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How to End a Controlling or Manipulative Relationship

Three Parts:Prepare to End the RelationshipExecute Your PlanFollow Through

Ending a controlling or manipulative relationship can be even harder than being in one. Though you may think that you don't have the courage to end the relationship or that your partner won't be able to make it without you -- even if he or she hurts you all the time -- you won't be able to start living life on your own terms until you make the break. If you want to truly end the relationship, then you have to prepare in advance, execute your plan, and follow through. The most important part is building up the courage to do it.

Part 1
Prepare to End the Relationship

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    Recognize that you're being controlled. Many controlling or manipulative relationships last far longer than they should because the person who is being controlled or manipulative is in denial about anything being wrong. You may think your partner is just a bit moody or needy when in fact, that person has slowly taken over every aspect of your life. Here are some signs that you're in a manipulative or controlling relationship:
    • If you've noticed that the person has slowly begun to take over every aspect of your life -- from how often you see friends to where you go for dinner -- then you're being controlled.
    • If the person you're with has angry or emotional outbursts followed by telling you how much he or she needs you or loves you, then the person is trying to control you with his or her emotions.
    • If you've tried to leave before and the person has threatened violence or even suicide, then you're being threatened and manipulated.
    • If the person you're with is extremely jealous and hates it when you hang out with your friends, especially with people of the opposite gender, and makes it difficult for you to hang out with other people, then you're being controlled.
    • If your partner has put you down in front of friends and family, has discouraged you from speaking too much in public, and gives you a scary look that makes you keep quiet, then you're being controlled.
    • If you find yourself giving in to your partner time and time again because you're afraid of how he or she will act if you don't, then you need to get out of the relationship.
    • If you're being pressured to do things you don't want to do, especially sexually, then you're being controlled.
    • If you find yourself desperate to please that person at any cost, then you've stopped thinking about yourself.
    • If the person makes you feel like there's no way out of the relationship and that you'll never find someone else who wants you, then you're being manipulated into staying in the relationship.
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    Think of all the reasons you need to leave. Once you realize you're in a controlling or manipulative relationship, you need to start thinking about how much better your life will be when you're done with it. This will motivate you to leave and to start making a game plan for getting out. Write these reasons down to firmly plant them in your mind, and to make you see that you need to get out ASAP if you want to start enjoying your life again. Here are some reasons why you need to leave:
    • You can start being your own person again. Write down all of the things you loved doing before the relationship, from grabbing fro-yo with your friends to spending hours taking long walks by yourself, that your partner no longer "lets" you do.
    • You can start enjoying your other relationships. Remember how you used to hang out with your buddies before your girlfriend stepped in and said every night would be date night? Write down your favorite memories from hanging out with your friends and family and think of all the fun and fulfillment you can have once you start enjoying those again.
    • Your self-esteem will skyrocket. Right now, your self-worth may be based on how good your partner may make you feel at a given moment, and once you're out of there, you can assess yourself on your own terms. And if your self-esteem is low because you know you're letting yourself give in to an emotional or unstable person, you'll feel better once you stop doing that.
    • You can stop living in constant fear and anxiety. Instead of worrying about how your significant other will react to something you'll do or say, you can just enjoy your life.
    • You can even have a good friend help you generate some reasons -- a friend may have an insight into your relationship that you don't have, and he or she can motivate you to leave.
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    Plan what you'll say. You should keep it short and sweet and not leave room for the other person to try to reason with you, to beg you to change your mind, or to promise that he or she will change or do anything you want to stay in the relationship. You don't have to give a million reasons for why you're leaving or to list all of the times the person has disappointed you -- that will only make things more difficult.
    • Just say, "This isn't working for me" or "It's time to say goodbye," and give a few more statements, but keep it brief.
    • There's no point in being vindictive or accusatory. That will only make your partner more emotionally volatile.
    • Be as calm as you can when you deliver this news. Don't yell, cry, or pace around. Keep it almost matter-of-fact, even if you're hurting inside. If you're obviously emotional, your partner will see that you can be manipulated.
    • Once you've figure out what you'll say, you should practice how you'll say it. This will help you be comfortable with the words.
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    Plan how you'll say it. The method of delivery is very important when you're dealing with an unstable or controlling person. The most important thing to think about is that if the person is at all violent or if you're truly afraid of how the person will react, then you should give the news in a public place, where you feel safe -- bring a friend if necessary.
    • If you really don't even want to face the person, just write him or her a note or email. If it's gotten so bad that you're afraid to talk face to face, then just get out whatever way you can.
    • Though once you've decided to end the relationship, you should act quickly, give some thought to the timing. Don't end the relationship after you and/or your partner have been drinking, or in the middle of a very stressful event. Try to pick a time when your partner is likely to be a bit more stable -- even if that isn't saying much.
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    Come up with an escape plan. If you live with the person or if you've just left a lot of things at his or her place, you should think about how you'll get back your stuff. You can try to be sneaky and get it out before you break up with the person, so you don't have to go back after you do it. Have a few friends come and help you get the stuff, whether it's behind the person's back or after the break-up. This will make you feel safer and more motivated to leave.
    • If you do live with the person, you should also find a place to stay before you initiate the break up, so you're not stranded and tempted to go back.
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    End the relationship in your mind. Before you say what you have to say, tell yourself that it's really over and start dealing with the natural mourning that comes after a serious relationship is over. If you start already thinking of yourself as broken up -- without telling your significant other -- you'll feel stronger when you say what you have to say because you've already made up your mind.

Part 2
Execute Your Plan

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    Be firm. This is the most important thing to consider as you tell the person you're breaking up. Once you've said it, you've said it, and there's nothing the person can do or say to make you change your mind. Say the words you've practiced, and get ready to leave. Even if the person is crying or looks absolutely pathetic, just remember all those reasons why you need to leave.
    • The person may say, "But you haven't given me a chance too explain!" That's too bad -- actually, you've given him or her way too many chances.
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    Keep it short. Don't linger around to give in to your partner's emotion or list the forty things he or she did to ruin your life. The shorter your explanation, the less likely your partner will be to argue with you or to nitpick. Remember -- this is not a negotiation, so don't be open to a dialogue. Say your piece, and get out.
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    Keep your distance. Stand or sit away from the person -- don't let him or her try to touch you, hug you, or just trap you into staying in the relationship. If the person tries to hold your hand, you may feel tempted to just be tender with the person again instead of doing what you intended to do, which is walk away.
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    Don't get manipulated. If you've been manipulated throughout the relationship, then it's very likely that you'll get manipulated during the break-up. Don't let the person try to sway you with his emotions, tell you that you'll never find someone else, or bribe you with all of the things he can do for you if you stay, whether it's to marry you, buy you a house, or go to anger management classes.
    • Remind yourself that you're leaving the relationship because you're tired of this exact behavior. It's not going to work on you anymore.
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    Don't tell the person where you're going. It may be obvious that you're going to stay with your parents or at your best friend's house, but don't mention it. Don't give the person an opportunity to follow you to try to win you back, or even to start stalking you.
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    Walk away. Once you've said what you had to say, just go. If you have a friend waiting in the car, or with you, walk out with that friend. Don't look back for one last tender gaze at your former significant other -- he or she made you feel miserable and worthless, and you're done with all that. Hold your head high and walk out the door and don't ever look back.

Part 3
Follow Through

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    Avoid contact with the person. Don't let the person call you, text you, Facebook you, or even show up in places where you're likely to be -- get a restraining order if you have to. Talking to the person will only make you feel more confused and hurt, and things could get ugly. Don't be tricked if the person says that he or she just want to chat, or that he or she misses you -- your ex will only try to get you back in whatever way possible.
    • If you need to talk the person for any reason, like to get back more of your things, or work out something practical related to mutual belongings, bring a friend with you and do it in a public place.
    • If you and the person have a lot of mutual friends, you'll have to cut off contact with them for a while. Don't go to places where you know your ex will be, even if that means laying low for a while.
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    Don't be tempted to change your mind. It's natural that you'll feel sad and lonely without your significant other. If he or she controlled every aspect of your life and you're suddenly on your own again, having to make decisions for yourself, it's logical for you to feel unable to handle the smallest decisions, and to feel completely alone and overwhelmed. But this is exactly how your ex wanted you to feel -- like you couldn't possibly live a day of your life without him.
    • Keep telling yourself that it will get easier -- it really will.
    • Remind yourself that, before the relationship, you were perfectly fine on your own, and that you can be that person again.
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    Spend time with your loved ones. Though it's helpful to spend some time to reflect on your own after a break up, this is not the time to spend all of your time alone. Instead, lean on your friends and family and spend as much time with others as you can. Though the last thing you want to do may be to go to a party, force yourself out and try to have some fun.
    • Though you should spend more time alone during a more standard breakup, spending a lot of time alone after ending a manipulative or controlling relationship will make you more likely to want to go back to your ex.
    • Your friends and family are your support system. Talk to them about how bad the relationship was -- having them confirm your thoughts will make you feel stronger.
    • Don't be afraid to reach out. Maybe you lost touch with some close friends because of your controlling partner. Just be honest and say you know you made a mistake for cutting your friends out of your life, and they should take you back.
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    Stay busy. If you spend all of your time wallowing in your room or watching TV by yourself in the dark, you'll never be able to get over the relationship. Try to stay as busy as you can by hanging out with friends, pursuing your interests, and immersing yourself in your work or studies. You can even find a new hobby to try to pursue on your own, which will give more meaning to your life.
    • Whatever you do, just try to get out of the house. This will make you feel less alone, even if you're only reading by yourself in a coffee shop.
    • Plan your week. Leave some time for reflection, but make sure you have something to look forward to every day.
    • Think of this as an opportunity to try something you never got to do with your ex. Maybe he hated something as simple as eating sushi or going to the movies -- do those things to your heart's content.
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    Think of how much happier you are. This part may take a while, but you'll slowly see how much better you are on your own and away from the terrible relationship. Every night before you go to bed, think of one thing that you're now able to do away from the relationship. You can even make a list of all of the ways that your life is better and how great it is to feel in control of your thoughts and actions.
    • Whenever you have a moment of weakness, review this list, or recite all of the reasons why your life is better. Give it time and you'll see that you were right for being brave and making the right choice.


  • Cutting off all contact seems cruel, but it's a case of "cruel to be kind." No response = no point in continuing this. Any response = keep trying. The quicker and cleaner your message is received, the sooner s/he will move on to someone else, and you will be free of a potentially explosive situation. The more little tidbits of contact you drop back into your ex's court, the more frustrating it will become for your ex when you continue to resist further efforts. The more frustrated s/he becomes, the more his/her anger and rage become inflamed. No matter how difficult it is, no matter what tender feelings you still have, do not express any of that to your ex. It won't help. It will just make the breakup more difficult for both of you.
  • Admit your weakness. Many times, though your partner is controlling and/or manipulative (which is wrong), that partner is exploiting your own weaknesses (which enables the controlling/manipulative behaviors). Though both of you are in the wrong, if you are to avoid the same problems in the future, you will need to address your own insecurities about abandonment, loneliness, and/or your tendencies to wish to "rescue" or by virtue of your love alone, "repair" whatever damage you perceive in others. However, no matter who is most responsible, this situation needs to end. Work out your issues on your own, after separating from this relationship.
  • Let's say you have a mutual friend, Jim. As you're driving away, you call Jim and say, "Jim, I just broke up with Laurel. She was pretty upset when I left and you'd do me a big favor by just calling and checking on her, make sure she's okay (don't tell her I asked you to) but I gotta go." Betcha dollars to donuts that Jim will call her or drop by, and find that she was fine by the time he got there, and didn't seem too upset. You will probably be hearing from your ex that s/he is devastated and can't function - and then hear from other friends that s/he is out for dinner and continuing with life. But s/he wants you to believe otherwise, because that is the lure to bring you back under his/her control. The quicker you get it over with, the quicker s/he'll get over it - as soon as the control issue has been decided (i.e., you've left and you don't dance to his/her tune anymore), there's no need to continue the fight, so the moment you leave, it's over. There may be some residual angst to deal with, but the worst will be past.
  • If you live together and s/he will not leave, you have to be the one to move out, assuming you are not the sole property owner or the one whose name is on the lease. This can be very difficult, especially if you have been cut off from your support system (friends and family) and have nowhere to go. Still, it may be the only way - leave it to the divorce court judge to decide the disposition of jointly owned real estate. If you are the sole property owner, then it gets very unpleasant: you must call the police, explain that you are ending a relationship and want your now-ex to quit the property. They will stand behind you as you tell him/her to get out, and escort him/her from the premises once you do so. Make sure all keys are surrendered at this time. A restraining order is recommended, to keep him/her from returning. After that, if s/he attempts to return, you must call the police at once. Hide yourself in a bathroom or other locked room, if necessary, until the cops arrive to remove him/her from the premises once more. Avoid conversation or other contact with your ex - it has the potential to escalate once more.
  • Controlling and manipulative people are often produced by external factors that you have no control over. You cannot hope to change or rescue such a person, as much as you may care for him/her; the best help you can give him/her is to (A), refuse to be a victim , and (B), direct him/her to professional help .
  • Don't delete text messages or voice mails from your ex, but don't respond to them, either. When you respond, it's a minor win, and continues to feed the notion that a bigger win is in the offing. However, should your ex become stalker-ish, these text messages can provide valuable evidence to the police if you want to get a restraining order. Consider buying a digital recorder, and saving voice messages to a CD, a jump drive, or whatever, that you keep in a safe place for if and when the time is necessary.
  • Get your support network back. Go to the friends and family you will inevitably have been disconnected from by your controller, fall on your sword, and ask them to take you back. Without trash-talking (or letting others do it, either), you can say, "The bottom line is, you were right, the relationship was toxic, and once I realized it, I got out. I appreciate you taking the risk you did by sharing your misgivings about it with me."
  • Realize that when you finish your relationship, your partner is all on his/her own. If you know people that are close to him/her and could be present at that time, they could help your partner and avoid the rejection getting to deep into their system. A lot of things have already happened between you and your partner but in this way you can apply your care and love in a positive, comforting way and have respect.
  • Power and control is always a controversial issue. We all play games, however most of us want a non-complicated relationship with balance, which is often difficult to establish . Give people space and time to be an individual and allow yourself freedom as well . Use self control; an ex will somehow track where you are and how you are! Absorb yourself in something constructive after a bust up and allow yourself to build yourself. You will find happiness and inner peace! We all need balance and unconditional love.


  • Don't assume that a mild, calm encounter with this person will end well for you; it may be weeks or months, but it's virtually guaranteed that you'll hear something horrible about yourself from a mutual acquaintance somewhere. Resist the urge to re-engage with your ex for the sake of "setting the record straight". Just let it go - the people who know you will figure out which of you is the more truthful, more by your responses and actions than anything else. Simply say, "That's just not true, but if it makes him/her feel better to say it... whatever." Just shrug and show them there's nothing you can do to stop your ex from saying such things, and then move on.
  • Watch for stalking or menacing behaviors, and if you notice anything, report them to the police immediately. This person is probably just difficult and not dangerous. But don't take any chances. If necessary, get a restraining or protective order and call the police each and every time it's violated; you will need the paper trail if the stalking escalates. S/he may try to destroy any action that indicates you moving on with your life, such as your career, a new relationship; s/he may deny access to your personal belongings or things that are important to you (which is why it's best to take them all and leave nothing behind when you go). S/he may even ask for a meeting to discuss re-paying you for credit card or other debt you incurred as a couple. This is a tool to maintain contact - don't fall for it. It may be an expensive lesson, but it may actually be better to just pay the debt off yourself rather than hook yourself into a payment arrangement that requires monthly contact to enforce.
  • Children will often be told that they were abandoned as opposed to telling them the truth - that the divorce had nothing to do with them. Controllers may have first class mail continuing to be sent to their ex's new home, asking the children to "put the mail between the doors", so that snooping opportunities may arise. Pumping the child for information is a given, and it is done relentlessly. For the rest of some childrens' lifetime, their primary relationship with a controlling/manipulative abuser/parent, will revolve around destroying their relationship with the normal and healthy parent.
  • Many manipulating and controlling people will use their own children to further their control needs, after a divorce occurs. Children may be asked to carry messages, repeatedly asked for news of the ex spouse, information regarding vacations, dating new people, or any other news they can get. Parental Alienation Syndrome, where the controlling parent tries to destroy the relationship and credibility of the other, will almost always be instigated as a way to control the adult through their relationship with the kids. You cannot stop your ex from putting your children through this, but you don't have to engage in it. Your kids may need regular sessions with a counselor to help them understand why Mommy (or Daddy, whichever is the controller) tries to make them feel bad or guilty, or why it's a bad idea to tell that parent what's going on with you. It's a good investment in their future if you can afford it. Otherwise, you will simply have to fill the role of psychologist or therapist, and when you notice the kids having trouble dealing with your ex, step in to help as best you are able.
  • Often, these people re-live significant events in their lives, re-writing along the way and changing the details to suit themselves. His/her recollection of conversations, impressions of you or others during the event, etc., can be terribly skewed, and can make him/her even angrier the more time goes by. He or she can also blame everything on you and call you the manipulator. If your ex is at all prone to violent outbursts, exercise extreme caution at any chance meeting.
  • If you have children, you may not deny your ex access to them unless there is a court order stating that you may. If your ex is simply controlling and manipulative, your goal is simply to protect your kids as best you can by pointing out to the kids the ways your ex may attempt to control or manipulate them - do be careful not to alienate them from their other parent; simply be there to explain behaviors to them which leave them feeling confused or feeling hurt or guilty. If your ex is dangerous, and you fear that s/he may abduct or harm the children, you must inform an officer of the court, the police, or other help authorities of this so that protective arrangements can be made.
  • The emotional abuse often extends to the favored child. Since a manipulator never gives up their power, there is always another victim nearby, especially if innocent children are still in the home. Teens are especially prone to controlling/manipulating if their mother is single. The kids have no escape from continued manipulative influence. The girls may not get a prom dress, or the boys can't drive the car for a month, and they are taught to never mention the good time they enjoyed with their emotionally stable and loving parent. The children are captive hostages to unstable parental controlling and manipulating mind games. This is why, as the stable parent, it's incumbent upon you to get them the professional help they will need to recognize and deal with their unstable parent.
  • Not every controlling or manipulative person is dangerous, but some are. Most will respond to a show of strength - if you show up with friends or relatives to back you up, or if you refuse all contact, 9 times out of 10, this will be enough to make your point and put an end to things. If not, enlist help, either from police (a restraining order) or from a mental health specialist who may be able to help you identify whether your ex is a danger to you or others, or to him/herself, and will know the appropriate steps to take in that case.
  • Other ways a manipulative ex spouse may exert control is to hang onto personal possessions, ie, personal family photos, high school or college belongings, antiques that hold special value, or it could be anything that the controlling/manipulative person knows is of importance that can be used as an emotional weapon.
  • The best way to respond is no response. Focus on the child, not the manipulation. That way, the child doesn't bear the brunt of the emotional response, and the control or manipulation attempt fails because the desired effect was not achieved (the desired effect is that you get upset).
    • Example: You notice some family photos have been taken, and you rightly assume your ex was the one who took them. You say nothing, but some time later, your child happily brings one or two of them home after a visit with your ex, saying, "Mom, look what Dad found!". You are furious. If you want to "win" this encounter, however, you must not react. Simply say, "Oh, how nice. Remember when we took that trip? We had fun, didn't we? Why don't you take it up to your room." Then turn to your ex (who is just itching for you to scream at him) and say, "It was nice of you to give those to him. I know it means a lot to him." And drop it. No matter how angry you are, or what the temptation might be to scream, "I have been looking everywhere for those, and you have no right to make yourself out to be the big hero to him by stealing them from me and then giving them to our son." Your ex is dying for that confrontation - but it will go very badly for you if you act on this urge. First of all, recognize what he has done: (1) he has enlisted your son's aid and made him an unwitting accomplice in his manipulation games, (2) he has just proven to you that he can still insert himself into your life whenever he feels like it - that he is still "in the picture", so to speak, and (3) he's gotten an emotional response from you. It's a huge win for him, and it fuels his fire to continue to win. If you want the games to ratchet down, and maybe even eventually end, you must not react or respond. Just let it go.

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