10 psychological games manipulative people play in a relationship

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Love is all fun and games… until the games get out of hand and turn a tiny bit too manipulative.

Silly banter and inside jokes are beautiful games to play. Emotional manipulation not so much.

But how can you tell whether you’re being psychologically manipulated? I mean, the point of manipulation is that it’s so subtle you can barely recognize it, right?

Well, that’s where this article comes in. Are you ready to learn about the 10 psychological games manipulative people play in a relationship?

Let’s jump in!

1) Love bombing

Love bombing is one of the most well-known manipulation techniques, perhaps because it’s so very… out there.

Love bombing isn’t about subtlety. It’s the exact opposite. It’s what occurs when you’ve just started dating someone, and their love for you seems to be too grand, too quick, and too… much.

They shower you with compliments and lavish gifts. They promise you the world. They talk about how much they are excited to share their whole lives with you. They make you feel like you’re on cloud nine because their love is so very powerful that it could move mountains.

A few months later, they will either completely disappear from your life (“I’m not ready for a relationship just yet”) or will turn into pretty controlling and possessive partners.

So, why did this person claim to love you so much, only to do things that are hurtful? Long story short, it’s because they never loved you in a genuine and authentic way.

It takes some time to properly fall in love and build a sense of trust. If the person you started dating a week ago is already spinning great tales of marriage and you can hear the wedding bells ring…

Those aren’t wedding bells. It’s an alarm.

2) Breadcrumbing

Breadcrumbing is kind of the opposite of love bombing – instead of attacking you with a tsunami of love, your partner keeps withdrawing their affection as they please, creating a nerve-racking cycle of inconsistency.

When someone breadcrumbs you, it means they are quite literally throwing you crumbs of attention. And since those crumbs are so very rare, you can’t help but worship them as something golden.

Your partner may be exceptionally sweet to you one day and very cold the next. They might message you non-stop for a week straight and then vanish into thin air for a fortnight.

If this sounds familiar, remember that you deserve to be in a relationship with someone who is consistent, who puts in the effort, and who shows up for you.

You are worth more than a few crumbs.

3) Sulking

When I say the word “silent treatment”, you may not immediately consider it to be manipulative.

But it is. The silent treatment is a psychological game that puts the sulking partner in a position of power and the other partner in a confused, uncertain, and stressed-out mental state.

“What’s wrong? Can we talk about it?”

“Nothing.” (Proceeds to bang the kitchen cupboards, look hurt and angry, and walk around the house like a ticking bomb.)

Instead of sulking, try to talk about your feelings. And if you’re not ready to share your thoughts just yet or if you’re too angry to have a calm discussion, all you need to do is say so. “Look, I’m too upset right now, can we talk about it later?”

That’s a much better way of going about it than putting your partner on a time-out.

4) Testing

When I was younger, I used to test my ex all the time. I didn’t even realize I was doing it, but looking back, I often played these kinds of psychological games as a form of self-sabotage.

If I was worried that my partner would eventually pull away from me and grow cold and distant, I annoyed the hell out of him, testing just how far I could push him before he ran away.

If I wanted his reassurance while I was crying after a fight, I told him to leave me alone just to see if he would stay.

Of course, my testing games rarely ended with good results, which only confirmed to me that my deepest fears were correct and the relationship was doomed from the very beginning.

Testing is a psychological game that hurts both the tester and the person being tested. I have since learned to voice my fears and work through them with my partners instead of playing mind games.

5) Gaslighting

Most people know the term “gaslighting”, but what does it actually mean?

Gaslighting happens when someone makes you doubt your own perception of reality. Your partner might tell you that you remember things wrong, that your feelings aren’t valid, or that in some strange and twisted way, their hurtful actions are actually your fault.

Unfortunately, some gaslighters are really good at what they do, so it’s not too difficult to fall into the trap. It happens to the best of us.

But now that you know what gaslighting is and how it works, you’re better able to recognize it when it happens and shield yourself from it.

6) Playing the quid-pro-quo game

I once dated someone who would count everything he’d done for me and use it against me.

“Look,” he said, “I’ve done X, Y, and Z. Meanwhile, you’ve only done X. Do you not love me enough?”

We broke up soon after.

Relationships aren’t a trade. They should be a safe space where you express your love freely and where you believe that your partner loves you back, both of you putting in the effort to cultivate your love and connection.

If someone plays quid-pro-quo, it either means their love isn’t as pure as they believe it to be or that they are manipulative.

7) Overhelping

Sometimes, your partner may just care about your well-being a little too much and fuss over you when you’d rather be left alone. A little bit of communication solves the issue.

But sometimes, overhelping – taking on unnecessary tasks that should be yours, completing things for you before it even occurs to you to do them, and helping you with everything and anything – can be a psychological game.

This is because overhelping places the helper in a position of power and the helped in a position of forced helplessness. It fosters unhealthy co-dependency and a sense of overreliance on one’s romantic relationship.

As you can probably tell, it’s not… great. Respect is an inherent part of any healthy relationship, and respect goes hand in hand with giving your partner enough credit to cultivate their own sense of independence.

8) Learned helplessness

Learned helplessness is the opposite side of the same coin. It’s when you learn to rely on your partner so much that you give up on trying to be independent.

Let’s say your significant other always cooks. As a result, you don’t feel any need to cook, although it’s a basic skill every person should learn, and are therefore fully reliant on your partner’s cooking schedule.

The sense of helplessness that you slip into can be very manipulative because it forces your partner into the role of a parent, taking on more tasks than they should and feeling responsible for another adult person.

9) Triangulation

Imagine you and your partner are having an argument. All of a sudden, they call their mum and bring her into it, telling you, “See? Even my mum agrees! Just admit you’re wrong!”

Dragging another person into a disagreement that should stay between two people is a manipulation technique called triangulation. It serves to put pressure on one person by having more people gang up against them, making it more difficult for them to argue their point of view.

If you and your partner ever get into a fight, try to sort it out between the two of you. And if you want to involve a third party, make sure your partner is okay with it beforehand.

10) Dredging up the past

While we’re on the topic of disagreements, those are – quite understandably – the breeding ground for psychological games. It’s when both partners are at their most emotional, after all, and so they are more susceptible to manipulation.

And dredging up the past is one such example. While partner A may raise a valid concern about partner B never doing the dishes, partner B might try to shift the blame and twist the situation by saying, “What, like you always do them? Remember last year when the place was a mess because you never cleaned up after yourself?”

The thing is, last year doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is the situation in the here and now.

Therefore, any time you or your partner get the urge to bring up an issue that’s long in the past… ask yourself if it is truly relevant to what you’re facing at this very moment.

Some things are better left in the past where they belong.

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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