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Mind Games in a Relationship: Why Play, When It’s Okay & How to Stop It

Mind games in a relationship are exhausting, unhealthy, and toxic. So, what can you do to avoid them? Here’s everything you need to know.

mind games in a relationship

Aren’t relationships supposed to be full of honesty, love, and trust? Then how come so many people play ridiculous mind games in relationships? They constantly leave the other person on their toes, feeling anxious and insecure.

Well, most people are downright tired of it. Aren’t you?

If you’re someone who has been stuck in a relationship that was nothing but mind games, then you know just how frustrating it can be. You never truly feel secure in the relationship, and you never really get to know your partner.

Why do people play mind games in relationships?

There are a lot of reasons why someone would drag someone else along and play mind games with them in a relationship.

As you all know already, it seems as though guys tend to play more mind games than women do. However, women can be just as guilty. [Read: How to play mind games with a guy over text and stop him from using you]

People who play relationship mind games usually lead a person on, fake interest, and leave their partner confused as to how they really feel about them. They usually do this because they want something from them. Or, other times, they just want to have someone around but aren’t actually ready to commit to them.

When you first meet someone, you don’t want to come off as desperate and scare them off. It makes sense you would make yourself seem less available than you are. [Read: How to open up to people and learn to be vulnerable]

You want to play it cool at first. You don’t want to move too quickly or seem too eager. That is fair enough. But once a flirtation becomes a true connection, playing mind games in a relationship can do more harm than good.

See, when you are just getting to know someone, you don’t want to put too much out there at once. You want to take your time and get to know them.

This is why you may only have one or two dates a week, even though you like them enough to see them every day. This is why you wait for them to call instead of picking up the phone yourself. [Read: Why do girls play games and test guys in the early stages of dating?]

It is a way we protect ourselves from getting too involved too quickly. It is also a way for us to see if the other person is willing to make an effort. But, once dating turns into a relationship, playing mind games no longer works so well.

Should you be playing mind games in a relationship?

The simple answer is no. Playing games in a relationship is always bad news. Whether you know how to play your partner or not, it is sneaky and manipulative.

You could say the same for playing hard to get at first, but when you don’t know someone, playing mind games is a natural way we ease into a relationship. It isn’t necessarily misleading. [Read: Am I manipulative? The behaviors that show you manipulate people]

But once you are in a committed relationship, continuing with that behavior is no longer innocent. It goes from a way to protect yourself to a way to control your partner.

Playing mind games in a relationship stems from selfishness, a need for control, and even enjoyment. And these games are not things like seeing who makes the bed more often. They are a lot more serious and even detrimental to a relationship.

Guilting your husband into doing something he doesn’t want to do because he let you down months ago is a game. Promising to do something so that you’ll get something out of it is playing games. [Read: How to stop playing games in a relationship and focus on loving instead]

Making future plans that you have no intention of keeping is playing mind games.

Not only should you avoid playing games in a relationship, but you shouldn’t put up with it from your partner either. If you leave a situation with your partner feeling controlled, guilted, or disrespected, speak up.

Let them know you aren’t going to be disrespected like that. If they want something from you or a specific outcome to an argument, they need to be honest, even if that means having a disagreement. [Read: The signs of disrespect in a relationship that reveals a lack of love]

Why you shouldn’t be playing mind games in a relationship

Sadly, these games are so common in relationships that many people don’t realize that they’re playing mind games. Some may think of these actions as making it work or getting what they want without a fight.

Sure, playing games in a relationship may benefit the player in the short term. It can avoid a fight or get you what you want, but in the long run, those intentions come to light and drive a wedge between a couple.

It could be months or even years of playing mind games in a relationship before the played partner realizes what’s been going on. [Read: Are you being gaslighted? 20 signs a narcissist is messing with your mind]

But even if they don’t confront their partner about their mind games, the mind games will still affect them. Their self-esteem, independence, and even self-worth could be crumbling for a long time due to the mental mind games their partner plays on them.

Playing games makes it sound like it is so innocent, yet it is a cruel form of manipulation. These games play on your need to please, your desire to stay in the relationship, and your fear of getting hurt. Not only is playing games in a relationship unfair, but it is also downright callous.

And as we mentioned earlier, playing mind games in a relationship doesn’t just harm the partner, but the player as well.

Sure, some people may fall for manipulation at first, but eventually, they’ll catch on. [Read: Emotional maturity – the biggest clues to know if someone *or you* has it]. And most people don’t want to be in a complicated relationship. If you need to play games to make a relationship work, you probably aren’t ready for a relationship at all, and others will pick up on that.

Playing games in a relationship is also a sign of insecurity. You are manipulating or controlling your partner because you’re afraid of what will happen if you don’t. Playing those games is, in a way, your safety net. But, it can also become your method of failure. [Read: 15 signs of an unhappy person who is hiding behind a happy smile]

They prevent you from being yourself and building an honest connection. Even if you’re in a relationship for years, playing games will always keep you from getting too close.

That can sabotage the relationship. If you are unwilling to put in the trust that a healthy relationship requires, you are ending it before it even starts.

If you believe you don’t deserve a healthy relationship, you will behave in a way that risks it. By playing games, you are essentially messing up the relationship. You may think you’d never do that, but it is more common than you think. [Read: The 20 surest signs you’re either ready for a relationship or completely unprepared]

If you can mess things up on your own, it prevents them from hurting you and protects you in a way. Or at least your subconscious thinks of it that way. When the relationship doesn’t end up working out due to your games, it will hurt all the same.

And then, what may hurt the most, playing games in a relationship leads to dysfunction. A dysfunctional relationship can be more painful and heartbreaking than a breakup. Being in an unhealthy relationship full of games is draining and stressful.

It is one thing to be lonely, it is another to feel lonely in a relationship. Your relationship should be a team, not each person against the other.

And if you play games in a relationship, it is more of a constant psychological fight than a partnership. [Read: 15 signs of manipulation in a relationship you should never ignore]

If your partner doesn’t play back, the games will leave you feeling like you need to control your partner in order to get affection, love, or respect. And they will leave your partner feeling insecure.

If your partner does play games back, your relationship becomes constant stress. It isn’t about you supporting each other but outsmarting each other. It becomes a game of control and power instead of a relationship that adds to your life.

This can do the most damage to your emotional and mental health in the long run and will affect you and your partner’s future relationships. Playing games in a relationship is not as fun as it sounds. [Read: What is a toxic relationship? 53 signs to recognize love that hurts you]

Games aren’t about being mysterious or getting what you want. Playing games in a relationship will always lead to pain and heartache.

What to do when you’re sick of relationship mind games

Relationship games get really old really quickly. One person can only handle so much manipulation, lying, and sometimes even cheating before they finally break and freak out.

If you’re tired of debilitating relationship games and don’t know what to do, you’re in luck. There are tons of different ways you can deal with a partner who plays endless mind games. [Read: How to leave a toxic relationship – 24 steps to end it and find happiness]

Here is exactly what to do when you hit your breaking point and are just sick and tired of those childish and selfish relationship games.

1. Remain calm

It’s really hard not to get super mad and annoyed at someone who is playing games with your heart and emotions.

It can be so tempting to engage in a screaming match that can quickly escalate and turn ugly when you’re being tugged along with annoying relationship games.

But the worst thing you can do is freak out. Try to take a deep breath, remain calm, and give yourself a chance to rationally figure out how to proceed from here. [Read: Put the crazy away: 15 ways to calm the hell down]

2. Figure out what the problem is, if any

Not all people play relationship games on purpose because they don’t want to commit. Some people might be facing real struggles in their lives that cause them to play these games unintentionally.

Your job, before freaking out and making a huge deal of it, is to figure out if there is a real issue within the relationship.

One way to find this out without having to confront them directly is to take a peek into their past relationships. [Read: 20 steps to fix a toxic relationship and change before it’s too late]

Was there cheating involved? Was there anything that may have given them a reason to have trust issues?

If so, then these things could be the reasons for their relationship games, and you’ll need to address these separately.

3. Talk to them

If your patience is running low or you’ve been dealing with their relationship games for quite some time, it’s perfectly fine to open up and talk to them about it. [Read: How to communicate in a relationship – 16 steps to a better love]

Sometimes, they don’t even realize they’re doing it. Other times, calling them out on their immature behavior is enough to make it stop.

You should do this in person, during a time when you’re both calm. This way, they can’t dodge any questions by not responding to a text or pretending they didn’t get it.

When you talk with them in person, you’ll also be able to tell how they truly feel about it by their reaction and body language. [Read: A guide on effective communication in a relationship]

4. Seek support

By now, your friends have all heard of your significant other’s relationship games in much detail. These people will make the best support system since they already know what’s going on between the two of you.

Talk to your support system about it and get their opinions on the matter. You never know if you’re just blowing things out of proportion or if you’re not making a big enough deal about the games your partner keeps playing.

Support is much needed during a time like this when your emotions are running high and angry. [Read: 24 sad signs and consequences of emotional neglect in a relationship]

5. Don’t play along

Don’t give in to their game-playing antics. You probably know all of the telltale signs that they’re about to pull something on you, so don’t play along!

In fact, when they start with their excuses or anything else game-ish, call them out on it. Not only will they realize that you’re not playing along anymore, but they’ll be more likely to stop this behavior in the future.

6. Ignore them every time they start playing

Another technique to stomp out relationship games is to completely ignore them. If they text you with some excuse about not being able to go out because they’re “busy,” just ignore it.

If you don’t give them anything to play with, their behavior will have to stop. [Read: How to stop selfish people from hurting you]

7. Realize that it isn’t your fault

A lot of people often think if they were only prettier, more interesting, funnier, or more confident, their love interest would have never toyed with them in the first place.

But the truth is that it is entirely their fault. There’s nothing that you could have done differently that would have made them stop playing their relationship games with you. If it weren’t happening to you, it would surely be happening to someone else.

8. Scope out the situation

One option to think about when you don’t want to give up on the relationship entirely is that they could be playing games in order to make themselves more appealing to you. [Read: Why do men like a chase? How to use it in your favor]

Although this method to attract someone isn’t always very effective, lots of people tend to use it, especially if they’re shy about sharing their feelings with you.

If you take a little time to scope out what’s really going on, they might let up on their relationship games if they realize that you’re into them, too.

9. Avoid dating people with player reputations

This one is just plain and simple. If you know that someone has a reputation for being a player, don’t get involved with them. Reputations aren’t created from thin air. [Read: Signs he’s not playing hard to get, he’s playing you]

Sometimes, though, a person can get a bad reputation from an ex who was unhappy with them and decided to leave the relationship on a bad note.

So, if you do hear that someone has a bad reputation, but you’ve come to like them, get to know them very well before starting anything serious.

10. Leave them!

Obviously, if you’re sick and tired of relationship games, you’re not happy with the current state of your relationship. If it’s gone on long enough to make you miserable, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being fed up and leaving them. [Read: 16 clear signs it’s time for you to leave the relationship]

Your happiness should always take priority in your life, even if you have deep feelings for someone.

If they’re not providing you with what you need because they’re too busy playing relationship games that are immature and futile, then you have grounds to break up with them and seek happiness elsewhere.

[Read: The rules to being a good partner in your relationship]

So, next time you think about playing mind games in a relationship or notice a friend doing it, step up and say no. Stick to board games, word games, and video games. Playing games in relationships will never end in you winning.

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Carol Morgan LP
Dr. Carol Morgan
Dr. Carol Morgan has a Ph.D. in communication and is a professor at Wright State University where she loves corrupting young minds. As a relationship and succes...