How Flatterers Can Manipulate and Control in Relationships

How Flatterers Can Manipulate and Control in Relationships

When it comes to relationships, how do you know if the flattery is sincere? Sometimes those false flattering words, are actually some hidden agendas veiled in the fawning. Although fake praise may seem harmless and as much as we like to hear those words, those aren’t real. It can weaken love and be used to abuse. Read on to know about flattery and how flatterers can manipulate and control relationships.

Oh, love’s best habit is in seeming trust,
     …Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
     And in our faults by lies we flattered be.

          — “When my love swears that she is made of truth,” Shakespeare.

Flattery is a type of white lie, but why would it be a problem? 

How Flatterers Can Manipulate and Control in Relationships

Doesn’t everyone like to be told good things about themselves? Sure, but false praise is not the same as a thoughtful, honest compliment. Often, people see through flimsy flattery. For instance, students who apply to our graduate programs have professors write recommendation letters.

One professor has sent many letters, but frequently says he is recommending the “best student he has ever worked with.” When everyone is “the best,” the recommendation doesn’t mean as much. When every performance gets a standing ovation, it doesn’t reflect the quality of the show.

Read How Each Zodiac Sign Secretly Manipulates You

Flattery can also be dangerous.

A client of mine, whom I will call Joanna, learned firsthand about the power of a manipulative flatterer. In middle school, she was teased by friends for being an early bloomer, and this left her anxious and insecure. When she began her freshman year at college, she met Brad, who sensed her vulnerability. He began calling her relentlessly, texting her about how he couldn’t stop thinking about her eyes or her voice.

She was blown away. She felt deeply desired, and this was intoxicating. He pressured her for sex, even though she told him she wanted to wait. She eventually gave in and kept this from her friends, who were becoming concerned, and her mother, whom she knew would disapprove of the whole relationship.

Things moved quickly, and Brad continued the flattery, but also became jealous, asking her to stop hanging out with friends and wearing certain clothes. She found out he had a son from a previous relationship, but he had excuses for why he hadn’t been honest with her, and he dodged the issue by complaining about how awful his ex was.

Read How Our Brains Can Be Manipulated, Even in the Face of Facts

He convinced Joanna she was the only person who understood him. Things turned abusive, as he would make fun of her looks and take her phone as punishment. She was entrapped by this point and would believe him and blame herself for their problems.

He would hit her, then buy her gifts, promise to change, and threaten suicide. He used flattery like many manipulators do — to gain control in relationships. As is often the case, the kindness mostly stopped after Joanna was too beaten down to leave.

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Jason B. Whiting, PhD

Jason Whiting researches the love lives of couples, focusing on how deception and conflict take root in even the best of relationships. His goal is to apply social science to help couples to be more loving and authentic. His book, Love Me True, is an entertaining and informative look at how partners can be more honest with themselves and each other. Dr. Whiting received his Ph.D. from Michigan State University and is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He has won awards for his research and writing and is currently a professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University.View Author posts