Manipulation in Marriage

Manipulation is not a good communication strategy

Couple arguing
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People who manipulate influence and control others through the use of mental distortion and emotional exploitation. The intent is to have power and control over you to get what they want. Manipulators know what your weaknesses are and use this against you. This will keep happening unless you actively and assertively stop it. This is quite difficult in a marriage as the manipulation may have started out subtle.

Before long, this may become the everyday dynamic of your relationship with your spouse. 

Most people know how to be manipulative. But, we choose other mature and healthy ways to interact with others.  Particularly in a marriage or other loving relationship, most strive to be respectful of our mate through direct and honest communication.

Manipulation, though often subtle, it can also be quite obvious. Regardless, manipulation is damaging to your marriage. For example: 

Subtle: "Do you have any plans for this evening?"

Obvious: "If you loved me you would go to the movies with me tonight."

Direct and honest approach: "I would like to go to the movies tonight. If you don't have any plans for this evening, would you go with me?"

Manipulation Strategies 

  • Withholding sex or affection
  • Withholding money or something of value
  • Making you feel shame or embarrassment
  • Crying 
  • Guilt
  • Withdrawal or avoidance
  • Giving the "Silent treatment"
  • Pouting
  • Whining
  • Having a temper tantrum
  • Doling out threats and ultimatums
  • Lying or twisting the truth
  • Criticism and disapproval
  • Being vague
  • Blaming
  • Being coercive
  • Showing exaggerated disappointment
  • Withhold or hiding information
  • Twisting the words (or meaning of the words) you said 

Some Reasons Why Someone Manipulates

  • To punish
  • To control and dominate
  • To change the spouse
  • To get attention
  • To receive pity
  • To wear the spouse down
  • To put your spouse on a guilt trip
  • To get your own way
  • To make sure your own needs are met
  • For other personal selfish motives

Consequences of Manipulation

  • Negative feelings such as dissatisfaction, hurt, resentment, anger and frrustration
  • A serious sense of self-doubt
  • Always defending oneself
  • Frequently apologizing, even when you beleive you did not do anything wrong
  • A lack of trust in your partner
  • A lack of safety in the marriage
  • Overall discontentment with the relationship
  • The marriage can easily be sabotaged

Manipulation and similar forms of emotional abuse are not acceptable from a romantic partner (or anyone else in your life for that matter). Realize and accept that manipulation is also emotional blackmail. It is a common form of emotional and verbal abuse. This unfair behavior needs to be recognized and eliminated in your marriage.

"At its worst, manipulation is simply an attempt by one spouse to control the other: 'You will do this, or else.' Perhaps the 'or else' will induce enough fear in the spouse that he or she will acquiesce, but the change will be external and temporary. Real change comes from within, not from manipulating circumstances." Gary D. Chapman in Home Improvements: The Chapman Guide to Negotiating Change With Your Spouse (2006)

How to Stop Manipulation in Your Marriage

  • Recognize when you or your spouse manipulates.
  • Tell your spouse when you experience being manipulated. Be specific in describing the manipulation and your feelings.
  • Do not act as if the manipulation is no big deal.
  • If you discover yourself manipulating, stop in mid-sentence. Be more direct in your questions or statements.
  • If the manipulation in your marriage continues, find a marriage counselor to help you both change the behavior.

Someone who manipulates in their adult relationships may have come from a dysfunctional family of origin (the family one grows up in). This person may have had to manipulate in order to get basic needs met or avoid harsh punishment. Alternatively, the individual could have been manipulated by his or her parents and learned this negative way to interact with others..


Manipulation may seem like the easy or natural way to deal with a difficult issue or to have things the way you want them, but in the long run, it isn't. Manipulation is hurtful and damaging to your marital relationship. Both you and your spouse deserve honest and loving communication.

*Article updated by Marni Feuerman