintance will know exactly what you like and don’t like.

If they become furious as a result of your transparency and honesty, this will serve as your cue to remark, “I’m sorry you’re upset, but this issue is really important to me,” or something to that effect.

More importantly, if your new friend is unable to acknowledge your feelings about the issue, or can’t see your point, consider whether continuing the relationship is prudent.

Remind yourself that neither partner should have complete control over the relationship.

Both of you have the right to express your emotions.

Moreover, both of you have equal rights in the relationship.

If, on the other hand, one of you appears to “control” the relationship, it may be time to reconsider how you interact with each other, or whether this is a foreshadowing of things to come.

At the end of the day, a healthy balance of power is evident in healthy partnerships.

Finally,

When something doesn’t seem right, recognise it and acknowledge it.

My wife is a big proponent of the idea of listening to your instinct.

Some experts refer to it as the gut-brain connection.

Recognize that if you feel great discomfort or fear as a result of your new friend’s actions early on, this probably isn’t a connection or relationship you want to maintain.

Feelings of fear that are well-founded should not be pushed away under any circumstances.

If someone you’re dating is even moderately or verbally threatening to you, take careful and safe steps to distance yourself from them.

Managing and weeding out certain early-stage manipulative and controlling behaviour is possible. But it can also be a precursor of far worse things to come.

In those instances, you absolutely want to acknowledge when something doesn’t seem right and act on it as soon as possible.

Final thoughts

Many times, your willingness to be open and honest about your desires and feelings will dissuade the other person from attempting to exert control over you or even to continue pursuing a relationship with you.

And that’s OK.

Allowing manipulative and controlling behaviour to take root in your relationship, especially from the get-go, is a terrible idea if you’re keen on establishing a happy, healthy, and intimate relationship with someone.

Although it may appear to be harmless or even cute when someone is quietly controlling a relationship, it is typically a sign of harmful behaviour and relationship issues later on.

If you want a healthy, caring, and fun relationship, put your trust in yourself to deal with any manipulative and controlling behaviour as soon as they occur.

Whatever happens, as a result, will give you the clues you need to make an informed decision moving forward in a relationship with this new person.

If you have any experience with manipulative and controlling behaviour in your past (or present) relationships, please share your experience and insights in the comments area below.

I welcome it.

About the author 

Gideon

Gideon is the founder of TheRelationshipGuy.com, a top-50 relationship blog (2021) and top-100 marriage blog (2021) focused on providing healthy relationship advice about love and life. He earned a Master's degree in theological studies before training as a professional counsellor and hypnotherapist (DipProfCouns., DipMSHT.) almost 10 years ago. He is currently pursuing further graduate Psychology studies at Massey University while working as a relationship and dating blogger the majority of the time. He has been married to his wife for over fifteen years and is the father of two children.

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