Do this and your relationships will work 10 times better

Relating without manipulating

All of us want better relationships. For many of us, addiction has created walls of distrust and isolation. Many of us struggle with codependence, which creates stress, confusion, and resentment in our relationships.

Addiction isolates, and community (friendship, love, intimacy) heals us. But we have to learn how to relate in healthy ways, so that we can build friendship, love, and intimacy. Our addiction and codependent relationships are evidence of the fact that this doesn’t come naturally to us. We have to learn.

If we can learn this one thing, it will make our relationships work 10 times better: relate honestly, no manipulation. When we are manipulative with others, we create distrust and resentment. If we are skilled manipulators, we can be so subtle that it’s hard for people to tell that we’re being manipulative. But that doesn’t matter: if we are subtly manipulative, it just means that people will be subtly resistant, and over time we’ll notice them pulling away from us. They may not even be able to articulate why they are pulling away … they just don’t like being around us.

How do we manipulate? Besides manipulation through outright lying, here are some key strategies of manipulation. Be honest with yourself – do you do any of these?

  1. Being passive-aggressive is a means of punishing people when they displease us without acknowledging that (a) we are displeased, or (b) that we are punishing them. It is a way of relating that does not admit our displeasure with someone, and therefore creates confusion and consternation in the people around us. They know they’ve done something that bothers us, but are not sure what.
  2. Unspoken guidance is another way we try to manipulate other peoples’ behavior. In this case, we are trying to get them to do more of the things we like. To accomplish this, we do things that seem kind and sweet, but aren’t done out of the goodness of our heart. We are doing the things we do as a way of getting others to respond to us in a certain way.
  3. Sulking is a means of letting others know we are displeased and forcing them to attempt to win back our approval. Note that we aren’t telling them that we’re displeased, or why … we are expecting them to intuit this, and then go out of their way to be nice or apologetic to us.
  4. Flattery is a false expression of approval that we don’t really feel – giving others good strokes for our own purpose. We want them to feel something towards us, or do something for us … so we offer insincere praise.
  5. Withholding deserved praise is another manipulation strategy. It is a means of putting others down without overtly saying anything unkind. We seek to “bring others down” by refusing to encourage or affirm something that legitimately deserves to be affirmed or encouraged. Usually we do this because of jealousy or resentment.

Manipulative behavior is almost always selfish behavior. It is usually a false means of trying to get our own way. It is an immature and unhealthy way of dealing with people and situations — and it often backfires because people sense the manipulation and resent it.

Never forget this: We don’t have the right or the responsibility to control or regulate other people. If we want to influence another’s actions, our best approach is simply to state our own desires/needs with sincerity and honesty. Others must be free to act, free to choose, and free to make their own decisions without manipulative interference on our part.

The best way to avoid being manipulative is to do two things:

(1) Do whatever we need to stay in touch with our own emotions and needs. We can’t deal with our emotions and needs if we don’t understand what they are.

(2) Find ways of honestly expressing those emotions and needs. There will be times when emotional triggers highjack us, or busy schedules overwhelm and cause us to shut down. When that happens, we will need to step back, quiet ourselves, and possibly meditate or journal to get back in touch with our souls.

This might sound like a lot of work, and it is at first. But it does get easier over time, and the rewards are tremendous. The rewards are serenity, intimacy, and recovery.

* This is a remix of a meditation by Mel B, published in “Walk in Dry Places” by Hazelden Publishing. I took some of Mel’s ideas and mixed them with my own, rewording, adding things, and taking other things out. My sense is that what separates written “remixing” like I’m doing here and plagiarism is that I’m acknowledging my debt to the source.

What do you think? Do you find other ways people are manipulative in relationships? Do you think this impacts recovery?

4 thoughts on “Do this and your relationships will work 10 times better”

  1. Thanks for the solid article, Mark. Great reminders for the critical need to remain awake to my own heart, feelings and needs. Since my wife and I have regularly implemented a communication tool you are familiar with, FANOS, it has forced me own my feelings and express my wants and needs to her so that I don’t end up taking the subtle, destructive path you are referring to in this article. You are right, the healthy road does not come naturally…but intentionally following it yields rewarding results.

  2. Hi Mark, loved this article. You are so succinct and to the point and the list of behaviors is right on. I’ve referred to this article on my blog in the hope that more people will read it. Definitely something every addict should read! Thanks so much for such a thoughtful piece.

    1. Catherine,
      Thanks for the feedback! It’s true that relationships are where recovery can often be tested. Learning to let go of our attempts to manipulate and control is hard, but essential! It’s great to hear from you … keep up the good work you are doing with your coaching!

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