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My Son’s Girlfriend is Manipulative – What Can I do?

As parents, we hope that our children will always somehow be protected from the worst things in life. We hope that we have raised children to already understand the consequences of the mistakes we’ve been through as parents over the years.

Until one day it hits us…we can’t shield our child from everything, wait, we can’t even shield our kid from most things. And when that fact hits us, we realize that our little baby bird who was once kept so snugly under our wing – has grown up.

With growing up comes manhood, and with manhood comes all things adulthood like girlfriends, complicated job situations, the ways of the world. We figure out as time goes on that we just can’t shield our child from the lesser thing’s that happen in life regardless of how much we would like to.

So that toxic relationship you’ve watched your adult son work his way into, with a manipulative girlfriend – yep – even something as saddening as that you may not be able to protect your son from.

So what can you do instead?

In this article

What is Manipulation in A Relationship?

It’s considered manipulation in a relationship when a deep imbalance around control occurs in any relationship. Manipulation can happen in any type of relationship – whether it be: friendships, spouse, colleague, or even a parent-child relationship.

Because any kind of relationship is at stake for being a victim of manipulation, it’s important to know that the symptoms will not look the same on every couple who wears the suit.

Individual personalities and tendencies will all play a role in how the manipulation looks from the outside and/or is observed internally by either party involved.

An imbalance of control can take root in many forms, and generally has a lot to do with how the manipulator can control their specific victim. That said, it takes two to tango.

There cannot be a manipulator without a victim. Even when the manipulator is obviously to blame – the victim still plays a significant role in the situation.

In society, people will persuade or influence other people in a healthy manner to get what they need

In common like people will naturally influence or persuade others in a healthy manner to get what they need, this helps people get through life productively (getting a job..etc..).

Influencing others is a good thing, that helps people evolve and survive life in modern society – there becomes an imbalance in influence – which turns into manipulation when a person objectively controls another person for their desired outcome.

If someone has to result to control for their own betterment it ultimately means the cards are skewed for the person doing the persuading, and they have a problem.

Manipulation is unhealthy for every party involved, but the only person likely to feel bad about what’s happening is the victim.

In a manipulative relationship, the manipulator will target their victim, and manipulate them to perform certain tasks or feel a certain way emotionally to get their way or cause the victim to do what they want them to.

The reason that manipulation is a problem is due to the fact that manipulating anyone in an unhealthy or demeaning manner can affect one’s self-esteem, physical health, and even social life.

There are two main kinds of manipulation in relationships

Not all manipulation is the same, and there can be one or two different types of manipulation happening all at once. Most commonly seen are emotional and psychological manipulation – each of which is equally detrimental to a person’s life and self-esteem.

Psychological manipulation is when a manipulator aims to alter their victim’s perception or belief system through social influence – this is usually done in a deceptive manner causing harm to the way that one sees the world or society.

Manipulation to the psyche of an individual can happen when someone uses dishonest tactics to disrupt their thinking patterns, way of life, or long-held beliefs. Bullying is included in psychological abuse and can break down a person’s mental agility over time.

Emotional manipulation is when the manipulator tries to gain power over the victim and employs dishonest tactics to do so

You may not know emotional abuse when you see it, it can be repulsive, cruel, and extremely hurtful to the victim – though it can be done in subtle ways that aren’t noticeably abusive at first.

Relationships that fall victim to emotional abuse may look sad to people outside of the relationship as it may be obvious that harmful things are being said about or directly to the victim. – yet it’s confusing where exactly the abuse is coming from.

Common symptoms of emotional manipulation can include things like;

Passive-aggressive behavior

Passive-aggressive behavior can feel like there is a disconnect between what is said and what is actually done by one who exhibits this type of behavior.

When a person turns passive-aggressive they may act like they’re interested in an event or project, and then find ways to manipulate it negatively.

In reality, the manipulator may see problems in the project plan but has a big problem expressing this openly.

When the problems are not expressed openly, this is when things turn sour for the manipulator, because they hold their feelings in expressing them in manipulative ways toward the people involved or the project itself.


Another form of manipulation in relationships is called distortion or gaslighting, which is when a manipulator distorts their victim’s view of a certain situation or even themselves.

Gaslighting is when someone distorts another person’s view of themselves or a situation – causing significant self-doubt – making it difficult for the victim to trust themselves.

People who gaslight will sometimes tell real lies about certain situations, in an attempt to make their victims see the situation in the way they want them to.

This form of emotional abuse generally happens so that the manipulator can gain control over situations or so they can use the victim for materialistical advances.

Guilt and sympathy

Emotionally manipulative people will act as though they are a victim to undue sins – they will do this in order to win the sympathy of their victim. By saying that this or that was done to them, makes it ideal for them where their victim feels bad for what they’ve been through.

When a manipulator succeeds at making his victim feel sorry for themself – it ultimately controls the relationship. Being a victim in their victim’s eye makes it possible for the manipulator to gain things from their victims such as money or emotional rhetoric.

Even when there is no monetary gain involved – some manipulators will result in sympathy as a tactic for their own selfish emotional uplifting they are seeking from their victim.

This happens all too often, and this is the most common form of manipulation since it doesn’t always involve materialistic items, rather it involves intense emotions which anyone is capable of falling victim to.


Another very common form of emotional manipulation is the silent treatment – emotional manipulators of this kind will withhold affection(if you’re in a romantic relationship with them) or they will ignore you.

This kind of treatment from someone you expect open communication and honesty from can leave you feeling sad and alone. Victims of this type of emotionally manipulative behavior called withdrawal can feel lost and lonely.

It’s important that they do not lose sight of healthy behavior with other people, though it is not uncommon for victims to question their own identity due to the withdrawal they have experienced from their manipulator.


Some manipulators will make comparisons with certain people or objectives, directly to their victim in order to persuade them to do a certain thing or feel a certain way. This is called the comparison and its emotional manipulation.

People are free to be whoever they’d like to be, and when a manipulator tries to indicate a problem with that freedom, is when a problem presents itself. Comparing a person to someone else is meant to belittle and put down the person when done in a negative manner.

Oftentimes this can be overlooked for ‘trying to encourage(harshly)’ by victims because they want to wish the best for their situation when in reality this is not what is actually happening.

It’s quite easy for a manipulator to gain pleasure from seeing their victims suffer through hurtful comparisons, most victims just want to be loved, therefore putting up with the emotional abuse from their manipulator.

Believe it or not, love bombing is a form of manipulation and too much affection is emotional manipulation

When you first meet someone in a healthy relationship it usually takes a few weeks to a few months for someone to begin opening up to you. This is the opposite of an emotionally manipulative ‘relationship’ tactic called love-bombing.

Love bombing is when a person over showers their chosen prey in order to bind the relationship in a vulnerable manner.

When this type of illusional closeness exists – it generally only results in the victim being hurt and betrayed after the manipulator is done using them for what they need.

How long does it take for a manipulative relationship to evolve?

Manipulative relationships usually happen over a long period of time, not quickly like one may think.

That’s why it’s so hard in the end for a victim to believe they have been tricked into a manipulative relationship – after they form a relationship with their manipulator.

Manipulative relationships can take many months to as long as a few years to be recognized, even though the behavior probably started long before the victim or anyone else realizes what is happening.

Manipulation in relationships evolves over a long period of time to become worse and worse.

So, it may start with a manipulator exploiting their victim’s weaknesses here and there and controlling them in subtle ways to the manipulator controlling their victim’s every move and thought process several years in.

Roles played in a manipulative relationship include

In a manipulative relationship there are usually two roles that need to be filled in order to create the right dynamic for this kind of toxic relationship to thrive; a manipulator and the victim. Each role has key ways of contributing to the relationship.

Even though the manipulator is to blame, the victim usually has a certain set of characteristics that contribute to the manipulation taking place. A manipulative relationship takes two, in other words.

Manipulation in relationships is a lot more common than people may think

According to manipulation happens in a lot more relationships than people realize. Some people may have a hard time recognizing or accepting the ways in which they contribute to their manipulative relationship – thus making it difficult to spot.

There is even a triangle called the Karpman Triangle often referred to in therapy in regards to manipulation – the Karpman Triangle presents that there are really three roles in a manipulative relationship; the victim, the prosecutor, and the rescuer.

All three roles represent key components that make the manipulative relationship takeover what could have otherwise been a healthy relationship.

This doesn’t mean that there are three people involved in a manipulative relationship. It means that two people are able to jump around between the three roles fulfilling a cycle of drama and chaos between them.

Once you understand the dynamics of a manipulative relationship you can better help your son in recognizing the role he is contributing in the relationship, and see if he would like to change it ultimately.

What is the purpose of the roles in a manipulative relationship?

To keep the drama, resentment, and power in the play, of course, a manipulative relationship is like a game. Believe it or not, some people like to play the manipulation game, even if they don’t like it part of the time.

It can be tricky to work someone out of a manipulative relationship because it isn’t right up in their face as unhealthy, the manipulation occurs in a variety of ways from subtle to obvious.

Some people are only familiar with manipulative relationships throughout their lives

Sadly, some people are raised in a manipulative household where their parents, siblings, or friends have manipulated them throughout their childhood and teenage years.

These types of bonds with manipulative people can carry over into adulthood romantic relationships. If your son has already been a victim of manipulation in the past, it might be the reason he is caught up in a manipulative relationship right now.

If this isn’t the first manipulative relationship your son has been in, more extensive measures to change his lifestyle habits might be a good idea; cognitive therapy is a good idea for victims of manipulation who can’t seem to scout out a healthy relationship.

Manipulation creates problems rather than solutions

The unhealthy and ongoing game called manipulation is exactly that to a perpetrator, a game.

Which is the exact reason manipulators use it to their advantage in relationships, invoking confusion, sadness, and an overwhelming fear of abandonment in their partner is the name of the game.

A manipulator knows exactly what they are doing in a sense, although it does come naturally for people who have these tendencies.

In the mind of a manipulator, they feel a sense of power and satisfaction each time they gain more control, in which they seek to continue regaining over their partners.

Manipulators will create more problems than they do solutions with their partners, they won’t seek to calm or de-escalate a negative situation. instead, they will amplify it in subtle or obvious ways.

There are generally 10 types of behavior exhibited by emotional manipulators

The personality of the manipulator absolutely comes into play in their manipulation habits, there is no one size fits all when it comes to manipulators. This is yet another reason why a manipulator is so difficult to spot.

While one manipulator may blow up in a situation presenting anger, another type of emotional manipulator may become closed off using the silent treatment as their tactic to gain control.

People who claim they are constantly victims are often manipulators too

People who use situations to claim they themselves are the victims are usually manipulators themselves. This type of emotional manipulator knows just how to turn the situation at hand to their favor, in order to prove they are a victim to everyone else.

They don’t care if it creates drama and conflict or overrules another person’s healing process, they thrive on making everyone else feel bad for them.

A one-upmanship manipulator knows exactly how to tear others down to build themselves up

Manipulators who use one-upmanship as a tactic for controlling their victims know exactly what to do to tear other people down; putdowns, accusations, belittling.

This kind of manipulator has no mercy or guilt when it comes to making other people feel bad about themselves or other people.

You can spot one-upmanship manipulators if they are constantly speaking on your flaws and never your improvements – we all make mistakes sometimes and manipulators of such use your mistakes against you when possible.

There might also be flat-out lies that come from a one-upmanship manipulator, they will go to every extent to belittle their victims.

Some people will ask you not to let them down and become overly dependent which turns out to be manipulation

This type of manipulation happens so subtly because no one notices until big moves have taken place that makes it hard to simply remove this person from your life.

Often this kind of manipulation happens through methods of gaining an upper hand through being dependent on another person.

You might see this type of person acting like they can’t handle life themselves, feeding off of other people in their lives. They act like they are helpless without the person in their life they become dependent on, their victim.

Another form of emotional manipulation is called emotional triangulation

Portrait of sad alone depressed mature woman

In emotional triangulation, a person will pretend like they are undergoing being victimized by someone to their own personal victim.

Even though this is not the case, they may make up lies about people in their life saying that they are doing or saying bad things to them.

Triangulators will pretend like they need the help of their victim and make them feel very special for being by their side. Though, it is far from the truth it is a way to get their victim to remain under their control.

Good people will naturally want to help someone in need, so when a triangulator spots an easy target they convince them to get closer and closer by thanking them for being there for them through a difficult time.

When this kind of manipulation happens, the manipulator will take it as far as telling their victim the same people are saying or doing bad things about their victim too. In the end it turns everyone against each other!

People who blast out in anger and unnecessary arguments are manipulators too

Every once in a while we all get upset and feel the urge to raise our voice, when it comes to an emotional abuser whose tactic is to blast another person it happens much too often.

They go off the rails at the slightest confrontation and they do it to make other people leave them alone.

Having a confrontation with another person is sometimes embarrassing, scary, and even shameful for a healthy person – a blaster avoids these confrontations at all costs by jumping straight to anger.

This is their way of making it near impossible for people to confront them(even in healthy matters).

Relationships require a healthy dose of boundaries and sometimes confrontations while two people get to know each other – if a relationship cannot have this – the power will be in the hands of the manipulator.

A projector is an emotional manipulator who doesn’t have any issues but everyone else does, they blame everyone else

In the mind of a projector they see their problems, except for one thing… they see them in everyone else, not themselves. He does this wrong, you did this and not this, and you are the problem – are all things you may hear a projector say in action.

They aim to convince people how big of problems they have, which takes the heat off of themselves. This is highly convenient in the end for the manipulator, this is their way of getting out of being looked down upon.

A projector will address the issues “they see other people have” and no one can ever really get through to them, since, everyone else is the issue after all.

Unfortunately, this is one type of manipulation that is very hard to change, because the manipulator cannot see clearly what is happening.

Another form of manipulation happens in the form of intentional misinterpretation

When a person has a habit of misconstruing the information that someone offers them, everyone becomes frustrated. This can lead to many negative outcomes since the manipulator can relay false information to other people and so on.

They seem to be quite nice and presentable, only to be someone causing chaos through misinformation. If not caught right away, this kind of behavior can go on for months or even years.

It can ruin friendships and family relationships if a manipulator spreads false information about their victim to the immediate family.

An extra flirtatious manipulator is one to avoid at all costs

There are many people out there who flirt with others on the basis of kindness and connection, and then there are people who have plans along with their flirtatious ways.

Flirty manipulators will do everything they can to flirt in order to obtain materialistic or intuitive power over an individual.

This behavior can be incredibly deceptive to the victim who simply believes the person is flirting because they’re attracted to them. Perpetrators who aim to get what they want through flirt-manipulation can be slightly aggressive in their ways.

If they don’t get what they want, they can belittle you into thinking you aren’t good enough, or, conversely, a flirty emotional manipulator will overly praise someone for getting what they want.

Manipulators who demand, yell, and intimidate other people they need things from are called iron fist manipulators

Have you ever walked into a restaurant or coffee shop and witnessed a person yelling at the employee demanding they get what they want or else.

With accusations flying off the wall to intimidate the employee into acting in their favor. This scenario is a form of iron fist manipulation. These behaviors are to get what they want, now!

If you know someone in this kind of situation it can be frightening to witness them being yelled at, threatened, and intimidated into giving their manipulator what they want from them.

Victims in this situation end up belittled and afraid of what their manipulator may do next. Oftentimes threats are thrown around like candy on Halloween from the manipulator’s mouth, and victims usually don’t like confrontation at all.

Ultimately, the manipulator in this scenario usually gets what they are demanding, to calm the situation the victim does what is needed to please the person demanding to be in control of the situation.

Lastly, there are manipulators who don’t have only one technique that they use rather they use a combination of many

If someone is victim to a manipulator who uses many styles of manipulative tactics, it can be rather difficult to key into their games.

It doesn’t exactly stand out as they are this way or that way, but the victim to this kind of manipulator generally feels poorly in many aspects when they encounter their manipulator.

It’s already hard enough to spot a manipulator who has one way of employing manipulation on others, then add in a combination of manipulative behaviors in the mix and it can be near impossible.

Irrational and unreasonable are multiple offender manipulators, they just seem to make everyone around them walk on eggshells and feel bad about themselves.

You may feel as though you don’t know what is going to come up next when around this type of emotional manipulator.

So what should you do after you have tuned into what type of manipulation your son’s girlfriend uses in their relationship?

When you finally realize that your son, who you love and care for is in a manipulative relationship it might be hard to hold back your thoughts and concerns to him in private.

You may want to shout at the top of your lungs for this cruel world to not hurt your (once)baby ever again.

This is the kind of thing that we parents want to avoid at all costs if possible, and your son is right in the thick of a manipulative relationship. Well, you’re already here and there are a few healthy ways to handle this kind of situation.

Find a good time to talk with your son alone before you confront both of them together

You might think that it’s a good idea to confront your son’s girlfriend even before you mention the problems you see to your son…but…that is far from a decent approach.

Adult children become super protective over their partners, especially if they’re under attack by their parents specifically.

Even if your son hasn’t been in the relationship for very long, confronting your son’s girlfriend before mentioning this to your son alone might be the reason your son gets upset with you personally.

It’s sort of like a good parenting code to approach your son about problems you may have with his girlfriend before you tell her. It might even be resolved before you have to talk to his girlfriend yourself (wouldn’t that be nice?).

So, before you build up so much emotion and frustration behind the issue at hand, toward your son’s girlfriend specifically, you need to take action.

Write a letter to your son or ask him to meet with you to speak about the way his girlfriend treats him

Ask your son if he’s willing to talk with you about something very important regarding his relationship with his girlfriend – you might find it easier to be straightforward about the topic you’ll be discussing.

A phone call asking this is probably best, that way his girlfriend doesn’t see a text message and thinks the two of you are talking bad behind her back. You don’t know how his girlfriend will react if she thinks you’re out to get her, and that can be easily assumed by a manipulative individual.

Aim to help your son open up to you in a conversation with you about how he feels about the situation

Your son being able to open up to you about the way he feels in his relationship is a key aspect to resolving the issues at large. The way that your son feels will need to be greatly considered as you navigate this type of situation.

You want your son to feel that you are their side, that’s right, your son and his girlfriend as a unit. If your son senses that you are trying to tear apart or hurt his relationship with his girlfriend it could jeopardize the connection you have to help him out of being manipulated.

Ask your son how he feels about his girlfriend to get a sense of how he views his connection to her

Mature Parents Frustrated With Adult Son

If your son is deeply in love with his girlfriend, you will need to be their biggest cheerleader through this. He will feel whether you want the absolute best for their relationship out of being a loving parent or if you are trying to get him to break up with his girlfriend.

Remember, that all relationships have issues, and it is quite possible that your son and his girlfriend could resolve their problems through the appropriate measures and huge effort

If your son happens to already be trying to work his way out of his relationship with his girlfriend, then that will be good information for you to know too. How your son feels about his girlfriend will allow you to know your stance on how to better support him through this time in his life.

Gone are the days where you could swoop your son up and tell him to not play with a bad influence he is an adult now

There once was a time when you could simply tell your son that he isn’t allowed to play with friends that you felt were obviously bad influences on him. At this point in his life, he has a relationship with his girlfriend, which he chose, you can’t just tell him to stop seeing her.

If he wants out of this relationship you can be there to support him to the fullest extent – but if he wants to stay with his manipulative girlfriend and work through this phase with her – he has every right to.

As much as you wish you could snap your fingers and your son wouldn’t be a victim to manipulation, you can’t do that. It’s your time to use all of your good supportive energy to help him make this relationship healthy or move out of the relationship in one piece.

Tell your son how you feel about him being manipulated and ask him if he senses his girlfriend manipulates him too

You can ask your son questions in your conversation that gets him to open up to whether he feels he is being manipulated or not.

It is possible that your son completely enjoys his relationship the way it is, and as long as there are no direct threats toward his life or his well-being you’ll have to be okay with him settling for his girlfriend the way she is.

The following questions are good to ask a victim of manipulation:

  • Do you feel when your girlfriend does this or that it is warranted?
  • Son, does your relationship make you feel happy and vibrant?
  • Have you ever felt that your girlfriend shouldn’t do this or that to you?
  • Would you like me to offer you some information to read about manipulation?
  • I care about you and don’t want you to be in an unhealthy relationship
  • Do you feel that there is unhealthy communication about the way you honestly feel when you talk to your girlfriend?
  • Do you feel like your girlfriend’s needs take precedence over your own?

To be frank, leaving a manipulative relationship might be easier for your son than shifting the foundation they already have built

I Don't Want a Baby But My Husband Does

Changing the behaviors of a manipulative person is quite difficult – in fact – many psychologists and even people who have been through these types of relationships say leaving is easier.

The reason being is in the amount of energy the manipulator has already put into making the relationship the way it is – to better their own agenda.

To get a manipulative person to truly change their behavior takes great personal reflection, humility, and understanding on their part.

A master manipulator is so deep in their beliefs it may be really hard to get them to even admit they have an issue in their behavior – better yet see the problem.

Many manipulators will simply move onto the next victim when they realize they can’t get any more out of their current victim. It may change the entire dynamic of your son and his girlfriend’s relationship once he brings the problems of manipulation to her attention.

She could react so poorly to being called out, that she becomes irate and her manipulative behavior could worsen in an attempt to get your son to ‘get back on her side’.

Depending on how bad the manipulation in their relationship truly is your son may need help escaping

Believe it or not, many people have a very difficult time leaving manipulative relationships. Manipulators are actually quite charming a lot of the time, and their manipulative behavior is like the elephant in the room.

Forgiveness may even be asked for after a slew of their manipulative tactics are noticed by their victim.

People who love to manipulate usually rationalize their behavior for certain reasons – making it even harder for their victim to take the situation seriously and walk away. If your son has made the decision with you to leave his girlfriend, here’s what you two can plan for.

No longer allow the manipulator to have the power they are seeking

A manipulation is a form of power in the long run, and if this power is not given then the manipulation can no longer affect the victim negatively. Ask your son to start to break the cycle by no longer allowing your son to let his girlfriend have power over him.

If his girlfriend exhibits manipulative behaviors, tell your son to continue his day, as hard as it may be, and to not let her bring him down. Re-establishing his power in the relationship will help him regain a sense of clarity about what is happening in his life.

A greater sense of clarity will allow your son to feel what it’s like to live a healthy version of his life again

Sometimes we all need to be reminded of what it feels like to lead a healthy life, when we’re caught up in an unhealthy version of living we forget what good feels like.

Let your son know that as he puts more distance between himself and his girlfriend he will start to feel what a healthy life entails.

Reassure your son that we have all been in difficult relationships and breaking up is never easy

The best thing that you can do as a parent who is helping your son out of their relationship is to remind them that you too have been in an unhealthy relationship. Let him know that you understand how difficult a break-up can be, and sometimes we can’t avoid it.

Helping your son not feel alone in this will help him feel stronger through his breakup. It can be really hard to leave an unhealthy relationship when you feel that you don’t have anyone on your side to help you through it.

Boundaries are key to breaking off manipulative behavior

When you’re formulating a plan with your son to eliminate the manipulative behavior happening toward your son, let your son know that creating boundaries will help inhibit the behavior of his girlfriend.

Take a look at the personality that your son has and the ability he has to communicate the way he feels to other people. Boundaries can look different on introverts than they do on extroverts, is your son outspoken or quiet?

Boundaries set by an introverted person can look like the following:

  • Creating space for the manipulator when the behaviors take place.
  • Asking the manipulator to have a mature sit-down conversation about what’s happening in the relationship.
  • Writing a letter or note to the manipulator about how the behavior makes him feel.
  • Leaving the house or area when manipulation occurs.

Setting boundaries for an extroverted person can look like this:

  • Saying out loud when the manipulation occurs “Don’t do that to me”
  • “I am not going to settle for this kind of behavior”
  • “You know this is manipulation and I don’t like this kind of behavior, can you please stop”
  • Leaving the area or house when manipulation happens, and stating why they are leaving.

In Conclusion

Manipulation is sad in reality and those going through a manipulative relationship shouldn’t have to go through what they do. Manipulation can occur may it be a from subtle manipulation tactics to outburst of anger and heated arguments.

A manipulator usually won’t stop their behavior, and once your son recognizes he is going through a manipulative relationship he can start to move toward a healthier way of living. Your son’s girlfriend may or may not be willing or able to change.

Regardless of your son’s girlfriend can change or not, your son needs to be instilled with strength and clarity about his situation. You can offer sound advice from an outsider’s perspective and a supportive friend to your son in a time of need.

If it takes longer than expected for your son to get out of a tricky relationship or change it, don’t stress, be patient, and good always prevails.


Psychological Manipulation

Manipulation in Relationships


How to Escape A Master Manipulator