As parents, it’s possible to tell if our sons have girlfriends who try to manipulate them.
Even if our kid seems happy and in love, there’s something off, and we realize it. The signs of them being in an abusive relationship are there.
Manipulative relationships are the origins of intimacy, respect, and self-assurance issues.
Should you confront your son if you believe he’s in an abusive relationship with his girlfriend?
Most importantly, how do you intervene without becoming the villain and the untrustworthy parent?
Read on and find out everything you need to know about this.
Your son’s girlfriend is manipulative: what are the signs?
1) Stay alert and look out for clues
It’s sad, but all unhealthy relationships are quite similar.
They lack healthy boundaries or respect, and ultimately, one of the partners has more power and control than the other.
A warning sign to look out for is when your son starts making his girlfriend the only thing in his life. He’ll start skipping school, and he won’t hang out with his friends as much as he used to.
If he’s always checking his phone, worried that his girlfriend doesn’t answer immediately, there’s another sign. Controlling people need quick responses all day, every day.
However, your child might be away from college and this keeps you out of most of their behavior.
One of the tactics you can employ is asking him about his social life. This way, you’ll notice if he doesn’t mention his friends or other activities.
If all he talks about is his romantic partner, then it’s a clue that perhaps he isn’t able to prioritize other things in his life.
2) Talk to him before you talk to both of them
Maybe you are thinking about striking up a conversation with your son’s girlfriend first.
This is not a good approach, and we strongly discourage it.
Your son might be young, but he’s an adult and he can get protective about her.
Yes, even if the relationship is toxic and even if he’s being manipulated.
Confronting the girlfriend without talking to him first can lead to a fight between you and your son, and this will leave him even more alone than before. The time they’ve been together doesn’t matter either.
Take it as a “code of behavior” for good parenting:
- Talk to him first, calmly, and the problem might resolve itself. Or at least, we wish so.
- Take action before the frustration of seeing your son in a toxic relationship gets to you.
- Remember to regulate your emotions and let your reason be the guidance in this case.
3) He might need help opening up about his issues
Whether you’ve always been close or not, you need to remember this is a delicate moment in your son’s life.
He needs to be able to trust you completely; he needs to know you’ll have his back whatever he decides to do. That will help him solve his problems quicker.
Always, always consider his feelings before saying the wrong thing or speaking from a place of anger or frustration.
Besides, he needs to know you will still treat his girlfriend nicely, and that you see them as a team and not as rivals.
If he feels like you’re trying to get him to break up, chances are he will not be willing to speak about the problem and you might lose his trust.
4) He can refuse to talk to you… and that’s okay
If this is your situation, try to get to his friends or a close family member that isn’t in a position of authority, like a cousin.
He might be more open to talking about his relationship with someone that he doesn’t perceive as a “threat”, so to speak.
It’s not because you are a threat, but maybe he feels like he can get in trouble with you, and sometimes we don’t want to share every detail of our lives with our parents.
Make sure to remind him that you’re on his side no matter what and that he’s an adult and is capable of making good choices.
After all, his ability to seek help is what matters here, and if he wants to get it from someone that isn’t you, that’s okay and you have to encourage it.
5) Ask about his feelings if he opens up to you
If you and your son share a close bond and trust each other, you need to be supportive. He’s in love, after all, and love isn’t the most objective emotion.
He has to know that you want the best for his romantic relationship and in a selfless way. If he senses you want him to break up, he will not feel like he can trust you.
It’s also important to remember that there isn’t a perfect relationship. All relationships have problems at one point, and with open dialogue plus a bit of work, your son’s relationship might improve a lot.
If he’s already trying to break up with his girlfriend because of this toxicity and controlling behavior, then you need to be informed as well.
If you know how he feels, you will know how to support him as well.
6) The talk has to be about toxic behaviors
Get him to talk about the unhealthy parts of the relationship, don’t try to make this into a “putting their partner down” time.
We know, it’s hard.
It can be tempting to throw around the word “abusive,” as a way to get them to understand how badly they’re being manipulated.
However, remember that it’s not always easy to realize something is toxic or bad for us at first. He can shut down and stop confiding in you.
So, focus on the specifics:
- How does he feel about some behaviors?
- What does his instinct tell him?
- Does he miss his friends?
- Can he do everything he wants to do?
You can help him realize some things aren’t healthy for him through these questions, and ask him if he’d be okay with it if you were going through something similar.
Some explicit examples of manipulative behaviors are:
- She tries to isolate him from friends and family.
- When she’s around he’s jumpy or flinches a lot.
- She mocks him and teases him badly about everything, including his family.
- She tries to trick him into getting things she wants, this can be material or not.
- He’s guilty of every single thing that goes wrong.
- She manipulates him through his emotions, trying to get him to do things he doesn’t want to do all the time.
- They aren’t prioritizing school and other activities, instead spending all their time together.
7) Don’t get preachy
It’s hard to see yourself as a victim, and it’s harder still for people in manipulative relationships.
He doesn’t want to be seen as a victim!
The only way to help him here is to let him know you won’t judge him, but without normalizing the toxic patterns you can see.
You can even get vulnerable and talk about past relationships and the trouble you went through if the circumstances are right.
Even if it’s hard, talk to him as a friend, not as an authoritative figure or a therapist. Try to make it into an equal exchange.
8) Ask your son if he realizes he’s being manipulated
But be subtle about it!
If he opens up, still, tread carefully. You can ask questions if he trusts you enough to let you into his problems.
Maybe he’s enjoying this stage of his relationship, and if she isn’t threatening his life or his wellbeing, then you will have to remain supportive. Even if you don’t like the way things are going.
If he lets you ask, these are some good examples of how to phrase the questions:
- How do you feel when your girlfriend does this or that? Is it warranted?
- Does the relationship make you feel calm and happy?
- Have you ever felt like some of the things she did to you weren’t right?
- Do you want me to send you information about relationships and the way to handle troubles in them?
- I love you and I want the best possible relationship for you.
- Do you think you can healthily communicate with your girlfriend?
- Do you feel like your emotional needs are met in the relationship, or only hers?
9) Don’t make him feel guilty
Your role here is to help your son realize that the things he’s going through in the relationship aren’t normal, and he’s not to blame for them.
It’s easy to feel like we’re guilty when we’re in a toxic relationship because it feels like we invited the abuse. Reassure him that you’re not putting the blame on him for this situation.
Everyone has to take responsibility for how their behavior affects others, and abuse is never okay.
10) Don’t stop him from seeing her
He’s an adult now, or a teen in a relationship. If you try to stop him from seeing her, he will either not listen to you at all or find ways to sneak out.
Maybe at one point, when he was a child, you could tell him not to play with someone that might be a bad influence o him, but those days are long gone.
He chose to be in a relationship with someone in particular, and you can’t simply stop that.
You have to be there in case he doesn’t want to see his girlfriend anymore– but if he wants to see this through, and work out the issues with his partner— he can do it.
How would you feel if your parents messed with your love life?
If he’s suffering and being a victim of manipulation, you can’t do a magic trick and stop it from happening.
It’s hard to see him in pain, but you have to support his choices, even if you don’t like them, as long as they don’t represent a danger to his life.
He will need you there when he wants to move on.
11) Let him know he has options
Many people, including men, stay in controlling relationships because they fear being alone. They might feel like they won’t find anyone better.
In this case, you can subtly play matchmaker, not by setting him up with other people while he’s in a relationship, of course.
Get him to see that there are other women around and that not everyone is toxic. After all, there are a lot of age-appropriate women for him!
It can take a while, but he will know if he wants someone else. Taking into consideration his age, these are some places where he can meet someone good for him:
- At the temple of your religion;
- At the games of his favorite sports team;
- Amusement parks and fairs;
- At the concert of his favorite bands;
- On a trip, by himself or with friends.
12) They can make their own choices
Yes, we know. It’s difficult.
As parents, we want the best for our children and we often assume that we know what that is. However, you don’t want to be the person that minimizes their issues by saying “why don’t you break up?”.
Remember that abuse and manipulation have very complicated layers and he might be experiencing trauma and unable to get out for the moment.
You don’t want to become manipulative in your pursuit of doing what you think is best for him.
13) You will talk more than once
When you first start talking to your son, he might say a few things and then pull back and act distant.
They don’t have to admit to the abuse to you, or anyone else, they just need to realize it’s abuse for themselves.
Your goal when you talk to him is to let him know that you love them through every single circumstance, and they don’t have to force themselves to speak.
You will be there for them when and if they’re ready to tell you more.
Don’t expect the issue to be solved after the first conversation, you will speak about the topic a lot.
Stay patient and focused on him. If you can manage it, you’re doing the right thing!
14) If he’s in danger, the authorities should be involved
If there’s a threat to your son’s life or well-being, or even if he starts spiraling and self-harming, you have to alert the authorities.
These authorities might be the school security and even the police, but you need to act quickly.
In this case, it doesn’t matter if he’s betrayed or angry with you afterward. His life will be saved and that’s the only thing that matters.
Likely, you don’t need the reminder, but abusive relationships can be fatal. Take action if you think something life-threatening is about to happen.
15) Wait for it to end on its own
Toxic relationships don’t usually last, or at least that is what the statistics say. If your son is young, you can wait until the relationship has run its course.
However, the problem is if he’s older, or if he has been with this girlfriend for years. That’s when you need to be concerned.
Unfortunately, in this case, there’s not a lot you can do. Sometimes mistakes are the best way to learn what we want in life.
Think about yourself, and about the toxic relationships you might have had.
If there’s no physical or emotional violence, you don’t have a lot of choices.
Remain on your son’s side and let him trust you when the relationship ends if he needs to.
16) Regulate your own emotions
Soothing yourself is the best skill to have in hand when dealing with your children. Your emotional health is your responsibility!
Don’t let him manipulate you either.
It is very frustrating to have to deal with a manipulative girlfriend of your son.
But I get it, approaching your son and having to keep calm at the same time can be hard, especially if you’ve been observing how she’s abusing him.
A conversation like this can leave you frustrated and confused, let alone having to prepare for “the talk”.
So, how do you do it, without being too emotional? How do you approach your son, the apple of your eye, in a calm and thoughtful manner?
I’d say – learn how to regulate your own emotions.
Well, it might come in handy in many situations, not only when you have to confront your son.
One technique, that I find specifically helpful is breathwork. Though it may appear strange and intense at the start, it’s actually a very powerful way to calm down and bring peace to your life.
I highly recommend watching this free breathwork video, created by the shaman, Rudá Iandê.
There are a lot of breathwork trainers, so why Rudá?
Rudá isn’t another self-professed life coach. Through shamanism and his own life journey, he’s created a modern-day twist to ancient healing techniques.
Basically, what he does is he combines ancient shamanic beliefs and breathwork techniques. Altogether, they help you relax and check in with your body and soul.
I tried breathwork a few times and Rudá’s dynamic breathwork flow was one of the most effective sessions that I had.
It helped me to get back to my deep inner peace and find the strength and courage to face daily struggles.
So if you want to prepare for the talk, check out his genuine advice below.
Is your son in a toxic relationship? When to worry
It can be difficult to get to know your son’s girlfriend. Especially if you don’t share a lot in terms of personality.
Even if you can tell he’s being manipulated, chances are, he doesn’t care. Should you confront her?
How do you handle the fact that your son’s girlfriend is problematic?
12 red flags to share with your son when he’s dating
This will be useful to better speak with your son, once you decide to do it. There are unmistakable red flags that you can tell him all about.
If your son’s girlfriend is trying to isolate him from his family and friends, that’s a big red flag that you can easily spot.
Other red flags relate more to abuse. Although physical abuse is somewhat easier to detect, mental abuse is not as obvious.
Watch out if your son is easily startled by his girlfriend’s movements because it might be a sign that she’s physically abusive.
Insulting him, degrading him– even as a joke– and being dismissive of everything he says or does is also a sign.
This is the complete list of red flags to share with your son in a toxic relationship:
1) The Eternal victim. If she’s always trying to get him to save her, fix things, and be the hero while she remains a passive victim, it’s a red flag. Everyone is responsible for their behavior.
2) Drama club 24/7. All her emotional reactions are unwarranted and over the top. She’s explosive and angry a lot of the time.
3) The Attention Seeker. If she treats your son disdainfully and is always asking for gifts and pampering… red flag!
4) The Emotionally Inconsistent. This girl doesn’t have an old friendship, and her interests change all the time.
5) The Victorian Woman. Her health is always declining (of course, this isn’t true, she’s just doing it to get attention and justify her toxic behavior). Your son is always running to help her and heal her.
6) The Winner of the Debate. Everything your son does or says is a valid reason to argue. The positive interactions are few and far in between.
7) The Loving Love Lass. She might be ultra jealous and demand all of your son’s attention, getting angry even at his closest friends.
8) The Relationship Bunny. As a general rule, people who have just gotten out of a relationship have to spend time on their own and figure themselves out. If your son’s girlfriend has just ended a relationship, chances are she isn’t ready to start another.
9) The Worst Friends. If her friends are bad people and also give off bad vibes in general, chances are she isn’t a lot better. You are known by the company you keep!
10) The Vain Princess. Believing herself superior, she might treat your son, and even yourself, with disrespect. Both in public and in private.
11) The Hateful Queen. In this case, she treats everyone badly. Even her parents and her friends. This is never good news for your son.
12) The Destructive One. All her past relationships have been toxic, but it’s never her fault. However, she keeps looking for vulnerable men and manipulating them.
And here’s an extra one: you might not even be the first person to tell your son his girlfriend’s behavior is toxic. If he tells you this, then they have a point and he should consider their opinions.
After all, they all want what’s best for him.
How to approach this difficult subject
It’s easy to get lost in the first relationships and not see the red flags for what they are. After all, we want to believe our partners love us and would never harm us.
However, you are more experienced and can see when the relationship is bad.
Don’t make decisions for him, it’s his love life after all, but take the time to explain to him the signs of an unhealthy relationship and remain firmly on his side.
How to start explaining a manipulative relationship?
Sometimes, we mistake toxicity for passion. Though your son might see jealousy as a form of affection and even flattery, these aren’t the signs of healthy love.
He must know what to guard himself against, but be careful when you talk to him. Sit down with him and talk calmly… and be ready to back away if he gets angry at you.
A lot of toxic people want to control what the other person does, through any means necessary. Gaslighting, the silent treatment, screaming, crying… a manipulative person can’t take no for an answer.
Stay honest with your perception of the relationship, but ask questions too. Help him figure things out and explain what you see.
Why is this happening to my son?
Simply put, it’s easier to be objective when you’re not the one in the relationship. It’s not understandable, though.
The answer is that he’s in love. He is, in a way, blind to his partner’s faults.
Help him set healthy boundaries and make himself a priority, so that he can avoid this in the future.
He doesn’t want to break up with her: What to do next
As a mother, the instinct to protect your son is normal. This is why so many mothers-in-law are seen as bad people or as difficult to deal with: it’s a fight for power.
Mothers might have very high expectations for the people their son starts dating, and at first, the girl will try to impress everyone. You can even feel like she’s trying to replace you.
But if she’s manipulative and he doesn’t want to break up, what do you do?
Here are some useful tips:
- Ask yourself why you’re feeling like this. Is she manipulative or do you feel threatened by her? Have you unconsciously set expectations on who she is? Are there valid reasons for you to be worried about her?
- Ditch the prejudice. Focus on getting to know her before you judge her and jump to conclusions. Look for her good qualities and try to understand why your son’s with her.
- Are her flaws harmful? Maybe your son doesn’t have a problem with something you perceive as negative. Remember that we can all change over time and that experience is the best teacher.
- If he’s in danger, talk to him. Remain respectful, but state your opinions and the reasons why you have them. Listen to his perspective.
- Accept his choice. Remember that this is his love life, not yours. You don’t have to like his girlfriend, you just have to be there for him and trust that he will do what’s best for himself.
To sum up
When we are in a negative relationship, we might forget what we enjoy in life. Sometimes, we just need to be reminded of the good things that surround us.
Remind him that as time goes by, he will find himself enjoying things once again, and he will learn a valuable lesson too.
We’ve all been in bad relationships, and it’s most likely not his only chance at love. Breakups are difficult but worth it to have peace of mind.
If you’ve been in an unhealthy relationship yourself, tell him about it.
This way, he will know you understand him. Sometimes you just can’t help the heartache.
If he feels that people are with him during this bad time, he will feel stronger. Leaving unhealthy relationships is harder than ending healthy ones, and it gets worse if nobody’s there for us.