by Dr. Elliott Kronenfeld

There are certain words we hate to hear when we are in a relationship. Being called a manipulator is one of them. The word manipulator has such negative connotations that it feels like a horrid offense. We are often called a manipulator when we are trying to get our needs met, to get our partner to hear us or understand us. These are the times that we feel we are working our hardest in our relationships.

However, I want to reclaim the word manipulator as a positive and meaningful role in a relationship. It is important to really understand the words we use in a relationship to communicate cleanly. The word manipulate is based on the prefix “mani” which means hands, as in manicure. The word manipulate means “to form with hands”. This is an important relationship skill that we all need to learn how to employ!

Now, to be clear, the goal is not to manipulate the other person, but the dynamic between you. I like the analogy to a ball of clay. The clay when it is first put on the wheel is hard and it takes a lot of hand strength to soften it. The more you work the clay, the more malleable and softer it becomes until you can form it into something. The first time you try to pull the clay up into a shape it will be too thick, too misshapen and it will need to be pushed down again. It will need to be pulled up several times until the final form can be achieved. Working clay, one must assume the clay will not be ready on the first try.

Both partners must have their hands on the “clay” to ensure they are both forming the dynamic between them. This requires some clear communication and goal setting. Imagine if one person was trying to form a bowl, while the other person was trying to form a vase! It is not going to work! There must be some shared goal.

If the “clay” is not being manipulated, it will dry out, crack, crumble, and then eventually return to the dirt it once was because there is no life in it anymore. In our relationships this is when the relationship is over. If we are still able to join together and work on the “clay” of our relationship, with a shared goal of what we are trying to create, that means there is still some growth in it. So learn to be a great manipulator! Manipulation means that you are invested and working hard on the connections between you. So, the next time you are called a manipulator because you are trying to invest in your connection, be proud!

If you want to learn more about how to be a great manipulator, you can read Dr. Kronenfeld’s book Couples by Intention, or contact him at or

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