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Defense Against Manipulative Dating Games 3: Tricky Giving

Defend against your dating partner's games of manipulative giving.

Welcome back to The Attraction Doctor

Thanks again for your continued support. Knowing how to identify and protect yourself from those who might manipulate you is a powerful tool. It helps you stay away from danger, prevents you from collecting bad experiences and "baggage, and allows you to find healthy dating and relationship situations. If you have missed the first two "Defense Against Manipulative Dating Games" articles, you can find them here and here.

As stated last time, from your comments, there appears to be a lot of questions about "giving and taking" in dating interactions. When is giving okay? When is taking appropriate? When are each manipulative? Etc. Last week, I addressed manipulative taking. This time, I will address the questions of when and how giving can become manipulative in dating and relationships.

With a gift...are there "strings attached" or "no strings attached"?

Dating Game: Manipulative Giving

In general, everyday giving-and-taking between people is based on the social rule of Reciprocity. Essentially, reciprocity means that someone should be willing to return a favor in-kind, when one is done for them. This rule protects a "giver" from being taken advantage of by someone who takes, but never gives back. This also keeps people motivated to give freely...and our exchange society running smoothly.

Manipulative Giving - This rule of reciprocity provides a lot of power to a person who gives. Someone who takes a gift, even something small and unassuming, is "socially obligated" to return that favor. Usually, this obligation is not wielded with bad intent. However, some individuals do give - make their partners feel guilty and indebted - and then use that leverage to take, take, and take.

More specifically, giving becomes manipulative when a gift is used to get something in return that a partner would not normally be willing to give. In other words, the manipulative giver;

  1. wants something that the partner is unwilling to give,
  2. does not communicate that specific want to the partner,
  3. gives something as a "gift", and then
  4. uses the partner's feeling of indebtedness to extract the specific favor that the giver wants through reciprocity.

Essentially, this process is dishonest because the giver should be straightforward with his/her desire and make a fair "trade" or "bargain". Both parties should be clear as to what is being offered and requested before the trade. Instead, however, a "gift" is given, and reciprocity is used to extract a favor in a "sneaky" way. This leaves the partner uninformed, emotionally controlled, and manipulated. He/she does not have a "choice" in what he/she is getting or giving in return.

Defense Against Manipulative Giving

There are a few techniques to defend yourself against dates who "give manipulatively"...

1) Don't take, unless you're willing to give back - Your mother probably told you to "not take candy from strangers". A similar rule applies here. Even if you want the gift or favor, don't take it from someone who you think might have bad intentions. In other words, refuse gifts and favors from others, especially when you are not willing to give something back to them. This provides the best protection, as you have not incurred any debt.

2) Never manipulate in return - Some individuals sense the manipulative intention of the gift-giver and use it to justify taking from them without reciprocating. They feel that the manipulative giver is not "entitled" to reciprocity. But, this strategy just fights "manipulative giving" with "manipulative taking". Two wrongs don't make a right. Plus, you still fall into the trap of "owing" the manipulative giver. So, don't try it. Just say no to the gift.

3) Clarify intentions - If you are unsure as to the motives of a giver, then ask. Clarify why they are giving you a gift. Ask them what they would like in return, before you accept. If they have a specific return favor in mind, this will turn the conversation into a "trade" or "negotiation". Then both parties can clearly decide on a fair trade - rather than a manipulative gift.

4) Give back on your terms - Sometimes you might find yourself in a situation where you are already "caught" in manipulative giving. You feel guilty and indebted, with the giver making specific requests. If so, remember that reciprocity only means that you should give them SOMETHING back - it doesn't have to be what they are asking for in return! In other words, they may want a steamy night of sex...but a plate of homemade cookies will appease the reciprocity rule. Heck, sometimes even a "thank you" note does the trick. So, if you're stuck and guilty, give what YOU WANT TO GIVE back. Then, don't take any more favors from them...


Giving is part of all normal and healthy relationships. Under conditions of empathy and altruism, gifts are given honestly to balance a relationship and create mutual exchange. But, sometimes gift-giving can get manipulative - especially when a partner uses it to get something specific that you are unwilling to give. In those instances, avoid taking gifts and becoming indebted. Also, clarify their intentions and seek to make an honest trade with them where appropriate. Finally, if you are already in debt, give back in your own way...on your terms. This will keep you safe from manipulative social obligation and your conscience clean. Then, go look for a relationship that is equitable, reciprocal, and honest.

Leave a comment below with any other "Manipulative Dating Games" you'd like me to discuss. I will describe them and share defenses against them in future articles.

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Until next time...happy dating and relating!

Dr. Jeremy Nicholson
The Attraction Doctor

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© 2011 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.