FamilyLife Blog

3 Steps to Get Manipulation Out of Your Marriage

by | May 17, 2022 | Emotional Intimacy, Marriage

Manipulation. That is not a fun word to hear. It’s even less fun to admit that you do it. The American Psychological Association defines manipulation as behaviour “designed to exploit, control, or otherwise influence others to one’s advantage.” 

Think about it for a moment: when you do something nice for your spouse, do you do it because you will get something in return? Or is it from a place of wanting to bless your spouse or minister to them? 

In his book The Marriage Builder, Dr. Larry Crabb gives two motivations in a marriage: you can either be driven by manipulation or by ministry.

So how do you tell the difference? How do you know if you are manipulating or ministering? 

It’s all in your motivation, the goal you are trying to accomplish. Is the goal to get something from your spouse or to give something? Are you approaching things from a me perspective or a you perspective?

Here’s an example from our marriage.

Valerie loves massages. Anytime of day and almost anytime of night (although when she is sleeping, it is best to let her sleep). Now, if I give Valerie a massage with the sole purpose of wanting sex that night, I am coming from a place of manipulation.

But if I give Valerie a massage because I know how much she enjoys them, and I want to be a blessing to her, that is from a place of ministry.

If your motive comes from a place of manipulation, it can lead to your partner feeling used and unloved, and that you have a hidden agenda for the things you do for them. An act of kindness or love is cheapened because you are not really doing it for them — you are doing it for yourself. This really sets up an unhealthy dynamic in the relationship.

So how do you move from manipulation to ministry in your marriage? Dr. Larry Crabb suggests these three steps.

1. Decide

Choose to bless your spouse, no strings attached, no ulterior motives. It may be difficult to do at first, but it will become easier with time.

2. Be Aware

Be a student and find out what will bless your spouse. And then do those things with a generous heart. If you’re unsure, just ask. I keep a sticky note by our bed reminding me of what blesses Valerie, so it takes the guessing game out of the equation!

3. Minister with Conviction

You are God’s chosen minister to your spouse. The condition for effective ministry is utter reliance on God that grows out of a sense of your inadequacy for the task. You truly are not going to be able to live free of manipulation without full reliance on God.

FamilyLife Canada’s Weekend Getaway Marriage Conferences are based on the concept of oneness in marriage. If you are going to find the oneness that you desire, you are going to have to move from a manipulation mindset to a ministry mindset towards your spouse.

So let me ask the hard question: are you doing things for your spouse from a manipulation mindset, or from a place to minister? What could you do today to bless your spouse?