Beliefnet
Q: I have been in a relationship with a man for eight months. He is very kind, has a great sense of humor, and we have a lot of fun together. Recently I've discovered, though, that I can get him to do what I want by giving him "the silent treatment," which is what my father used to do to me. If I act cold, stop answering his calls and e-mails, he becomes even more devoted and agreeable than he was before. My anger toward him is usually exaggerated, and even though this strategy works and I get the results I want, I feel a little calculating and dishonest. I always hated it when my father did it to me. Now I'm wondering if I really do love this man, and also what it says about him that he can be so easily manipulated. Maybe I should get out of this relationship.
--Julie

A: You can be thankful that you are aware of the part you are playing in this pattern. Manipulation of another person is often carried out unconsciously, because manipulators usually convince themselves that they really are angry and therefore their behavior is justified. It is also helpful that you are aware of repeating your father's pattern. If you had been able to talk with him about his silent treatment, no doubt he would have said that it was for your own good, that he was trying to teach a lesson. In reality, of course, he was manipulating your behavior and emotions without any deep consideration of the long-term effects on you.

It is also good that you are willing to look at how manipulating in this way harms you by creating self-doubt and inner conflict. However, the question that is not helpful to pursue is whether this is your boyfriend's fault. We gain clarity by taking responsibility for our thoughts and actions, not by justifying them. Manipulating anyone through the use of silent anger is never justified and is abusive. There may be reasons for leaving your boyfriend, but the fact that you have discovered a way to control him is not one of them.
The silent treatment will often trigger fear, which can result in the individual acting more loving and solicitous, but the long-term effects eventually undermine any real love. This means that if you continue the manipulation, your relationship with this man will continue to deteriorate (you are already having doubts) because you are misusing his love for you. Eventually, it will destroy the relationship.

As to the question of whether his reaction is a sign of inner weakness, there is of course no way for us to know that without knowing him. We can say that just as a child's trust of a parent is not a weakness--even if the parent is not trustworthy--so too there are many adults who are quite strong spiritually who nevertheless completely trust and believe their unreliable partners.

Just as small children mentally set aside the evidence that their parents cannot be relied on, so too these spiritually strong adults often ignore the evidence that their partner's moods, words, and actions are feigned and manipulative. This is not a lack of insight; rather, it is faith in love and commitment to loyalty.

By treating you as he did, your father taught you to distrust love, and it is no coincidence that you now find yourself in the reverse situation. Even if you do not stay in the relationship, this is your opportunity to heal the past. We have known many relationships in which one person's faith in another person's goodness transformed a disloyal partner into a loyal one. This man is giving you the opportunity to walk away from a destructive childhood pattern. As your recognition grows of just how destructive this "strategy" is, your desire to continue doing this will fade, and you will treat your boyfriend as you yourself would want to be treated.




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