Mind games are subtle attempts to emotionally or verbally control you. These signs and examples of mind games in relationships will help you see your boyfriend’s or husband’s words and behavior more clearly.
The tricky part of recognizing 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’re blinded by new love!
I wrote this article because of a reader’s comment. She 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.
First, 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. Mind games are subtle attempts to control and manipulate women into doing what men want. And of course, women play mind games in relationships, too. Some women are even better and more deceptive than men.
5 Signs of Mind Games in Relationships
How do you know if your boyfriend or husband is playing mind games with you? Usually, if you suspect something isn’t right in your relationship then something isn’t right in your relationship! If he isn’t communicating directly and honestly with you, then he may be playing mind games.
He may not even realize what he’s doing. He may have learned unhealthy or abusive ways to communicate when he was growing up, as you’ll see in the first tip.
1. Your boyfriend or husband had a difficult 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 had hard childhoods wouldn’t think of playing mind games in relationships. And, some people who had healthy, happy childhoods often engage in surprisingly devious mind games.
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” 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. Shanna’s boyfriend, for example, is trying to manipulate and guilt her into loaning 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.
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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.
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. 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 him, 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 don’t 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 him.
If your partner 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 manipulative and sly. It’s difficult to determine what’s going on in someone else’s head.
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.
5. Your husband or boyfriend plays mind games with other people
Back to my reader’s comment. Shanna listed five really common signs of mind games in relationships:
- He sulks
- He plays mind games with other people (his mother)
- He gives her the silent treatment
- He tries to guilt her into lending him money
- She feels uncomfortable
So not only is her boyfriend playing mind games with her, he tries to manipulate and control his other relationships as well. If your boyfriend or husband is playing games with other people in his life, then he’s likely to play mind games with you, too.
The most important sign in her relationship is that she feels uncomfortable with both her boyfriend’s request and his reaction when she said no. She feels anxious and upset – and that’s a strong sign of emotional control in a relationship.
How to let go of an unhealthy relationship
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.
Even better, I offer 25 Blossom Tips, each paired with a practical “how to.” Every tip highlights a different part of who you are—spirit, heart, soul, body, and brain. This holistic approach will help you move forward in different ways, according to your personality, mood, energy level and lifestyle.
The Blossom Tips are actionable insights that will fill your heart and help you heal! If you want to dig into your faith, for example, you’ll love the Spirit Blossoms. If you need emotional healing you’ll find comfort in the Heart Blossoms. If you want to explore the creative side of your personality, you’ll love the Soul Blossoms; they’re designed to help you express who God created you to be! You’ll be physically strengthened by the Body Blossoms, and intellectually challenged by the Brain Blossoms.
How are you feeling? I welcome your comments below. Writing about your relationship and the breakup can help you heal and move forward in your life.
If you’re in a threatening or unhealthy relationship, talk to someone in person. Don’t hold it all in or keep secrets! The more you keep to yourself, the more your secrets will eat away at you. Secrets will destroy you if you keep them in the dark. Talk about what’s going on, and find ways to cope if your boyfriend or husband is playing mind games in your relationship.
May you find health and faith – forgiveness and hope – as you move forward in your life. God didn’t promise days without pain, sun without rain…but He did promise strength for the day and light for the way.
Need marriage help? Get free relationship advice from Marriage Coach Mort Fertel.
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