My partner thinks I am emotionally manipulative. How do I address?
November 5, 2015 11:11 AM   Subscribe

My partner read last week's FPP about emotional manipulators. He says that while he does not want to imply this is me at all times, it resonated, particularly this article. The internet is replete with advice on how to spot manipulators and get them out of your lives. It has little on how to stop it in yourself. Help.

I am sad and horrified. I don't want this to be me, or 100% think this is me, but defending myself might put me squarely in the bad behaviors listed. So I will keep exposition/description to the minimum; for the purpose of this post, it's me.

The obvious answer is, "don't do those things!" I will try, I swear, though I need help being aware of them. Everything I'm reading online is DTMFA sort of advice (for my partner, not me). I understand that. But I really want to find steps I can take to be aware of or prevent these behaviors in myself, or indicate to my partner that I am trying to. I am worried about credibility, or whether my partner will trust anything I do or say - I don't trust my own reactions either now. If your sense is, no, they won't, or that they're better off otherwise, or that this is a irreparable flaw, ok, I will try to see that. But if there's any hope for me to make this right please tell me. I know some will say therapy, but I'd appreciate more specific advice or resources if you think it's possible. The internet seems to say no.

I've read this 10 times hoping that I'm not being manipulative in how I'm writing it. I'm sorry if I am. Please help.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (47 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
I was not a fan of a lot of the articles because I felt they described behavior that was wide-open to interpretation and could apply to anyone in the right circumstances. In the same way that the language of horoscopes is broad enough that anyone can see themselves in what's described, I feel like it would be easy to categorize anyone you dislike or do not trust as a 'manipulator' based on the information given.

So, what I would say is that you really, really need to be more specific when describing your own behaviors and your partner's reaction to them. It is not even remotely manipulative to do so, and anyway, we are just people on the internet, and we can handle it. Tell us the things you did that made your partner upset, and we can tell you how to avoid doing those things in the future.

(I am struggling really hard to avoid saying IT SOUNDS LIKE YOUR PARTNER IS THE ONE WHO IS BEING MANIPULATIVE BY TELLING YOU YOU'RE BEING MANIPULATIVE even though that's what came to mind, but the endless circle of finger pointing that this concept can easily give rise to is one reason why I am not a huge fan of the category.)
posted by pretentious illiterate at 11:24 AM on November 5, 2015 [82 favorites]


Like pretentious illiterate said, please provide examples. There isn't much to go off of, in what you said. If you want to remain anonymous, you can ask the mods to post it for you, or you can open up a sockpuppet account.

You don't have to worry about manipulating us emotionally. First, you sound so open to advice and constructive criticism that I doubt you'd put too much of a spin on the specifics. Second, even if you do, there's a good chance at least some commenters here will be able to notice it and bring it to your attention. And finally, we're just a bunch of internet strangers: we can take it.
posted by meese at 11:29 AM on November 5, 2015


I think the most helpful thing you could do would be to seek out your own therapist, and discuss this with them in depth. Getting impartial feedback from someone who doesn't know you and doesn't have a stake in your relationship with your partner will help you figure out if there really is a problem. If there is a problem, and if you really are being manipulative, the therapist can hopefully work with you on why you feel the need to do this, and how you can come up with other coping mechanisms.

I know therapy seems like a super-frequent answer here, but the reason it's frequent is that it really can help, with all sorts of issues. It also doesn't have to be long-term thing -- you may find a few months or weeks really clears things up for you, and gives you the skills to help yourself (whatever those skills may be).

That being said -- your last paragraph is kind of breaking my heart because from where I'm sitting, you're not being manipulative at all in your writing here. The fact that your partner has you so on edge about this, so convinced that you are 100% in the wrong here, worries me. For your sake, I really hope this isn't your partner throwing this at you to try to keep you on edge and second-guessing everything you say.

Also, a couple short essays that you might find helpful, maybe:

FLEAS (about the lingering effects of living with someone with NPD)

Sick systems
posted by pie ninja at 11:30 AM on November 5, 2015 [20 favorites]


Well, the good news is, you're already making progress.

Stage zero is that your partner was bothered by some stuff. Maybe they had no idea what, but the point is, they didn't even try to tell you yet.
Stage one is when your partner read this article and thought "I'm not crazy to be bothered by some stuff in my relationship". Maybe the things that bother them are not 100% literally the things in that article, but the point is that the article hit home.
Stage two is actually quite a hurdle. They told you about it and showed you the article (an emotional risk on their part) and you thought about it, and are disappointed at the ways in which you recognize yourself (and admitting this is a huge emotional risk on your part.)
Stage four is when the two of you work together to identify exactly what behaviors bother them most, and to address those in the moment.
Then you'll move on to thinking about how those short-term behaviors fit into the big-picture puzzle that is your emotional identity.

So for the present - don't panic. Just because you have bad communications habits does not mean you're a bad person. Just because you do manipulative behaviors sometimes doesn't mean you have to identify yourself as An Emotional Manipulator and wear a scarlet E on your shirt. Take heart in the fact that you're ready to change.

The next question is, what needs to change? You and your partner both need to read a lot about this stuff. I'm not going to recommend books, I suspect others will. Each of you goes through the books, with post-it notes, and marks behaviors that resonate with their perception of the relationship, and then you talk about those notes. I love cooking weekend breakfast and talking about how we're doing, sharing books and web articles while and after we eat - Saturday mornings are what keeps my relationship together.

As you start to talk about this stuff, make note of specific behaviors - for example, responding to partner's complaint with a counter-complaint instead of sympathy/understanding/solution - and agree that not only will you attempt to not do that, but that it is okay for partner to point it out when you do. Maybe talk about ways partner can say this that will not upset you, and what kind of response partner expects. In the short term, the only outcome of this would be acknowledgement - "Yes, you're right, I did just do that thing." Make sure partner understands that you don't have to fix it right away, or never do it again.

As time goes on, both of you will be seeing patterns in how that behavior and acknowledgement turns up. You'll be developing your own personal ways to identify those behavior patterns before they start, and ways to adapt your default behavior into something healthier.

In short, don't address "being an emotional manipulator" because that's too huge, and too vague. Identify and address the symptomatic behaviors, and that will follow back to the whole.
posted by aimedwander at 11:30 AM on November 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


Also, I just realized that this is the article that describes so-called Emotional Manipulators as 'crazy making,' 'passive aggressive,' 'doing a bunch of jerk-off shit' 'sitting on their ass,' 'losers', and 'as vulnerable as a rabid pit bull,' and suggests that the only thing to do is 'cry, scream, or choke 'em - [but] only the last will have any long term benefits and will probably wind your butt in jail.'

I don't know what's going on in your relationship or whether you are emotionally manipulative or not, but I can't imagine showing this article to a person I claimed to love. It is filled with poison. No wonder you are hurt. I think you should move on.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 11:31 AM on November 5, 2015 [82 favorites]


i would guess this is a difference in communication styles more than either of you being bad people.

ask him how he would rather you responded, and then try following that. you can also try explaining why you do things the way you do.
posted by andrewcooke at 11:31 AM on November 5, 2015


Your reactions are your own, and you shouldn't worry too much about them (obviously, if your reaction is always "KILL!", then that's a problem, but you know what I mean). However, your reactions are not necessarily your actions.

Take a moment before you do something or say something.

Keep in mind HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired when deciding whether your actions are reasonable in the moment.

Don't be afraid to stop and start over: "I'm sorry, I don't mean that. What I want to say is..."

Caveat: If you are doing all this, and your partner takes umbrage at your occasional aborted eye-roll or says something like, "Yeah, you're doing better, but I still feel like you want to be manipulative...", then the problem is less with you and more with him.
posted by Etrigan at 11:31 AM on November 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


In order for people here to have a shot at giving you advice, we do need a better description of at least some of the examples of your supposed manipulation.

Do you have a therapist? I feel like this is all I ever say on Ask, but therapy is great for this kind of thing. If you think you are manipulative, a therapist can help you work on this much, much, much better than an Internet forum can.

My final thought. I don't know, man. This is weird. The way your partner talked you about this sounds very strange to me. If they are unhappy because they think they are in a relationship with a manipulator, they can leave. They can break up with you. The way they went about this sounds really torturous and strange and not actually helpful on their part, and like pretentious illiterate, I too am struggling with not just saying really, it sounds like you're not the manipulative one here. The reason I say that is this description of your own behavior: I don't trust my own reactions either now.

The only time I have not trusted my own reactions was when someone else was gaslighting me and making me feel absolutely crazy. He was abusing me, yet he somehow had figured out a way to frame it so that it really honestly felt like I was the one abusing him. To say it was a mindfuck is putting it mildly.

People manipulate either intentionally or unconsciously as a way to gain advantage. This is a thing people do to get things they want from other people. I don't know, man. Do you fight dirty? Do you wrong your partner repeatedly and do they tell you that you do so and do you just not care? Do you not hold yourself accountable for the way you behave in interactions with your partner that go poorly? Those are all ways that people manipulate - ways that are outlined in that fairly poisonous document you linked.

My gut instinct here is that no, you do none of those things, just based on how seriously you are taking this accusation. I don't know, and I don't think we can help, so like I (and so many others here) like to say: therapy.

Take care of yourself.
posted by sockermom at 11:33 AM on November 5, 2015 [28 favorites]


I wrote my previous advice on the assumption that the problems in your relationship are, in fact, what your partner claims that they are. I am also willing to believe that your partner is being over-accusatory, as others suggest. Please don't take my advice on ways to improve behaviors as a declaration that you are 100% guilty as charged.
posted by aimedwander at 11:34 AM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, another thing to consider: is this the first person that has ever told you that you're manipulative? Really think about this. Do you have close friends, or family, or other people that you can speak with about this? Because people aren't just manipulative with one person and only one person. Truly manipulative people are just that way with everyone. So I might actually think about this a bit - can you pinpoint other potentially manipulative interactions you've had with others? And then I might actually put out some low-level feelers with my other loved ones, to see if they also agree about my manipulative tendencies. This might be a helpful way to gauge whether or not this accusation has any ground.

I know that when I asked my friends if I was mean, withholding, stupid, and ugly - things my partner said to me routinely - that they helped me see that the things he saw in me were not close to reality. It helped me understand that he was the problem, not me.
posted by sockermom at 11:39 AM on November 5, 2015 [41 favorites]


That article seems to be written by someone who has poor emotional boundaries themselves and is filled with strangely violent language. Like pretentious illiterate said, I can't imagine showing this to someone I love. I don't think we can help you much, unfortunately, because you certainly don't come off as "manipulative" here, and your partner needs to give more constructive feedback with concrete examples of problem behavior if they really want you address this. I think sockermom's advice to run this by trusted friends and family is solid. They'll tell you if you have some habits you need to work on or if your partner is not being truthful here.
posted by thetortoise at 11:46 AM on November 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


I can add something, of general advice, to go along with what I said above...

There are two cases in my past that came immediately to mind when I read your question:
1) I came to realize that my mother has a personality disorder, so I started looking up information about that personality disorder online
2) I came to realize my boyfriend had a serious mental illness, so I started looking up information about that mental illness online.

In both cases, what I came across was a ton of incredibly vitriolic writings. Over and over again what I saw was, "People with this problem cannot be saved. Get rid of them. They are awful and terrible." In both cases, it was terrifying and painful.

Now, in one case, I came to realize the advice was correct: I was better off without the person. In the other case, I came to realize the advice was incorrect: I was better off keeping the person in my life. But I think it was a matter of luck that the advice was correct in one case and incorrect in the other. When advice is one-size-fits-all, it is just a matter of luck whether it actually fits one's situation or not.

More generally, what I came to realize was this: a lot of online articles about dealing with people with psychological issues are written by those who have been seriously frustrated/hurt/enraged by those with those psychological issues. They are angry, and they handle this anger in part by writing to help those who are or will be similarly frustrated/hurt/enraged. The tone and categorical nature of the advice is a result of the perspective of the individual writing it.

The writings you've come across sound like the same thing. The author has previously been manipulated, and they were frustrated/hurt/enraged by that manipulation to such an extent that, for them, cutting off contact was the best option. They are speaking from the perspective of someone who has been affected so significantly that they want to warn others. They are not speaking from a perspective inclined towards compassion or less extreme responses: the sort of nuance, empathy, and concern that can actually be helpful for someone with a problem isn't present.

So... This is all to say: there is a reason why the literature you're finding online puts such an incredibly negative light on emotional manipulators and has such a pessimistic view of the opportunity for change or growth. The reason, however, has almost nothing to do with the nature of the problem you're dealing with (if you're dealing with it at all), and everything to do with the sort of mindset an author is in when writing an article with a title like, "What To Do When You've Discovered Your Partner Is A..."
posted by meese at 11:48 AM on November 5, 2015 [10 favorites]


I am worried about credibility, or whether my partner will trust anything I do or say - I don't trust my own reactions either now.

This is the only bit in what you wrote that I'd worry about myself. If your overarching concern is what another person thinks of you - as natural as that is - you may be tempted to put all your effort into changing how they think of you. This can lead to emotional manipulation.

If you're paying attention to their needs, and not putting your need to be liked/trusted at the forefront every time they express their needs, you should be okay. Hopefully they're doing the same thing for you, too.
posted by clawsoon at 12:07 PM on November 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


It could also be a case of ask culture vs. guess culture.
posted by clawsoon at 12:09 PM on November 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Okay, deep breath. A lot of the things in that article are also indicative of a long-term couple who have fallen into some negative communication patterns -- exactly the sort of thing that couples therapy is very well-equipped to help with, and can help with very successfully!

A lot of these are things that happen TO A DEGREE in many reasonably healthy relationships. I could give you lots of examples that arguably fit in that list from my own marriage of 13 years where nobody was being manipulative, we were just having a breakdown in communication -- sometimes driven by heightened emotional states, sometimes just by personality and communication differences.

I'm not sure without more specific examples we can GIVE more specific advice, but a couples therapist -- or an individual therapist for you -- can help you drill down into these interactions and understand what's problematic about them and how to improve. Also, I'd stress that as human animals, we're ALL emotional "manipulators" -- we all monitor the emotional weather around us constantly and attempt to adjust it to be healthier. You can do that by changing your own actions or attempting to get others to change theirs -- and most interactions are a complex interplay of the two! We respect and admire people who are persuasive, who are able to "read a room" and know the right thing to say to lighten the mood or break the tensions, or who can persuade warring factions to work together, or who can talk others into trying their ideas. This is all emotional manipulation. It's all understanding others' wants and needs and desires and using that understanding to try to convince them to do what you want them to do. It all falls on a continuum, and sometimes it's totally appropriate to directly intervene in someone else's emotional state -- if you are their boss at work and they're being a jackass or making others uncomfortable, or if you're a parent of small children who are having meltdowns. (I'm convinced this is why moms are such frequent "emotional manipulator" culprits -- they get in the habit of helping small children manage their emotions, which is good parenting, but have trouble breaking the habit as the children get older, which is not.) But most of the time, in a relationship between two adults, we expect each adult to stand towards the end of the continuum where they acknowledge your emotional state and respond appropriately, but respect the other adult's right to their negative/problematic/whatever feelings. So it's a LITTLE bit "manipulative" to respond to someone's anger with kindness and appropriate listening skills, instead of ignoring it completely, but it's an appropriate, autonomy-respecting response even though are trying to calm their anger by responding kindly and openly. As a human with emotions whose emotions affect other humans with emotions, it's not possible for you to respond to another person in a way that DOESN'T have some kind of emotional effect on them -- just as their actions have an emotional effect on you. It isn't as easy or neat, especially in romantic or family relationships, as it is when you're talking to a disinterested outsider, because these are really complex systems.

It's really helpful to have a therapist help you sort through this, especially once you're second-guessing yourself. You cannot AVOID responding interactively to someone else's emotional responses, but what makes it "bad" manipulation is when you're not respecting their autonomy as an adult.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:13 PM on November 5, 2015 [23 favorites]


I hope he at least provided you with concrete examples, or else how will you know what to work on? And I hope he indicated whether this is the overarching character of how you handle conflicts with him, or whether it's just something you've done in certain circumstances (ie, big fights where he is also not acting his best and he would benefit from casting you as the villain.)

I would also like to point out that this article was the least professionally-written of that bunch, and really off-putting to me. It struck me as oversimplified, vague, unempathetic, but most of all, really angry. If someone had sent this to me, I would not discount their feelings or deny their experience, and I would be as concerned as you, are but I would also assume they really had a whole lot of contempt for me.
posted by kapers at 12:24 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think folks above have raised some good questions, but taking you at face value that you read that list and recognized some of your own behaviors in it: I think it's absolutely possible to change. Some of those behaviors ring bells for me about how I acted at the beginning of my relationship with my now-husband, and it was basically a matter of learning healthier communication skills (and being a relationship that I trusted enough to try those out, versus the unhealthy ones I had learned growing up that felt safer to me). It's very do-able.

For me, a lot of it came out of not having a good model for how to have conflict. I didn't know (and was scared) to simply tell my partner when I was unhappy with him or a with a situation, so I'd sigh and be grumpy and hope he'd take on the burden of asking me what was wrong and fixing it--which look a lot like #2, #4 and #7 on that list. Similarly, since I was afraid to raise issues directly with him, when we would start to fight I'd often pull out the laundry list of past grievances, even those unrelated to what we were talking about (which can look like #5 and #6). Finally, before being with my husband, I hadn't ever seen someone simply take responsibility for whatever the issue was without deflecting blame--the "Oh, I understand why that would upset you, I'm sorry. That makes sense. I'll try not to do that again." This last one I still struggle with sometimes--if my husband says something about being annoyed I forgot to do chore X again, I have to bite my tongue to jump straight to "But you forgot Task Y, which is even more annoying!" It's totally learn-able though, it's just breaking old communication habits.

On preview, I agree with Eyebrows McGee; I think a lot of stuff on that list can be present in many relationships in small amounts or in huge amounts, so the fact that both your partner and you saw something you recognized doesn't mean you're an irredeemably bad person. I'll n-th the suggestion that either an individual or couples counselor might be helpful, especially if you now feel stuck in the loop of not being able to talk about this with your partner because you're afraid it's going to come across as deflecting blame again.
posted by iminurmefi at 12:27 PM on November 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


So, I agree with everyone saying “we need examples”. Maybe this isn’t you at all! But I am also going to take you at your word that you feel like this IS you, partially because I look at some of these behaviors and I know that a lot of them used to be me (I just never dated anyone when they were at their peak, so no one had to deal with them in a romantic relationship).

One thing I would like to say is this: when you grow up in a family full of these behaviors (as I did), they seem normal. This is how you do things. This is the correct (and safe) way to interact. What other people view as manipulation might be what you early discovered as coping mechanisms. If you entire extended family performed certain behaviors, then you might grow up thinking that that is just how people are.

Example: It isn’t okay to say “no I don’t want to do that”, but you can agree to do something and spend the whole day punishing everyone around you by sighing heavily and being on the verge of tears all day. If anyone asks what’s wrong (in an aggressive, irritated voice), you say “nothing, I’m fine,” and look out the window and refuse to ride the ride/eat the picnic/swim in the river/paint the mug. You aren’t doing it on purpose. You just feel like you had no choice, and trapped and invisible and miserable.

Example: When someone says “you didn’t do [x thing]”, it isn’t safe (emotionally or physically) to say “oh, crap, I forgot, sorry!” So you have to say “noooooo, I didn’t forget, I would never forget, I wasn’t able to do it because first I was [performing other task that is in service to the annoyed person] and later because I thought you didn’t want me to because you [did other semi-plausible thing that excuses the undone task]!!” There always had to be a narrative about why things weren’t done in my house, because “SORRY ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH” was an actual thing that got yelled all the time. Being sorry and belatedly doing the thing was insufficient.

Example: You say what you think other people want to hear, but then your real (conflicted) feelings leak out over time. The person you love says “I want to invite this giant squid to live in our bathtub,” and she seems really excited, and you don’t want to crush her dreams, so you say “. . . okay! Sure! That sounds fantastic!”

But then there is a squid in your bathtub, and sometimes it makes you cry, and sometimes it scares you, and sometimes you just want to take a bath or a shower, but you feel like if you say that you don’t like the idea anymore, then you’ll be called a liar. Because you said it sounded fantastic! You did! You were asked and you said yes! So you keep saying “this is fine! I love the squid!” while your actual expressions and behaviors and unplanned speech express your loathing of the squid, and the other person feels like you are LYING and manipulating instead of trying really hard to be accommodating and failing to love the thing that you actually very much dislike.

Example: You moved a thing. Someone else gets home and needs the thing, but the thing has been moved. “Why did you move the thing?” the person asks. “I didn’t!” you say. “I was just using it upstairs, but I can go get it if you need it right away!”

Did you just lie? Yes, because you moved the thing. But if you come from a world where moving things is BAD BAD BAD (or doing any action/affecting your environment in any way that will lead to another person noticing and perhaps blowing up), then your reflex will be to deny/mitigate. Later, when a normal person asks you “did you move the thing” and you say “NO, I just moved it because [reasons]”, that person will think you are lying and being weird.


There are a lot of people who enjoy manipulating others, and if you are worried about this then you are almost definitely not one of those people. But sometimes we get trained to be manipulative because being straightforward and open is dangerous or impossible or ineffective in the environments where we live, and it takes real work to unlearn those behaviors and patterns of thinking.

I am a lot better about these sorts of responses, now. Partially because I had at least a few close friends point out that my coping mechanisms were 1) no longer relevant, and 2) hurting them. It seems like this is what your boyfriend is trying to do— he loves you, but these behaviors are confusing and hurting him.

I would mostly recommend looking at the behaviors that remind you of yourself and then looking back at your earlier years and trying to remember where you learned them. Did your mother always say yes to the giant squid, but then she would cry while folding the laundry and you all knew it was about the squid?

Did your brother once say “oh, the thing is in my room, I can get it—“ and your father cancelled his birthday party?

When your grandparents came to stay, did they say “we love what you’ve done with the place” but then give each other meaningful looks and murmur to each other about how disgusting everything looked, and no one should raise children in this environment, and what kind of mother would keep a cactus on her kitchen counter, and [their other child] would faint if she saw the state of [this child’s] apron?

You have to know where they come from, and what kinds of fear they are assuaging, before you can dismantle them.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:31 PM on November 5, 2015 [73 favorites]


I think that manipulation is what people do if they don't trust that being straightforward will help.
So, speaking generally, spend a lot of time analysing what you really want to say, and what you say instead. How you really feel and how you present your feelings. How you would react "in a perfect world" where you would be understood and accepted, and how you react instead.
Once you know that, you can work on saying what you actually want and feel instead of trying to get results by manipulation.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:34 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


It might be helpful to look at self-help books about the topics of negotiation or fighting fairly to build constructive ways to communicate.

You might be interested in agreeing to tape yourselves when you talk about a topic that requires negotiation like this weekend's plans or how to spend Christmas. Then, after viewing the replay, you could both discuss what thoughts and feelings you had in response to the other person's statements. Because I agree that your partner needs to point out some examples before you can effectively work out how to change your behavior. You need to know which behavior he means.

A partner or family member is most likely to flag 'manipulation' when they feel guilty. Then the interesting question is whether you either deliberately or accidentally encouraged them to feel that way or whether they've just got some free floating guilt. (Like about not wanting to spend as much time with you as you want them to, for example. Because crying is not in my mind manipulation, but fake crying is.)
posted by puddledork at 12:37 PM on November 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


What does he say he's going to do to set boundaries and help you recognize and reroute unproductive communication styles? Is he just expecting to say "hey, this vitriolic article reminded me of you" and then you... what, don't express emotions anymore for fear of being seen as manipulative? His approach to all of this matters in terms of whether I'd read it as gaslighting or a genuine concern. A therapist is definitely necessary for some outside perspective, but frankly there are two things right now that make me suspicious: one, this is not the way a manipulator responds to accusations of manipulating, and two, I don't see anything about specifically what he wants you to change or how he's going to support you in doing that. If what he's actually saying is "I love you and want this to work, but these specific behaviors hurt me, let's figure out why they happen and how to change them," it's a very different situation.
posted by babelfish at 12:40 PM on November 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


(Which is not to say that a person who's actually being manipulated should take on all the work of fixing it themselves or telling the manipulator how to fix it! But the process of fixing a relationship communication issue should be a teamwork process, not an "I don't like some things about your personality, you should figure out how to change to suit me better" process.)
posted by babelfish at 12:42 PM on November 5, 2015


I've read this 10 times hoping that I'm not being manipulative in how I'm writing it. I'm sorry if I am. Please help.

Respectfully, the emotional manipulation in your post is where you cast doubt on whether or not your partner has any good reason to call you an emotional manipulator. I know, I know, you flat out told people something close to "Please assume I am an emotional manipulator", but you wrote the question in such a way (no details, no examples) so that people would scratch their heads and tell you that maybe you're not an emotional manipulator and that this is not something you need to work on .

I think you and your partner should see if you can come up with examples of your behavior from the list WITHOUT you responding with behavior from the list. If, while discussing examples of your behavior, your partner goes "Ummm, you're doing #1 right now", that might be eye-opening for you. Plus, discussing the list might give insight as to which behaviors are most in need of addressing.
posted by 23skidoo at 12:52 PM on November 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


I was one of the commenters in that emotional manipulation thread, and read those links. That particular link happens to be one I liked less, because as others have mentioned, it is extremely subjective and filled with destructive language. Not even neutral language, but destructive. As I even wrote in the story re: my latest manipulator experience, there is zero to be gained in being subjective/emotional/destructive with a manipulator. Zero. And very much to be lost.

Nthing that we need examples. With context!

Also, FWIW, the most manipulative people I've met would never in a million years admit to any article about manipulative personalities applying to them. Heck, you could anonymously present the comment I left to my previous landlord and he'd probably say, "gee, I'm glad I don't know anyone like that landlord!" So as others have suggested, it's probably much less a character flaw and more a communication issue. But without examples, it's very hard to say anything more.
posted by fraula at 12:56 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I just googled the author of that article and recommend you and your partner do so as well. Even going to the homepage was...uh.

It's maybe beside the point, but why would he relate most to the article with the most vitriol and the fewest credentials?

Anyway, understandable if you don't care to provide examples to us, but if he can't provide them to you, that's a problem.

Onto more concrete help for you on the assumption it's true: this book is often recommended to help with borderline personality disorder but I found it helpful in combating my own outsized emotional responses and mal-adapted reactions during relationship conflicts. It's a lot of mindfulness skills and really practical scripts for self-talk, suggestions, tactics. I recommend it to everyone, actually. Really helps you get ahold of reality and communicate effectively during tough times.
posted by kapers at 1:18 PM on November 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Update from the anonymous OP:
Thank you all for your advice. I should had noted that I am not against therapy (though I struggle to make myself start), I just took that recommendation as a given.

As requested, I'm sharing examples below and the response tactics partner and I discussed last night. Having had a discussion I can recognize these behaviors in myself (though I will admit that due to article's language I struggle(d) to get there). But up front I can also say that in the process of searching MeFi for other resources, I found the Emotional Labor post and its spinoffs. I hope I'm not treating this as an excuse (flaw 1 below!), but they gave me some perspective on what I am sometimes trying to gain through manipulation, and that that won't work.

(1) Turning around statements: I do this when I think what I am doing is providing greater context to an accusation ("you did this bad thing;" "I only did it because you did that"), and I'm persuasive and longwinded. Tactic we discussed: fully address problem he raised and don't add my own problem to the mix until that is done, if at all (what I'd actually like to do is say 'ok, that is related to something I am also concerned about, but let's hold on that until we discuss what you raise.)

(3) Crazy-making. This is a tough one. My partner and I both agree that I have a better memory for conversations than he does. But he believes that I recall things that are fundamentally untrue, and does not think that I am capable of recognizing that (mutual crazy making). This is most prevalent when commitments are made for doing something - "you said you would do X". Tactic: Try not to use prior statements in a negative light - I'm trying to figure out how to manage this. Perhaps by saying "I had an impression of this, but want to be sure that is your understanding." When commitments are made, talk about their implementation in detail (and even write them down/email them).

(4) Guilt: I do this. What would your parents think, see how this impacts our baby, think about how an outside party might view it. But this is where the many recent posts on emotional labor had this dawning revelation to me. One way I frequently use guilt is regarding my perception of imbalances in emotional labor, valid or not. My (hopefully incorrect) assumption in doing so is that my partner does not respect my view enough to care about what I think, but that maybe maybe he'll care what other people think. Guilt feels like a good tool. Tactic: for immediate term, stop myself from using that as a tool - as many of you suggest, think carefully about what I want and say it carefully in my voice, if it merits being said. For longer term, think long and hard about the emotional labor and associated expectations I value unto myself, what I should discard because it's not worth it, and what really is jointly valuable - the AskMefi check list/self assessment from this summer is really great.

(5) Controlling emotional climate/no accountability. True. I have issues with anxiety. I will tell my partner that if only he did X my anxiety would lessen and I know that's awful. I can see that he is negatively impacted. When I am anxious I really want my partner to be positive and seem to be in control, and in the moment it doesn't dawn on me that I'm preventing him from doing so. I can see that it is cyclical. Tactic: This is a long term issue that many efforts are needed to solve. But in near term, maybe just removing myself from location when anxiety strikes (with a small child I'm worried this is impractical)? Stating it up front as a warning?

As for potential that partner should not have shared this particular article - I'm going with aimedwanderer's view. This was a risk and I appreciate he took it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:23 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is there a (2) that got chopped somewhere?
posted by Etrigan at 1:27 PM on November 5, 2015


A small number of people - sociopaths - are emotionally manipulative for fun. Most of us are emotionally manipulative when we're afraid. iminurmefi and a fiendish thingy have given great examples of manipulation-from-fear.

So if you do find that you're saying things that are different from how you feel because you're afraid, it might be a good idea to figure out what those fears are and find ways to deal with them.
posted by clawsoon at 1:27 PM on November 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Okay, so this sounds good to me -- you're not a fundamentally manipulative person, or you'd be reacting in a different way to hearing your partner criticize your concerns, but you have some defensive manipulative behaviors that your partner is willing to help you recognize. I think the key thing is that the behaviors are defensive, even if they're misplaced -- i.e. it sounds like the problem is that you're over-zealously trying to get care, control, and self-protection, and prioritizing that over your partner's feelings, but not that you actually don't respect or value him. You're not a cruel person, you're just lashing out.

I think the trick is going to be recognizing what you're trying to gain, and recognizing it before the words come out of your mouth. The feelings wheel may not quite be what you need, but I've found this approach to simplifying emotions really helpful -- maybe you can work out a similar wheel about what you ask for (or demand) versus what you're really trying to gain?
posted by babelfish at 1:46 PM on November 5, 2015


In all honesty, I think you're being gaslit.

For a start, that link is beyond horrendous - I think you need to look very closely at the words on that page and the context of that website.

And then your examples can be summarized as follows:

1) fully discuss his problems - don't talk about your problems (until his are done - and when will that be?)
3) don't talk about those times when he said he'd do something and then he didn't do it - and who was supposed to do the writing down/emailing - you?
4) "see how this impacts our baby" !!!!! - he should very much be taking into consideration how x impacts the baby.
5) not enough examples provided here, but could "if he did x my anxiety would lessen" relate to 4) in any way?
posted by heyjude at 2:33 PM on November 5, 2015 [23 favorites]


Reading your update: couples therapy with someone that focuses on communication skills. Because it doesn't sound like anything insurmountable, but rather that the two of you have some unhealthy patterns that need to be broken. For the other side of things, consider these restatements especially in light of the emotional labor thread.

He doesn't take my concerns seriously, so when he brings up something similar, I finally feel like he might be willing to work on behavior of his that is contributing to the cycle but that he has denied until now. Because this isn't one sided, and we're both contributing to X behavior continuing.

He uses his poor memory to get out of commitments he made and then makes you feel guilty when you try to hold him responsible.

Guilt: he is more motivated by what other people would think than how you feel, and you've caught on to this as the only useful way to frame your needs.

Now, I am absolutely not saying in a million years that those things are necessarily true. But, I am saying that women get called manipulative when we try to make men do their share of emotional labor fairly frequently. Which is really down to relationship and communication skills for BOTH people. If you're caught in a cycle with him on these things, it absolutely makes sense that you would recognize yourself in those things. It does not follow that he bears no responsibility. If you're partners, you figure out the solutions and roots to these things together.


Being called manipulative is highly gendered, and it totally does happen when we have to resort to less than above board ways to get our emotional needs met. That doesn't Mame it ok, but it's important to realize that the sole weight of it isn't just on your shoulders. Even if you need to do 70% of the work to fix it, you can't succeed if he won't work on his 30%. A couples councilor can help you pinpoint and stop the cycles that are producing this behavior and give you skills for not falling into them. Dumping the most charged article on you is going to make this harder, but it doesn't make it impossible. Holding him accountable for the way he feeds into this is not manipulative.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:49 PM on November 5, 2015 [25 favorites]


Listen, I think what people in this thread are saying is this: it's good that you were introspective. But have you also approached this with discernment to see if it's true? I'm not talking knee jerk defensiveness (because that link would make anyone defensive), but calm thinking through the examples. Is that an accurate representation of reality or does it unfairly weight his needs? How likely is it, really, that you are making up/misremembering entire conversations, and conveniently only when he said he would do something?

You need to take a critical eye to this whether you really are manipulating him or if he's manipulating you into not standing up for your own needs. Either way you can't solve this problem by just going from what he says. You have to think about it from your point of view and recognize that your needs still had to be met, even if you shift so that they're not getting stated manipulatively.

Your needs are valid and should be respected. If the only way they can be met is by being manipulative, that's not just a problem with you. He has to commit to caring about your needs instead of making you BEG to get them met.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:58 PM on November 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


FWIW, I don't think you are being emotionally manipulative. I think you guys communicate differently and probably need to work on that. I would also be horrified if my partner gave me that article and was like, this is you! That's not meaningful communication in my book. I was previously with an emotional manipulator for about 10 years and I have to say, someone like that would never even think of posting this question. He constantly denied wrongdoing ever, made me feel like everything was my fault and that I was the problem and that I was being manipulative, etc. You saying you don't trust your reactions worries me - that's how I was feeling in that bad relationship. Your update also seems to put more weight on his needs rather than your own.

To deal with this I'd probably suggest couples counseling because he is part of the problem even if you have some manipulative behavior going on.
posted by FireFountain at 3:06 PM on November 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


If your partner is feeling like you're not respecting his feelings, needs, and wants -- and if he hasn't been able/willing to bring it up till now -- it's likely the two of you need to learn to communicate about feelings. Most people have some sort of communication limitation learned from parents or stemming from anxiety or other negative emotions. It's possible to learn, preferably with a therapist, how to talk about feelings and conflicts in a constructive way. You would go to a therapist together and say that you want to work on communications skills. These are a set of particular practices, not a vague attitude adjustment. There's almost a script, though if you do it with the right intentions it doesn't feel like a formula at all. It works if both approach the effort with love and kindness.

My advice to you and your partner would be to bring things up one at a time, when something happens. It doesn't help either of to talk about things that you "always do, " things that you keep doing, things you have a tendency of doing. You deal with one instance, and progress on that one will help with whatever the next issue turns out to be.

Some people above have suggested that he might be the one at fault. I think that if he were a manipulator, you'd know it. But I have been in situations where one person is so uncomfortable with conflict and with disagreements that they keep quiet about what they don't like and blame the other for not doing things differently. The communication-skills route requires both partners to be responsible for speaking up and for listening.

You both are responsible. If one person is using guilt to get what they want, or is making everything about themself, or fighting unfairly -- the other person is putting up with it or caving in for a reason. Both have to start doing things differently.
posted by wryly at 3:36 PM on November 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


Part of the reason this stuff is so insidious is that it's at least generally structured in such a way that there's a reasonable angle to it, like the responses heyjude posted. Taken out of context like the examples, there's always a reasonable side. It's in the context of the examples you gave for guilt that they would or wouldn't be unreasonable.

I'm sort of thinking this is therapist material, and outside the scope of what MeFi can handle because of that. I will, however, go through that list again from a more sympathetic angle.

I wrote and deleted like three responses to this, but basically i think there's a lot of odd preloading going on with the responses here. You basically posted "my partner is frustrated with me acting shitty, and in frustration sent me a pretty extreme article" and the response ends up being "well what is he doing to make you act that way?" instead of just acknowledging that in a vacuum or not, this is crappy behavior.

Figuring out why is the job of a therapist, or something. But the behavior itself is bad and it's infuriating to deal with someone who regularly does things like this.

For example on #1, the correct thing to do here is wait for the discussing about whatever the specific thing is conclude. "When will that be?" is a shitty response to that too. Lets say you're having a discussion about milk, and then your response is to make it about the entire fridge, grocery shopping in general, or something. It's funny that people who take a huge issue with #notallmen type stuff have a large blindspot when it comes to interpersonal relationships. "We're having a conversation about this thing" is fine. "But what about all this other stuff that thing is a portion of?" is not really a valid response. It can be, but as a general rule, nah.

Pretty much, i can see the other side of all the examples you provide and i think i can probably see where your partner is coming from. "Omg you're being gaslit!" is not my immediate response at all. Because as i said above, this kind of behavior hides in a cloak of reasonableness.

I think it's at least worth it to explore his side of this before you go "nah" and just assume you're being steamrolled and gaslit. I've had friends and partners who did stuff like this a lot and it can be pretty terrible. It can also be really hard to tell what is and isn't normal when you've been in it for a while.

That article has some terrible language in it, but the gist of the experience described in this thread seems real to me.
posted by emptythought at 4:08 PM on November 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Here are some ways that people start to use manipulation as a strategy: (I think these might be more easily recognized within yourself than the actual manipulations that he might be referring to)

You take on too much. You say "yes" to everything because you want to please others, without realistically considering whether you have the time, energy, or means, to follow through on all the things you said you'd do. You think about others and their feelings, needs, and desires, more than your own. You feel burnt out because of it, and wonder why nobody else it taking care of you, when you are doing *everything* for them.

You can't say 'no' to those who are important to you, even if it means that you give up your only chance for a workout/visit with a friend/time alone/etc. You are willing to drop whatever you've planned for yourself when someone else makes a different suggestion, just to keep them interested in spending that time with you.

Also: you may not have learned how to drive, or do something else independently... are you always reliant on somebody else just to do the simplest of things? If this is the case, you really need to find ways to be able to do a few of these things for yourself, "just in case"... It doesn't help if you are financially dependent on someone else, either. If this applies to you, is there a way to at least bring in some pocket money for yourself - or would your partner then get upset that you weren't taking care of your responsibilities at home? If that is the case, then you could be in a controlling or borderline abusive relationship. I would definitely take steps towards independence.

All of the things I have described above can create an environment ripe for burnout. People do not behave as well as they could when they are constantly stressed, and they can get grouchy. It is not up to someone else to make sure that you are taking care of yourself. That is your responsibility. If, when you start to take care of yourself more, you meet with resistance initially - you can remind the person who enlightened you to your 'manipulative' behaviour, that you are taking care of yourself so that you won't feel the need to manipulate your way into getting what you need. You're just going to take care of it, so that you can take care of your family. That's it. Hard to argue with that.
posted by itsflyable at 4:12 PM on November 5, 2015


OK, face value and all that. Here are some things to try:

1) Avoid first person statements when he is expressing displeasure about something, nomatter how much it KILLS you in that moment. That might help cut down on the "I'm sorry, but"'s which are irritating him, and the over-explaining of your point of view which are making him feel "not heard." Bite your tongue until he specifically asks (and really wants) your explanation.
3) Try to be less confident in what you remember. Maybe he's right, maybe you are, but try to come up with a response to these moments that absorbs a reasonable part of the blame just because you want to be a good partner. (doing this conscientiously is not being a pushover or a doormat -- it's meeting him halfway)
4) Just don't do it, don't go there. Like practicing avoiding the 1st person when he is upset about anything, avoid the 3rd person when you are upset about something. Give yourself a reward for making it through a discussion sticking to you's and I's. See if that makes you more aware of doing this.
5) OK, so when you are anxious forbid yourself from expressing anything but the 1st person. That might break that habit.

All of these tips are ideas that stem from exercises in Buddhist anti-gossip ("Right Speech") training. I still can't go for very long without talking about someone who isn't present, but it has made me very aware of the worth of what I say. Maybe the same kind of practice will help you.
posted by dness2 at 4:22 PM on November 5, 2015


Hey. I can't make a determination on Who Is Like This Article, but as someone who grew up in a profoundly dysfunctional family and who protected her own soul by developing many of the sane capacities, the question really is... Who do you want to be?

So far I think I am seeing that you want to take your partner's concerns seriously and that seems great. However, you are doomed to failure if you try to change everything at once, and also it really won't give you both what you need to change patterns together. Your partner picked you, and this is a dance you do together.

So...I would work on one thing at a time. As your partner to enter into a 1-2 year process with you. Pick the one of your points that matters most and set a code phrase like...banana peel or something. Agree that that phrase is a "time out" phrase that halts the discussion, and that it's a joint responsibility. During the time out it will be your responsibility to find alternatives to patterns you agree aren't helpful.

The big question is...can you ask for the same with your partner's quirks. If so, it's growth. If not, it might be gaslighting.

I will get long winded with two examples. I had some things on your list! One was I would justify things. I have worked to stop and just listen, say I am sorry or yes, that was dumb, and give explanatory remarked like...36 hrs later.

So that was a me thing. And boy is it so freeing! For a few years I thought I would be struck down by demons if I said "I screwed up" or "I was wrong" without a BUT. Instead it is like an incredible superpower, especially at work. People at work fall over themselves to fill in the but for me and then help! (I try not to have actually screwed up much anyway.) Also when I had staff it was so much easier to deal with people who admit it and move on.

However I also had anxiety. I did desperately need to stop treating my fear like Everyone Knows -- like "everyone knows you could die on the highway and you call if you are late!!!" (If only I had been just that crazy, I was way worse.)

BUT, in truth my partner was being jerky about knowing I would be anxious and so not communicating at all or minimizing excessively. So yes I worked on my end but he needed to be courteous about things like being late. My anxiety response was manipulative. But his behavior was dovetailing and he was being lousy about not trying to help.

My best practical advice is that saying what you are physically feeling - not "you make me sick!!!" but "I want to resolve this. My hands are sweaty and my mouth is dry and I feel nauseous" can help. Focus on what is happening in the moment and stating things factually helps. Not "why do you make me angry" but "I am angry." That kind of thing.

Hope that helps.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:39 PM on November 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


Your examples don't sound like you are a "manipulative person". There are some negative things in there, but they are very typical of the things adults do when they are arguing. I find it very disturbing that your husband has just decided to label you "manipulative" based on some bullshit article, without taking any responsibility for his own behaviour.

I think you should ask yourself whether he does any of these "manipulative" things during arguments as well.
posted by barnoley at 6:11 PM on November 5, 2015 [14 favorites]


(4) My (hopefully incorrect) assumption in doing so is that my partner does not respect my view enough to care about what I think, but that maybe maybe he'll care what other people think.

This is the crux of things as far as I'm concerned. Do you feel he views you with contempt? It's worth reading what Goffman has to say about that. You're saying don't feel you have any credibility with your husband, or power in the relationship. He doesn't trust your point of view, or share your values. You feel defensive, and compelled to appeal to outside authorities, emotion, anything you think will reach him, because you can't in any other way. +1 for you're probably being gaslit.

(1) Turning around statements: I do this when I think what I am doing is providing greater context to an accusation

Does he accuse you of wrongdoing very often? Sounds like he's got a lot of power here in deciding what is and isn't acceptable behaviour from you. Maybe you're being defensive because you're often attacked. He's also setting the terms of the argument here.

How much of a role do you get to play in deciding what's acceptable to discuss, and how to discuss it?

(3) Crazy-making. This is a tough one. My partner and I both agree that I have a better memory for conversations than he does. But he believes that I recall things that are fundamentally untrue, and does not think that I am capable of recognizing that (mutual crazy making).

It sounds like you are operating from fundamentally different and opposed realities and communicate in totally different ways, like you've gotten very far away from each other.

+1 for a therapist, but just for you right now.

Also, close friends and (healthy-ish) family members sometimes see things you can't. Yes, they're all individually biased, and maybe not all of them are placed to offer fair comment for other reasons. But if there's a consensus (among mostly healthy people you trust), it's worth considering that as a point of reference. Would most people you're close to describe you as a "manipulator"? Like, fundamentally?

Conversely: have any of your friends and family expressed concern for or about you in this relationship? Would you feel comfortable talking to a close friend? Preferably an old friend, someone you trust and have known for a long time. Pre-marriage.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:41 PM on November 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


I feel like your partner is doing a good dose of emotional manipulation himself. The article itself says "They will talk around behind your back and eventually put others in the position of telling you what they would not say themselves." Isn't that exactly what he's doing here? "Look, this article says you are a bad person and I should leave you". In your examples you say words to the effect of "I remember conversations better than he does, but even though he doesn't remember what actually happened he is convinced I am lying". Also, emotional manipulators are great at projection. They accuse you of things they are in fact guilty of themselves.

So forget him and the article for a second. Do you see any problems with your own behaviour? Have you been criticised by other people for the same thing again and again? What does an unbiased person like a therapist think?

You say yourself that you think you have issues with guilt tripping people and making them accountable for your anxiety, so I think it would be good to work on these. But I also think your should take a good look at your partner's behaviour because he sounds far from the innocent party. Oh, and remember that if he IS gaslighting and manipulating you, it is likely to bring out the worst in you.
posted by intensitymultiply at 1:16 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I really want to underline the advice to seek therapy, specifically CBT and DBT, for your anxiety. When I went to therapy for my anxiety, it not only gave me good strategies to manage my own anxiety, it also made me see that my hunch was correct that a person in my life was emotionally abusing me, and probably 90-100% of it was about them trying to make me responsible for managing their own very poorly managed anxiety.

So by learning to manage my anxiety, I not only saw through the emotional abuse of another, I also learned how to accept and take responsibility for my emotions and not to take on any of the emotionally abusive behaviors myself. In other words, no matter what the dynamics of your relationship are--and I agree, that's somewhat beyond what AskMe can divine--therapy will help you, and you should do it!
posted by robot cat at 2:59 AM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Okay, here's something I've learned in the last 42 years of my life. Everyone thinks their partner is a selfish jerk. Everyone.

Because everyone has his or her own agenda; you have your agenda and your partner has his own agenda. Fair enough.

I have bent over backwards since I met my husband to make him happy and do what he wants and take his wants and needs into account at all times. Has he called me a "mean, nasty person" at least once in our marriage? YOU BETCHA. I think he's the biggest, selfish jerk I've ever met. He thinks I'm inflexible and shrill.

Do you have wants and needs? Sure! What happens if you go to your partner and tell him what you want and need? He probably says, "No." Enter: manipulation. We all do it. All of us. That's life!

So, you manipulate. I'd say this is the time to really look at what you want, need, and what you're afraid of. Can you go to your partner and talk about these things in a rational way? What if he denies you these things? Look and address these things. Dig deep.
posted by Piedmont_Americana at 4:13 AM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


also, following on from piedmont_americana, some of us also ask ourselves the same questions you are asking yourself. it comes with the territory of being a self-aware person who understands emotions. everyone is manipulative sometimes. when is too much? these are hard questions and in my experience the best way to answer them is to talk with your partner and make your own compromises / agreements / understandings. but it takes years.
posted by andrewcooke at 4:28 AM on November 6, 2015


I think working on healthier communication patterns could go a long way. It sounds like your partner doesn't think you are motivated by ill-intent, so you have some bad habits, perhaps motivated by your anxiety.

There may also be some problems where both of you contribute to the dynamic. For #3, for example, it sounds like you think you told him Y, but he has no memory of this. If that's the case, it could be that you both (in this instance) need to work on focusing on the conversation. I.e. he can't just nod and grunt agreement while you talk to him, but he's really more focused on completing X. Conversely, you need to get his attention and learn that tone that equals "I hear you talking, but not what you're saying," before telling him Y. It may be best to just let him finish X before telling him Y, or if you can't (you're headed out), leave a note.

Both behaviors can be motivated by good intentions (he doesn't want to brush you off, so over-estimates his ability to split his attention, and you want to make sure he knows about Y, but you have other stuff to attend to and don't want to forget). But the outcome is " crazy making."

Also, #1 could happen a lot if you both have different levels of "working through it." If you just bottle up small annoyances because you feel it's not worth addressing (or, possibly related to #4 guilt, you're more afraid that it will go unheard if you say anything), but he brings up a problem in the moment, it feels like just another insult to injury and the damn bursts. This isn't healthy for either of you and it's not fair to him. It doesn't give him the opportunity to fix things that's he's unaware of, and it prevents him from addressing things he is.

Even if thats not the case (you both bring up problems as they occur), try setting aside a time once a week/month to check in about the state of the union, with each of you getting uninterrupted talking time. If it's scheduled, you'll be able to actively prepare yourself to not interrupt and be secure in knowing that you'll have a turn soon. And he can be more confident in re-directing "Y is an issue, but right now let's focus on X. We will address Y soon."

Overall, it sounds like a lot of your behavior could relate to your anxiety, and maybe a feeling or fear of being unheard. As you said, you think this isn't justifiable (as in your partner hasn't done anything to sugfest that he does feel you aren't worth listening to) and I think therapy would be a good option to explore. That may help some of the underlying motivations for the behavior as well as give you some good, healthy communication strategies to use.
posted by ghost phoneme at 5:57 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


1. In complete seriousness, abusers telling the abused "you're the REAL abuser!" is a real thing. It's a classic, consistent, real tactic used often by actual manipulators/abusers. So I take ANY accusation of this with skepticism and a huge grain of salt. "Manipulative" is also a character trait, a negative label. It says "you're a problem person" not "these behaviors are problematic."

2. It sounds like he's doing exactly what you're not supposed to do in example 1- that is, he's responsing to your accusation, for instance "honey you said you'd take out the trash" -with his own - "well you're manipulating me, I don't remember saying that." One can taste the palpable irony here.

3. If your disagreements and arguments are about him stepping up, doing chores, taking care of family, etc- I virtually guarantee you you are not the manipulative one and you are it's probably justified. He's throwing this in your face as yet another obstacle between him and Actually Just Doing The Damn Things. Other obstacles he's attempted to throw up as a barrier are, "I forgot" or "I'm doing something more important" or whatever- now it's this.

4. I agree with you that guilting someone is ineffective and pointless and you should stop doing it, but not because you're a Terrible Person. Because he will not change unless you disengage and show him concrete actions - guilting is essentially just bluffing. Actions are follow-through. Let him experience the consequences of his actions or lack thereof, and you won't have to have these so-called "manipualtive" conversations anymore.
posted by quincunx at 11:24 AM on November 6, 2015 [10 favorites]


The book Attached, which I learned about through on here, calls these "protest behavior" and says they are a manifestation of anxiety.
Protest behavior is any action that tries to reestablish contact with your partner and get their attention. There are many ways that protest behavior can manifest itself, anything that can jolt the other person into noticing you and responding to you.
That book and the book If This Is Love, Why Do I Feel So Insecure? have really helped me understand my non-constructive communication methods and learn to be better at communication. This was really important to me because I grew up in a family where the only way people communicated in conflicts was either through yelling or these protest behaviors.
posted by melissam at 6:16 PM on November 7, 2015


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