Manipulative Relationships – Control Through Confusion and Compulsion


In any reasonably healthy relationship between couples, there is nearly always some conscious or unconscious manipulation and coercion. However, relationships generally mature towards some form of balance if they are to remain stable and healthy.

In a highly manipulative relationship the balance of power is firmly in the manipulator’s camp. The manipulator resists all attempts to balance the relationship- because they want complete control, sometimes by making their victim think they have some control.

The worst relationships occur when a highly manipulative person enters a relationship with someone highly prone to manipulation.

Awareness of the way manipulation works, and of what makes a victim prone to manipulation, will help people break free from the dance of deception they get caught in.

The trap is opened.

The beginning romantic manipulative relationship is indistinguishable from any other. The manipulator provides frequent positive strokes, especially when their victim acts in the manner they wish to cultivate.

It is difficult to see any difference at this stage to a normal romantic relationship. Both partners are usually attentive to each other, giving frequent assurance and positive strokes. And, they are usually quick to do things for the other.

If not, things are off to a bad start, already.

After a while, the victim has been conditioned to positive reinforcement (remember, people who are more susceptible to manipulation often have low self esteem and are often people pleasers). Hey, and we all like positive reinforcement and affirmation that we are special to someone.

Now, the manipulator usually starts to reduce the positive strokes.

Around this time, the manipulator will also start throwing in some actions to confuse their partner. They will start to smile less and may look bored with the victim. A common tactic is to walk around the house with a frown, making their ‘partner’ feel anxious as to what they might have done. Asking the manipulator will usually get the victim a ‘nothing is the matter…Why?’

The whole point is to confuse the victim and make them anxious.

The victim is now entering the uncertain phase, often things seem to be going well, but now and then, they seem to have started on a roller coaster ride of uncertainty. The stress levels have started to build.

The bait is placed in the trap.

Around this stage, the manipulator often baits the trap. A direct or veiled offer of a substantial reward is made. At work, it could be the potential for promotion or a permanent job. It might be the offer of sex in some relationships, or perhaps the possibility of marriage.

Many men will be familiar with the- come here, go away, come here, go away, come here, go away women that keep them dancing. Similarly, many women have danced to the potential lure of a marriage for years. The reverse of these roles also occur.

And everyone is susceptible to the carrot of higher pay and promotions at work.

The promise of the big reward usually brings renewed effort and enthusiasm. And a renewed belief in the relationship or career in the mind of the victim.

The manipulator can use the big carrot and the big stick now. A hinted threat of withdrawal of the ‘prize’ is occasionally used to bring increased pressure on the victim, to keep them uncertain and compliant.

Now, the victim’s stress levels have increased further. They are uncertain of their relationship and future. The harder they work in their job or relationship, the fewer and fewer rewards they seem to get.

Creating compulsive behavior

By now, the manipulator is well on the way to having the victim well and truly tangled in their strings. The daily grind of manipulation, and the stress and uncertainty in the victim, prevents them from stepping back and seeing the big picture of what is happening to them.

Outside observers will often (but not always) see marked differences in the personality of the victim when they are in the presence of the manipulator, to when they are in a more normal relationship.

However, this is not a clear indicator. Mostly, the manipulator will modify their behavior when others are around, so that the relationship appears more balanced. The victim may not even realize why they are often happier when they are in other company.

Manipulators usually have a fine sense for their victim’s emotional state. If it starts to rise for too long, they will dampen it down. Constantly yo-yoing their victim’s emotions.

By now, the victim may be conditioned by intermittent and random threats and rewards. These are given without any clear link to the victim’s behavior. This type of treatment can create a state of compulsive behavior in the victim.

Scientists have discovered that humans (and animals) can develop compulsive behaviors when they get infrequent and random rewards or threats.

When there is a clear link between an action and a reward, a person usually stops that action quickly, once the reward stops. But, when frequent and consistent rewards for an action is changed slowly to infrequent and random rewards, people often keep the activity going long after they received their last reward.

Another variation for creating compulsive behavior in victims is to use intermittent and often random negative strokes. Yelling, nagging and abuse are common. When the victim is sensitive, and is uncertain what leads to this behavior from their ‘partner’, they walk on eggshells.

Slowly, through intermittent and random use of small positive and negative strokes, and more infrequent use of the big stick and carrot, the manipulator destroys more and more of their partner’s sense of self. And the victim becomes more and more stressed. Without realizing, they are often caught in compulsive behaviors that they would think odd if they saw it being done by others.


We are all prone to manipulation to some degree, but some much more so than others.

If you are prone to manipulation, the first step to breaking free is to recognize the signs of manipulation in others.

The second step is to begin to understand what makes you susceptible to manipulation.

The third step is to start to understand what is being done to you. Such as, using the intermittent random carrot and stick treatment to confuse, disorient and stress you.

The fourth step will be to learn resistance strategies.