Ask the Married Girl #5: Is Manipulation OK?

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  • May 19, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Is manipulation ever OK?
I often hear people talk about ex-s that were manipulative, or “played mind games” or “acted crazy”.  In fact, just yesterday on the radio I heard someone ask the talk show host if it was OK for them to open a new savings account and not tell their spouse about it or the money they put into because they were afraid the person would demand to be a joint account holder and then spend all the money in the account.  The host said “No.”  And the caller was upset because they didn’t want to have to ask their husband to change because he has never acquiesced to her past requests.
I know I don’t like it when people behave like this, and I suspect that no one does, so why then do people continue to try to trick each other into doing what they want?  Why don’t they just talk to the person and ask them to change their behavior?  My guess is that the manipulator is fearful of being rejected or getting into an argument so instead of acting like an adult, they resort to trying to guide their loved one’s behavior by controlling the environment, aka “playing games.”
More often than not the person that gets ‘tricked” ends up feeling betrayed, violated, and/or distrustful.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my loved one’s to feel this way, particularly by my own doing.  So, this week’s question is “Is manipulating your significant other OK, if it benefits the relationship?”
No.  No and uh…No.  In my opinion it is never OK to purposefully manipulate the people you love, even if you believe it to be in their best interest.  If this is what you want to do then you need to step back and examine your own behavior and thoughts.  Why are you scared of confronting them?  Are you scared that they are going to reject your request?  Are you scared they won’t like you anymore?  Are you scared that they are going to start yelling at you and you’ll wind up in a fight?
There are many ways this sort of conversation could turn out and one of them is for the person to just simply say, “Ok.  I’ll try my best to work on this.”  Why are you assuming that this is not the option that will happen?  And even if it doesn’t, why does that bother you so much?  Are you sure you want to be with someone that you have to manipulate?
Personally, I would rather be single than be with someone that I have to “trick” into doing something.  It is way too much effort on my part to have to manipulate everything and it is way too inconsiderate on their part for them to just auto-reject every request I make.  This is clearly not the sign of a healthy relationship and I don’t want any part of another dysfunctional relationship; I have enough of those with family, school, work, friendships etc. I don’t need my love relationship to be dysfunctional too.
So, are there relationships where people can ask each other to stop (or start) doing something without the other person freaking out?  Yes and no.  Obviously when someone tells you that they want you to change, your feelings are going to get at least a little hurt.  This hurt is totally normal and is the “no” part of the answer.  The “yes” comes in with how you react to the request.  Remember, how you react is going to shape future communication in your relationship.  If you freak out, or break down your significant other, isn’t likely to bring up future issues; so how do you get thought this?
This is easy, though it doesn’t always seem it, even though you are hurt try to take it like an adult and then ask them, calmly, why it bothers them.  If you can get to the place where you understand where they are coming from then changing your behavior becomes a lot more tolerable.  On the flip side, if you are the asking for the change, make sure that the person knows that understands that it is not a personal attack, it’s simply a request.
As an example, my husband and I (many, many moons ago) asked each other to list the one most annoying habit we each had.  Mine, I leave wet towels on the corner of the bed, basically just because I’m focused on getting ready and don’t think about putting the towel up after I have finished drying my hair.  His is that he forgets to close cabinet door and drawers when he’s done retrieving items.  We then agreed to try to stop doing these things.  This does not mean that we never slip up; it just means that we try our best not to do them.  At first it was a little weird (OK, a lot weird) to talk about what we don’t like about each other, but all the awkwardness was worth it because now we can communicate more honestly and we try not to do the little things that bother each other.
I hope this helps you to crystallize your own thoughts on this, and hopefully your current and future relationships will benefit.  Thanks for reading!

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