Deal with a Manipulative Partner

Is your relationship more ‘rocky’ than rock solid?  Here’s how to deal with a manipulative partner

Is your partner jealous, argues with you constantly, needs to be right, controls your finances, finds fault with your every move, criticises your family or, worst of all, prevents you from seeing your friends? Does your partner buy you gifts more because they want to make up for their unacceptable behaviour, than as an expression of love?

If your relationship is leaving you feeling stressed, anxious, guilty, on tenterhooks or in an argument regularly, you are very likely in a manipulative relationship, says Dr Mary Casey (Doctorate of Psychology), conflict resolution specialist and CEO of health and education organisation Casey Centre.

Dr Casey, who was herself a target in a relationship, says manipulative behaviour is rife among couples. “Manipulators aim to control their partners by pressing the buttons that get them emotional, whether it be making them feel afraid, unworthy, stupid, insecure, angry or frustrated. Relationships, by nature, are emotional, with each person wanting to please the other, let their defences down, and drop their boundaries, so you can see why this dysfunctional behaviour can be so common.”

“Manipulators are actually very insecure in their relationships, and will engage in emotional tactics in an aggressive or passive aggressive manner to gain control,” Dr Casey says. “The person on the receiving end is also insecure within themselves, otherwise they would not allow their partner to have that hold on them.”

How you respond to the behaviour will determine whether or not you become a victim, Dr Casey says in her new DVD and workbook, How to Deal with Master Manipulators. Its proven strategies identify manipulators, reveal their tactics, explore why victims become victims, and provide behavioural tools to deal with manipulation.

“Be careful not to get sucked in on Valentine’s Day,” Dr Casey warns. “You might be getting chocolates and flowers – but what was your relationship like yesterday, or last week? If you identify yourself as being a target to someone who wants to control you and call all the shots, use these proven strategies to deal with it.”

Tactics manipulators use in relationships

  • Refutation: Denying they have done wrong
  • Distraction: Changing the subject to evade the issue or gain time. (“Forget about me, what about what you said the other day at that dinner!”)
  • Threats: Using concealed or open threats to keep their targets anxious. (“I don’t even know why I’m here any more; this isn’t working for me.”)
  • Fostering guilt: Suggesting you are selfish to make you feel bad and want to repair the “damage”. (“I spent all this money on this gift for you, and look how you thank me.”)
  • Charm: Praise and flatter openly to gain the trust and confidence of others. (“I was thinking of you today and I couldn’t help but buy this [expensive] gift for you.)
  • Shift the blame onto you and detract in subtle, hard-to-detect ways. (“So we’re going to have the big interrogation are we?” or “Are you going to get all emotional again?”)
  • Deception: They withhold large amounts of the truth, distort the truth, are vague or come up with pathetic excuses. (“This happens all the time when a partner is having an affair,” Dr Casey says.)

Dr Casey’s 8 tactics to deal with manipulation

  • Be aware & think rationally: Be honest with yourself about how you feel in your relationship. Look at it with clear eyes. Pain is better than denial.
  • Set boundaries: Make it clear to them what you will and won’t accept both verbally and behaviourally.
  • Observe only outcomes: Don’t try to second-guess the meaning behind their words or actions.
  • Be clear & specific: Don’t assume they can read your mind. Ask for what you want precisely; ensure your body language backs your words.
  • Keep them responsible: When they try to shift the blame, re-focus on their behaviour and the issue at hand.
  • Accept no excuse for inappropriate behaviour. Remain focussed on the issue you are trying to confront.
  • Stand your ground: Repeat the same statement until they realise you will not change your mind or the subject.
  • Act fast: Deal with the issue as soon as it happens. If you bottle it up and address it later, you will be emotional and play right into their hands. Or, worse, they’ll say they don’t remember.

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Dr Mary Casey (Doctorate of Psychology) is founder and CEO of Casey Centre, a leading integrated health and education service. Visit