Thoughts About Marriage: Emotional Manipulation

Author Lance Phelps – 6 minute read

When you are married you are bound to get into a scuffle or two. Even the Apostle Paul recognized this when he warned about the distraction of marriage. But how should we fight? Really the question requires more depth: how should we interact with one another on a daily basis? This is harder than it seems on the surface. And it is a largely subconscious thing. One of the issues that I would like to tackle here is emotional manipulation. In this post I will assume the negative form of the word ‘manipulation’. Whenever you cheer someone up with a good joke you are technically manipulating them. Though in most cases that would be see as a good thing, not a bad thing. 

I think that it is easier to manipulate your spouse then one first might assume. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7:5, dealt with manipulation when he tells us not to deprive one another of sexual intercourse except as we agree for a short time to devote ourselves to prayer. This is a powerful form of fasting for some because it has a heavy impact on their psyche. But when used as a tool to manipulate your spouse (primarily against men, though this could be used against women) it becomes a damaging club to beat them into submission. 

If you do not struggle with this as a couple, or other forms of manipulation that rest on the more extreme end of the spectrum, good for you. You are not, however, “off the hook” for being guilty of emotional manipulation. Think of how our words change the way that other people feel. Just one phrase spoken with a slightly different tone can have a huge impact on you spouse. And I believe that we can get into the habit of using these subtle tricks of communication in order to manipulate our spouse into agreeing with us on something. 

This may not be that big of a deal on the day to day but in a fight it can be. And it is in the day to day that we train ourselves for the fights. So let’s think about the fight. I think that in some ways fights are just natural breading grounds for emotional manipulation. Examples of this would be the extreme, but clearly untrue, “You Always!” Or, “You Never!” statements that married people have  become so fond of during our spats. Furthermore, however much this may sound like an episode of Family Matters, recounting memories in a way that paints you as the good guy can be used to great affect when you wish to best your spouse in a fight. I am reminded of the episode where each cast member told their version of the same event and each one was clearly a bias retelling for the story tellers benefit.

As Christian couples I say that we must rise above these petty tactics and instead engage in true, self sacrificing, other concerned Love. Though not an easy thing to do when we are in the heat of things we must nevertheless try. Let’s do this:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” - 1 Corinthians 13:4–7