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5 Signs of Mind Games in Relationships

What are mind games in a relationship? Power struggles can be difficult to recognize because they’re subtle and almost imperceptible – and sometimes the person playing the mind games doesn’t even realize he or she is doing it. Passive aggressiveness, for example, is a common form of mind games. So is playing the martyr.

How do you know if someone is playing mind games with you? These signs and examples of mind games in a relationship will help you recognize unhealthy patterns. In this article I focus on love relationships; I’m writing in response to a female reader’s question about her boyfriend’s behavior. Both men and women play mind games in relationships, but I’m answering a girlfriend’s question about her boyfriend’s mind games. My thoughts will help you see your own boyfriend’s or husband’s words and behavior more clearly.

My reader thinks her boyfriend is playing mind games in their relationship. She also thinks he’s being emotionally and verbally abusive – and I think she’s right. This is her story, plus a few signs and examples of mind games in love relationships.

The tricky part of recognizing power struggles and mind games in your relationship is that you’re emotionally involved! You love him, you want to be happy together, and you aren’t sure how to handle emotional control and manipulation. This is why some couples see a relationship therapist or marriage counselor. The objective perspective is valuable – especially when you can’t see clearly because you’re in love.

Here’s her comment:

“My boyfriend and I have been together for 4 months and he lost his job in the second month of us dating,” says Shanna in response to What to Do When Your Boyfriend Asks to Borrow Money. “He is always asking me for money, and now I realize it’s becoming a pattern. He asked his mom to take a loan for him, and she said no. He didn’t talk to her for a week. Then he asked me. When I say I don’t have money and I can’t get into debt that I can’t afford to pay, he sulks. He asks what kind of girlfriend I am and he gives me the silent treatment for a day or sometimes two. Then he says stuff like what kind of partner or wife will I be in the future. He also says the money is for both of us because it’ll help me too. I feel uncomfortable with this because he isn’t financially disciplined. Is he playing mind games or is this emotionally abusive?”

It’s both! Mind games are emotionally unhealthy or even abusive ways to communicate. A more serious form of mind games are “power struggles”, which are underhanded, subtle attempts to control and manipulate women in relationships. Of course, women play mind games in relationships, too…but this article is to help women recognize the signs of mind games in a relationship with a man they love.

5 Signs of Mind Games and Power Struggles in Relationships

How do you know if your boyfriend or husband is playing mind games with you? The first sign is your own intuition. Why do you suspect your boyfriend isn’t being honest, forthright, or authentic? If you have a feeling something is “off”, trust your feelings. Trust yourself.

Remember that people sometimes don’t even realize they’re “playing mind games.” They learned ways of communicating and relating that aren’t healthy – and they may even have grown up seeing power games in their parents’ relationship. Your boyfriend or husband may not deliberately be trying to control or manipulate you…he may simple have developed unhealthy or even abusive ways to respond to loved ones.

1. Your boyfriend or husband had a difficult or abusive childhood

If he grew up in an unhealthy home, he may not have learned healthy ways to communicate in love relationships. A difficult childhood doesn’t automatically mean your boyfriend plays mind games, but it does mean he isn’t naturally equipped with healthy tools for communication. That said, however, some people who experienced difficult childhoods wouldn’t consider playing mind games in relationships. And, some people who had healthy, happy childhoods often engage in surprisingly devious mind games!

Mind Games in a Relationship
How to Recognize Mind Games in a Relationship

A difficult childhood is a possible red flag, that’s all. Our past experiences – things we don’t even consciously remember – have a huge effect on who we are today. The behaviors we call “mind games” or even power struggles in relationships are ways for people to protect themselves from getting hurt in a scary world.

2. You feel confused and anxious with him

People play mind games because they need to feel like they have power and control in their relationships. That’s why mind games are often called power struggles. Shanna’s boyfriend, for example, is trying to manipulate and guilt her into lending him money. He’s threatening her (“what kind of future life partner will you be?”). He’s being passive aggressive by giving her the silent treatment.

How does this make her feel? Confused and anxious, of course. That’s exactly what her boyfriend wants. That’s why he’s playing mind games! He wants her to feel scared, insecure and anxious so she does what he wants.

If your husband or boyfriend’s uses withdrawal, silence and walls to gain power, read How Do You Deal With the Silent Treatment in Your Relationship?

3. Your boyfriend or husband tries to make you do certain things

I played mind games when I first got married. I’d feel hurt, insecure, or scared about something my husband did or said, and instead of talking to him about it I’d communicate indirectly.

For example, I felt insecure because he was with his ex girlfriend for six years and we’d only been together for two. So I made a big deal about him keeping their old dresser and nightstand. I accused him of holding on to their relationship – I thought he didn’t get rid of her stuff because he still loved her. This was a power struggle in our marriage. The truth was that I felt insecure because I hadn’t been in many long-term relationships and I was scared he’d leave me. I was playing mind games with my husband, and it felt horrible to both of us.

Shanna’s boyfriend is trying to engineer a specific response: he wants her to loan him money. He is underhandedly trying to get her to agree by questioning how good of a partner she is. That’s a classic example of a mind game.

4. Your husband or boyfriend makes subtle comments or threats

I never like admitting that I subtly threatened divorce once or twice in the first year we were married. Divorce was the last thing I wanted, but I didn’t know how to create a healthy marriage. It was so long ago, I can barely remember how or why I said it. I knew I was being emotionally manipulative, but I wasn’t deliberately trying to play mind games. I just didn’t know how to communicate with my husband in healthy ways. So, I resorted to a power struggle.

If your boyfriend or husband is playing mind games with you, he may not know how to communicate directly. He may not understand what he’s doing, why, or even how. Or, he may be deliberately trying to manipulate and control you. Sometimes power struggles are more direct and well-planned than we realize.

Is your boyfriend or husband threatening you? That’s not just an example of a mind game, it’s emotional and mental abuse. Does he question your values, beliefs, personality, opinions, actions, decisions? Does he threaten to leave or divorce you? These behaviors go beyond mind games! They’re painful and destructive power struggles that will destroy your relationship – and your self-confidence.

5. Your husband or boyfriend has power struggles with other people

Back to my reader’s comment. Shanna mentioned five of the most common types of power struggles in relationships – and they all point to mind games.

5 Signs of Mind Games in a Relationship:

  1. He sulks if he doesn’t get his way.
  2. You notice he engages in power struggles with other people (a family member, friend, or even a boss at work).
  3. He uses the silent treatment to communicate.
  4. He tries to guilt, shame, or argue you into doing what he wants.
  5. You feel uncomfortable with the way your boyfriend or husband talks or acts toward you.

In any relationship, the most important sign of power struggles or mind games is your own intuition. Your gut instincts are a better indicator than a textbook definition or even examples of mind games. If you feel like something isn’t right about your boyfriend or husband’s way of relating to you, then something is wrong.

If you’re hiding the truth about your marriage or dating relationship, start thinking about ways to talk to people you trust. Start journaling or writing on blogs like this about the way your husband treats you. This will help you warm up to tell someone in person, to get healthy, and to deal with your husband.

How to let go of an unhealthy relationship

Letting Go of a Relationship You Want to Keep

If you think the mind games and power struggles in your relationship aren’t resolvable, consider breaking free. If your boyfriend or husband is unhealthy or abusive, don’t spend any more time with him than absolutely necessary!

In How to Let Go of Someone You Love I share stories about letting go from me and a few “She Blossoms” readers. Our experiences with love and loss will comfort and encourage you – especially if you feel manipulated and controlled by a man you love.

Feel free to write about your relationship below. Is your boyfriend playing mind games in your relationship? Is your husband engaging in power struggles that are destroying your marriage – and even your relationships with other people? Start writing the truth. It really will set you free.

Is your relationship in trouble? Get 7 Steps to Fixing Your Marriage from relationship coach Mort Fertel. It's free and helpful, no strings attached.

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21 thoughts on “5 Signs of Mind Games in Relationships”

  1. hi all, not sure if there is a name for this kind of person, just read my story. Always did carboots and always saw this hot woman with a guy over a period of 6mths. I go into my local surgery on the tuesday and shes the receptionist, we get chatting, gave her my number to go out for a drink, she said she was at the end of a relationship, she said it was her at the carboot and was doing one this saturday. 4 days pas, ironic i meet her at carboot, her mum who she is with collapses, an ambulance arrives, im concerned, she packs up and thanks me with a kiss and would be in touch. We text all day and went up hospital to see her that nite, hrs of kissing after. She said she needed time to end her bf and text monday to come to mine with a bottle of wine as she just ended with her bf, she arrives in a black jumpsuit no underwear, we drink and make love. The next 84 days we spend together,got engaged after a week, went away most wknds, booked xmas, new year honeymoon in february. I finally get to meet her mum again and her dad, from then it all went negative, her claiming her mum had said this and that about me,think shes using her mum as a excuse to ditch me, dont know why, yet wen i confronted her mum after a week she denyed it and 5 times in a week since she told me IM NOT THE ONE FOR HER which is strange as we are perfect together in everyway, going out, styaing in, shopping, cooking, in the bedroom, everything is perfect like she has read my mind,does everything i what to do, we are 50/50, neither of us wears the trousers, we are both so laid back we are sun loungers. On all 5 times i have broken down and cryed and she has comforted me with hugs and french kissing and the odd fondle, even wen i went to her work to call TUI to cancel the honeymoon we lost 40%in fees and she says well its only money, and then a long slow french kiss, yet having seen her last night she chatting to some guy on the fone calling him darling, telling him shes just out of shower, have suspitions shes seeing someone else,am iin a long line of being played for, as we have never been negative, never had a row,never a disagreement, she says its her and was rushed into a relationship and says her mother said this and that but disclaims she hates her and wants to move out yet was living with me for 84 days, a complete mindgames, is there a lawa against this kind of women. Btw shes an ex model, no kids, no ties, not on social media, petite 5,3 blonde, blue eyed stunner, does not look her age, absolute head turner, is she using this against me? please message as lost a stone in weight in last week :(

  2. I don’t have a financial leach, though money runs through his hands like sand. I have a husband who can be very hostile, nasty, but then tells me it’s “all about you isn’t it”, and what about how you abuse me!”, whenever I express my dislike of his behavior. He has recently taken to mocking me and accusing me of playing games with his head. It is so not true. The whole thing makes me feel physically sick. He’s still recovering from a heart attack and I wonder if this is why he’s viler then usual. He demands a whole lot of support, and I feel I’ve poured out a great deal of myself and become someone I don’t even recognise or like too much in the process l, and given up many things including career (at his insistence, so I could work in his business) to keep things working….. and of course I feel like a total fool. Now I’m middle aged and feeling all my hope has gone. I’m sorry for the winge, I guess I’m feeling fragile and scared.

  3. I’ve been abused, mentally, physically, verbally, financially to the tune of $760.00. He has spait in my face. How do I get him out? He’s a leach, a user. He does his entire family this way about money. The only difference he pays them back..
    HELP ME. This has been a 20 year night mare!!

  4. My husband and I are separated, he says he don’t want to be married. In our marriage though, he never worked, always depended in me for money. We have two small children together. He now while separated offers sex to me for money, bills to go be paid and other things that are to his benefit. I give in because I live him. He threatens me, says mean things and says I’m dumb and crazy. But He still comes back. What am I doing wrong. I’m tryibgvto fix our marriage. Not only do I live him but for our children as well CONFUSED! He gives so many mixed messages. Says we can maybe work it out if I help him out.

  5. My husband started almost immediately we started dating, but I never took the games seriously then. I moved in too quickly after way too much ‘I love you’s’, way too early. I then moved out as I began to see the mind games being played and my children were not happy. Sadly, after feeling like I wasn’t coping on my own, I succumbed to the flattery and the promises. We married amid his diagnosis of leukaemia. We both went through a very traumatic and difficult year of his treatment. Since then, the mind games have become more and more noticeable. His behaviour when out in social settings is usually embarrassing; acting like a homosexual, groping men and trying to kiss them. He says things that are deeply offensive, then claims he didn’t say them; sends tons of soppy texts, then ignores me when he/I come home; he hides things; he acts like he’s having an affair but claims he’s not. The list is endless, but is also tied in with a confusing balance of overt love and generosity/silences and ignoring.
    My son and daughter cannot stand him and have been quite vocal in asking me to leave. I am now in that position of finally calling his bluff; when every time I would call him up on his behaviour, he would say “oh, our marriage really isn’t going to last if this is what you think of me!” Last time, I just said, “yes, you’re right, it won’t, I’m planning on leaving.” He couldn’t even squeeze a tear out but has set about acting like the wounded victim who must get himself “fixed”. However, I am also seeing the push for me to go and the offers of financial support to facilitate it. None of this sounds like the man who then texts to say he’s devastated I’m going…. more blooming mind games!!
    So, wish me luck on this crazy journey people….

  6. 1,2,4,5 apply. He constantly asks me if im sorry for my iniquities. But i asked him why he says hurtful things, he either says im kidding, or what do you mean? I dont like your attitude. He never apologizes for what comes out of mouth. He had no filter. The grandest of them all. Laughing off his behavior saying hes just like his mother. Btw. Mother died of alzheimers.

  7. Pauline Thomlinson

    My partner continually hurts me with his words and wont let me speak..saying he doesn’t want confrontation or he will leave..Is impatient and snappy but says I should accept it…I am 70 yrs old and its wearing me down ..he thinks its funny…

  8. Dear Danie,

    Thank you for being here, and sharing how your husband is playing mind games in your relationship. It sounds very complicated – especially since you have eight children. That’s alot of responsibility! I can only imagine.

    I don’t know what to tell you, other than to encourage you to get in-person support. If your husband leaves, you need to find ways to take care of yourself and your kids, right? What do you think about calling a community organization – or even an online women’s help line — that helps women through tough times?

    1. Thats just the problem, he isn’t going to leave because it was his house before we met. And I’m not going to leave because the last time I did he moved an escort in here to tale care of the kids and thats not healthy. And I’m not signing the divorce papers because we have a premarital agreement that if we have problems we have to seek counseling before divorce. I’ve been to counseling but he refuses! We don’t speak other than about the children or of he needs something. He is upset because I am not allowing his mind games to affect me, I just continue to act oblivious and keep smiling. I just dont know how long I can handle this fake relationship.

      1. I’ve tried talking to lawyers about options but nobody calls me back and I think its because the situation is almost too complicated, also tried counseling. If we are to split up I can support my babies just fine, the problem is that he is IMPOSSIBLE to co-parent with and wants all the kids to be under his roof and visitation at his discretion. But I dont feel this is safe or healthy for the children. *sigh* ?

  9. Forgot to mention that he brought home divorce papers yesterday that he still hasn’t filled out. He simply says that he refuses to live with a woman who has trust issues and constantly accuses him. Well I wouldn’t be accusing him if he wasn’t doing these things. So here I sit wondering why would he bring home papers for a divorce but not fill them out? He is trying to torture me with mind games to break me down, but I refuse to let him break me down!!!

  10. I found concrete evidence that my husband hires escorts, spends our money, even brought an escort into our house when we separated for a month. This woman was around our children and forcing them to call her Mom. Since then we reconciled, married, and moved back in together. I found out he called out of work to be with her on mothers day while I stayed home with our 8 children. When caught, he always has lame excuses that dont add up. Its always a lie. Since Mothers Day I have been shown disgusting proof that this escort isn’t the only one, that there are dozens. Disgusting texts in his texting app that he swears he gave his friend the password to and his friend is the one talking to these girls. But his friend wouldn’t know half the things that were said in these messages. Plus the girl confirmed to me everything that has been going on. Yet somehow he still maintains that he is innocent, but refuses to prove his innocence. He simply says that I need to deal with my trust issues. I’ve never had trust issues, I know this is in no way my fault.

  11. Mind games can be so difficult to see in a relationship — much less understand! And, some people are so good at playing them, there is no easy way to identify how to act or the best way to respond.

    The best thing is to trust your intuition. Do you feel uneasy with your boyfriend, like you don’t trust him? Maybe you feel manipulated or uncomfortable — or you can see his mind games clearly! Sometimes we see what’s going on, but we ignore it because we don’t want to lose a relationship. Sometimes it’s easier to ignore mind games than to face the truth and deal with them.

    I suspect that if you’re confused about whether your boyfriend is playing mind games in your relationship, then he probably is.

  12. Totally agree with your article. But for me it’s getting quite difficult that whether I’m guilty or else he is playing mind games.

  13. Ive been with this guy since i was 19 hes a alcoholic and has played mind games in our relationship. I used to believe everything was my fault and he’d tell me so. I lost trust in him along time ago when i was at wrk, he was drinking. I just found a video where he accidently turned his phone on n talking to someone else. I read that mind games are worse if you’re anxious and i am. Completely messed up. He blames me for leaving when he was in prison but our life was bad before that. But he makes me feel crazy n like im controlling. i know i have trust issues but he blames literally everything thats messed in his life on me.

  14. Hi, i know my husband since 2002. We started to date and our relationship grow very fast with 3 kids now under 5 years old. Since our first day together, i always guilty because of his actions, his words and his actions. After barely 1 year of marriage, i had a guts feelings that he had someone else on the side, but when he got caught he said :we are just friends. Anyways, he does not want to meet her nor to share his actions or his life (outside of house) with me. For almost 6 years now , i am trying to help him but now i give up and build a plan b ( my escape plan in case of worse situation) and i concentrate on me and my kids. I still share love and same house and same bed with him.
    My actions were: to speak to his ex -girlfriends, to his family members,his friends. Just to know him better. Once i realized i am not only one this way,i am feeling more confident and sure of myself in all senses for me and my kids. I protect me and my kids from all harm that can be done.I also started to play a mind game with him but from positive side: resultats , he is playing as a small boy that did not get enought of attention from his mom.
    If anyone has suggestions or ideas how to deal with it, please write back to me.

    1. I forgot to write that all the signs and mind games that i read here, i can see them now. I would like to work on a plan just for me and my kids . Maybee i can still save our marriage and family life.

  15. My husband is 26 gorgeous physique gorgeous looking . I’m 52 don’t look my age but overweight . Met in marmaris where he worked in bar I knew what players barman in marmaris was and he quit his job after couple months as I felt insecure I’ve kept him financially ever since sending £250 a month buying him phone pc clothes and trips back forth to turkey and paid for all the drinks meals when there and all of our wedding there and his passport and paperwork.
    Reading this as I’m writing it I think I’m a fool for falling for the mind games in this relationship. But I fell for him despite finding messages to other women at start of our relationship three half years ago. He said he was in love with someone else. He said he messaged others as he wasn’t sure if I’d return and stay in contact. if my opinion differs to his he gets very verbally nasty and ignores me for days. I never thought a man could do this to me. He clearly doesn’t love me I’m just easy life, bank machine, and bed mate to him.

    1. GET AWAY FROM THIS ABUSIVE USER. I have lived in Turkey for many years and also speak fluent Turkish, I’ve seen these kinds of “relationships” too many times. You are not the only one that these “serefsiz” (dishonorable in Turkish) guys have married. Please get out and cancel his visa. They want nothing but getting double citizenships and money to bring back to Turkey; and a lot of times it is not even for their families (it was done for themselves only). Too many men in Turkey are like that. You must understand that these kinds of players are masters at playing deep mind games with women since they have learned how to talk (they have lots of experience from watching their own fathers or uncles playing head games with their own mothers and aunts and there is almost no way for these women to even try to break away after many years of mental abuse, plus, the general but hidden culture of Turkey seems to allow and even praise this kind of behavior.) Please get away from these rats before they mindf**k you to the point where you doubt yourself over and over again until they dump you for another target.

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