I’m going to tell you a story about a friend of mine. We’ll call him Ethan.
Ethan was dating this girl off and on for several years. They were even engaged at one point. He had no say in the off and on again manner in which their relationship progressed.
She was constantly asking for space, running off and doing whatever she wanted to with whomever she wanted. And then when things didn’t work out with the other guys she would run off with, she would come strolling back into Ethan’s life like she had never left. As long as she wasn’t alone, and didn’t have any other promising prospects, she was happy to string him along, but as soon as she saw something else she wanted, she would leave him there in the dust.
The reason I bring this up is because, like clockwork, I get a call from Ethan.
“Can I ask you a question?”
It is almost always followed by a string of stories and complaints about how she treats him, and then questions about how to get her to do what he wants and place value on their relationship.
Try as I might, he never seems to get it that she will NEVER respect him because he has taught her that he will allow her to treat him this way.
Seriously just last week I got the text and he was telling me that she had, yet again, gone off on one of her “breaks” and when she returned she was clearly hung up on some other guy. Instead of telling her that her behavior was hurtful and unacceptable, he welcomed her with open arms. He even let her whine to him the entire time they spent together about how this other guy treated her.
Then when he asked her if they were getting back together, she goes, “I need space, you keep invading my privacy and asking too many questions.”
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She was referring to him asking her to quit texting and Snapchatting this guy who supposedly treated her poorly.
I mean I think even asking a friend to put down their phone when we are spending time together is reasonable. Asking a girlfriend, even if she is a little bonkers, to be present when she is supposed to be spending time with you is not an “invasion of privacy.”
Then, to top it all off, she asked him to help her move and he did!
I know what you’re saying, what a pushover. I gave him my advice… it was simple. Walk away.
Take the fact that she asked for space and use it as an excuse to get as far away as possible!
I have never seen manipulation as blatant as this… unless you count watching House of Cards.
The worst part was his reasoning for putting off putting his foot down, or walking away, was that he was afraid she would actually leave him, when they were already broken up.
If someone is walking in and out of your life like it has a revolving door and kicking you every time the enter AND leave, why in the world would you not seal that door shut.
It would be like the cast of “Walking Dead” being in a house surrounded by zombies and opening the door and being like “right this way!”
Who even does that?!
My grandmother told me when I was little that there are people in this world that will take advantage of you if you let them. She said that you can train people to respect you by not accepting manipulative behavior.
That was some of the best advice I was ever given and I pass it on to you now. If you have someone in your life that is stringing you along or treating you poorly, it is time to reassess where your limits for what you accept lie.
There are different degrees of manipulation. If you’ve ever seen the film “Gone Girl” you understand that there are extreme, extremes. But knowing that it could be worse is not an excuse for putting up with manipulation of any kind.
How to Tell if You are Being Manipulated
She is acting like nothing has changed.
Whether she broke up with you or you broke up with her is beside the point. The two of you are no longer an item, and she is still acting like you are at her beck and call. She’s calling you to grab lunch. She’s asking you to do her favors, like Ethan’s ex asking him to make a four hour round-trip to help her move. If she gets a flat tire, you’re still the first person she calls.
She tries to make you feel like no one could possibly love you.
She keeps mentioning little thing you do that she put up with and possibly how you’ll never find someone who will put up with the stuff she did.
It’s a tactic that makes her feel better about being along and like she has power over you, and if you still care, then it will hurt and you might even believe it. There are literally hundreds of songs about just this that make women think that this is the way to make a man hang on, even if they have no intention of getting back together.
I think we both know that no contact is one of the most important things we talk about on this site, even if you are looking to move forward with life and aren’t trying to get an ex back, if you are try to recover from a breakup rather than recover a relationship. By ingraining herself into your life after you’ve stopped seeing each other romantically is like her putting roadblocks all around you and keeping you from moving forward.
She belittles you and attempts to dwarf you.
That jab last week about one too many trips back for seconds, yeah she didn’t mean anything by it. Her mentioning in passing that you’ve worn the same jeans three days in a row. Think self-esteem level of Lester, at the beginning of “American Beauty.”
This is a common trick to keep you under her heel by making you feel like you aren’t worthy of anyone else’s attention and to keep you hanging on to hers for fear of being alone.
If you are being manipulated you’ll know this feeling, where you find yourself wondering if you somehow fall short in the eyes of other women or just her. You start to see faults in yourself where there are none.
She instigates drama in her life so you feel like you need to be there for her.
She suddenly has things going on in her life that are devastating and life-altering and there is absolutely no one else she can confide in.
When you have been close with someone, it is hard to recognize when they are being manipulative. I mean, it’s flattering to think that you are the only person she can rely on. Why would you even consider the take into account that she has plenty of friends and family that are more than willing to be there for here when she needs a shoulder to cry on? But no, she only wants to confide in you.
Seem a little too good to be true? It probably is, especially if she was the one who initiated the split.
She seems to be having mood swings.
She is overly nice when she wants something and if you don’t give it to her she lashes out. For example, Ethan would get a text asking him to pick her up from work and give her a ride home. They were no longer together, yet when he explained that he wouldn’t be able to, it was like she flipped a switch. She demanded to know why he couldn’t and told him that his lack of being dependable was one of the many reasons she left hid in the first place. When he called me asking for my advice, I had to ask him why he felt responsible for her transportation.
He said, “she needs me.”
You see the faulty logic here?
There are Taxies, Uber, and, heck… if she really wanted to get home, she lives about half a block from a bus stop. She didn’t “need” a ride home from him, she just wanted to see if she could push him around.
Do you find yourself feeling guilty for things that aren’t your responsibility because she’s making you feel that way?
She’s cryptic in her social media posts or tries to communicate through friends, creating reasons to interact but making it feel like you’re the one reaching out
No, No, She’s Changed.
If the two of you split for a reason, like Ethan’s ex being interested in another man, and she suddenly acts like she has “changed” and that things will suddenly “be better” than before. If it’s simply been a couple of days or weeks, I assure you, no substantial or permanent changes have been made. According to scientific studies, it takes roughly 66 days to form a habit. Taking that into account, we can assume it takes the same amount of time if not longer to replace an old habit with a new one.
And well… if you fall for that one, well, you’re just setting yourself up to be disappointed.
She threatens to move on and find someone else.
This is the move that angers me the most, and believe me it is definitely a move. The two of you aren’t together, and it’s not secret that after a breakup the potential for her moving on is increased by 100%. However, if she asks you do something you aren’t too keen on doing, and her go to is to suggest she find another man who will do whatever it is she’s asked of you, then you, my friend, are getting played.
Many of my guy friends, after a break up, are afraid to “anger the beast” so to speak, meaning they’re afraid not to do things that their girlfriend asks them to, because they are afraid of losing her for good.
If she is simply sticking around because you are letting her boss you around, you need to consider taking a permanent No Contact from this girl.
Like they say…
AINT NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT
Actually, if you find yourself in ANY of these scenarios, it’s most likely time take a step or two away from the situation.
How to Escape from the Clutches of a Manipulative Ex
Firstly, you have to accept that the situation you are in is not healthy. Learn to move past the hurt, and accept that your ex’s main goal for the way she’s been acting is because she wants something from you, whether it is to simply see how far she can push you by asking you to do her favors, or the ego-boost she gets from knowing that she has power over you and can make you jump through hoops in hopes of keeping her in your life. As long as there is an ulterior motive, you can bet that the reason your ex wants to keep you around isn’t out of her love for you. If that was the case the two of you would be together, and she wouldn’t be trying to maneuver you like a chess piece.
That’s the downside to treating love like a game. All games have to end eventually.
So, the one thing I can tell you to do definitively, is to breathe and move on.
As simple as that sounds, it won’t be easy. You’ve already done the first thing necessary.
Identify the Manipulation. This allows you to be prepared. You don’t want to bring a knife to a gun fight so to speak.
By knowing the ways your ex gets at you, you can keep an eye out for the manipulations before they arise.
For example, if your girl has a habit of texting you with an emergency every time you start to feel a comfortable amount of space grow between you, block her number. If she gets offended or acts out, let her know that you need some time to yourself.
You won’t be able to move forward or move on if you are at her every beck and call when she locks herself out of her house. If she continues to “have emergencies,” offer alternate suggestions. For example, say she does call or text saying she’s locked out of her house. Remind her that you are no longer her boyfriend, and ask her to call someone else, like her mother, or a sibling, or (heaven forbid) a locksmith. If she acts like this is an affront and lashes out, simply tell her again that you need some space, say good bye and HANG UP THE PHONE.
There is no reason to listen to someone berate you or allow them to make you uncomfortable, especially if you have split up. You get to choose who you allow to stat in your life.
One of the hardest things I think people have to face in this situation is that by allowing a manipulative person to continue to have power over them, they are surrendering their future happiness for a glimmer of unsubstantiated hope that this person, who clearly does not value you, will one day respect you.
The only way to do that is to draw a line. Make your intentions clear. If your ex is the type to get angry, you can use that nice little line that “How I Met Your Mother” gave us from the episode about back burner relationships. They may not have used it in the same way, but adding the phrase “right now” to a “I can’t be around you” will soften the blow.
The idea is to allow yourself time and space, not only to heal from the toxic sludge of a relationship that you’ve become accustomed to, but to grow into a self-respecting human being.
What does that mean?
As always: No Contact, permanently, if possible. Removing toxic relationships from your life can be one of the best moves you can do for yourself.
What Do I Do With All This Free Time?
Take your newly found space and time and allow yourself to focus on furthering your education or your career.
Maybe you let these things slide while you were with your ex, because she convinced you that her aspirations were more important that yours. Or maybe you let your financial situation get tied up in pleasing her. If you’ve been putting something off in order to make room in your life for your ex, take this time to take care of those things. Enroll in a class. Get that certification. Do whatever it is you need to hit your goals and make a better life for yourself.
Do not sit around wallowing, that is a surefire way to open the door and let your ex maneuver her way back in. Don’t believe me? Why do you think Ethan’s relationship was off again, on again?
The one thing you are definitely going to want to do is build up your self-respect, as I mentioned before.
How to Build up Self-Respect
Taking that first step and putting your foot down, in telling your ex to give you space, that is the first step in a string of steps to build your Self-Respect. I know that it isn’t easy to allow yourself to admit that you have lost self-respect along the way. But that is what afforded you this lovely learning experience. Yes, even people with loads of self-respect can find themselves in a manipulative relationship. Skilled manipulators and narcissists can shake even the most grounded confidence over enough time.
So, let us for a second admit that there is something you need to regain here. And that would be your backbone.
- Assess Your Strengths – What is it you excel at? Are you a great motivator? Do you take pride in your ability to master the grill? Can you make your friends laugh uncontrollably with your Chis Farley impression?
- Stop with the Negative Self-Assessment – It is easy for an ex significant other to become that involuntary voice in your head that draws your eyes to your dadbod rather than the fact that your beard has started to fill in more nicely giving you that ruggedly handsome thing that all the ladies are fawning over these days. Don’t let your ex’s nagging reside after you’ve kicked her like a bad habit. Take back control of your thoughts and be nicer to yourself. You deserve to be happy.
- Wear Clothes That Fit – You will not believe how easy it is to feel confident and self-assured when you are wearing clothes that make you feel powerful. Even simply investing in a pair of jeans that don’t sag, and might happen to make your butt look nice, can change the way you see yourself immensely. One of my friends showed up at a party one night, and I went “Hey! Are those new jeans? Dang! Lookin’ snazzy!”
His response still has me laughing every time he wears them. Forgive the language, but he said, “You bet my sweet ass. These are my, no nonsense jeans.” And he was right. He always seems to walk a little taller when he wears them. In fact, I think he might’ve gone back and gotten a few more pair, because he got rid of his poorly fitting jeans.
- Exercise, Eat Right and Get Enough Sleep – When you feel healthy you feel good.
For example, I bartended my way through college. This was back before they regulated smoking indoors. So, I was surround by smoke at least one or two nights a week. It felt like I was constantly covered in ash from the inside out. It was gross and it was so bad for me.
When I stopped working as a bartender and accepted another job, it still took a week or so to get used to not having to take a shower before work, after work, and sometimes in between shifts.
Letting go of a manipulative and toxic relationship can be like removing yourself from an environment where you are filled with unhealthy feelings. They cling to you and fill every area of your life. I was still steam cleaning my car every few weeks for few months after I left that job because I couldn’t get the smell of smoke out.
When you remove toxicity from your life, you need to cultivate healthy habits to maintain a healthy level of dopamine. By exercising, eating healthy, and sleeping just enough, you can increase your dopamine levels and stimulates happiness and we all know that when you are happy, you are more confident.
- Set Challenges for Yourself – make a list of things you’ve been meaning to do and knowck them out, even if they seem small. Achieving goals, even small ones can build up momentum to achieve greater ones. For example, say you’ve been meaning to get back in the gym, but you can’t seem to just get up and go. Maybe set a goal of going once a week with a friend. Or going for a run once a week. That is small, but by meeting that goal AND getting active, you will realize how good it feels to actually do something you set out to do. This will have you aching to see what else you can achieve.
- Do things you Excel at – By reminding yourself that you utterly dominate at something can skyrocket your self-confidence. People who think highly of themselves don’t allow other people to take control of their lives or hold power over them like they’re Pinnochio.
Do you play a sport or an instrument like a pro? Get back out there and let people see what you can do.
Think of someone you look up to, a professional athlete or business person, someone who clearly dominates in their arena. If I were to choose, I’d choose David Beckham, because clearly he dominates his arena both on the soccer field and in his business ventures. Do you think he would come off the field and let someone take advantage of him by treating him like he’s not worthy of respect? It’s highly doubtful. People who know their worth don’t accept anything less than what they deserve. The thing is, everyone is worthy of respect and consideration. They don’t just all realize it, especially if they’ve been under someone’s thumb for a while.
Now all that’s left to do is set things in motion. Get out there. Do something you love, and that you are good at.
Take care of yourself, both mentally and physically. Remind yourself what it is to feel confident and proud of the progress you are making.
Remove the manipulative people from your life and remove the temptation to let them back in. Get some dang pants that fit and feel good about yourself when you wear them!
And once you have made doing things that are good for you like this a habit (remember 66 days of being consistent, at least) then it’ll be time to maybe consider moving forward even the slightest.
Repair broken friendships, left in the wake of your ex’s tyrannical reign. Actually entertain the notion that there might be a woman out there that doesn’t expect you to cater to her every over-bearing whim, but will actually respect you and help bolster your self-esteem rather than feeding into any self-depreciating thoughts you might have.
What happened to Ethan?
No one likes a cliffhanger. So, Ethan and I were having a talk about his situation. He’s been that friend that, no matter how much I talk him through his trouble, he always goes back to his ex and forgets every decision he came to while we talked.
I finally got him to tell me why. He doesn’t think he is deserving of a better relationship.
Well that ended that evening. He finally drew the line and told his ex that he needed some space, and that she was going to give it to him.
But he said something that made it clear that the moment she texted him again he would crumble. He said, “You can really tell you love someone when the thought of another woman has no appeal.”
I said HOLD it! You do realize that you are wearing goggles that are blinding. I explained to him that these kind of like drunk goggles. You know? Everyone looks ten times better? Except these are doing the exact opposite. They are making everyone look bad. And when you are in a healthy relationship, that is fine. But when a manipulator is involved they will perpetuate this way of seeing the world, because they want you to only see them. They want you to feel isolated. The funny thing about this, is some people are naturally manipulative. They might not even realize that they are being manipulative in the first place, but whether they do it on purpose or not, it doesn’t benefit you to all to continue to give them power over you.
I think he actually heard what I said, but only time will tell if he actually takes my advice.
As for you, I hope you take what I’ve said here today and apply it to your life. Take that power back, not just from your ex, but from anyone who makes you feel small and insignificant in your own life. Remove the negativity from your life and take ownership of it. It is YOURS after all. I promise, that you will be much happier if you do.