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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.

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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!!