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!
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:
- He sulks if he doesn’t get his way.
- You notice he engages in power struggles with other people (a family member, friend, or even a boss at work).
- He uses the silent treatment to communicate.
- He tries to guilt, shame, or argue you into doing what he wants.
- 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
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.