NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, March 17, 2018

"Bait and Switch" as a Form of Manipulation in Relationships

As a psychotherapist in New York City, I see many clients who complain that their significant other made promises to them that they didn't honor and, worse still, never had any intention of honoring.  Feeling confused, upset and betrayed, these clients talk about being manipulated by their significant other with a "bait and switch" tactic, which is the topic of this article (see my article: Keeping or Breaking Promises).

"Bait and Switch" as a Form of Manipulation in Relationships

What is "Bait and Switch" in Relationships?
To be clear, there will obviously be disappointments and frustration at some point in every relationship.  Being human, we all make mistakes.  But those are very different situations from the concept of "bait and switch."

"Bait and switch" isn't a matter of making a mistake or having a change of heart.  It's intentional manipulation.  Someone makes a promise to do something in order to get what s/he wants at that point in time--knowing all the while that s/he will never honor that promise.

It's not unusual for the person who engages in "bait and switch" to try to turn the tables on his or her partner by either blaming the partner or denying that s/he ever admitted to a problem or said s/he would change.

This act of turning the tables often involves the "gaslighting" of the partner who is being manipulated and betrayed (see my article: Are You Being Gaslighted in Your Relationship?).

The fact that it's an intentional act is what makes people on the receiving end of "bait and switch" feel so confused, upset and betrayed.  They often say that they feel like they don't even know who their partner is anymore and, maybe, never did.

Examples of "Bait and Switch" in Relationships:
  • A man, who has been unfaithful during the dating phase of a relationship, makes a promise to his significant other that he won't cheat if they get married.  But after the marriage, when his then-wife finds out that he is still cheating, he tells her that he is "just being a man," he has no intention of ending his extramarital affairs, she needs to "get use to it" and stop nagging him about it.
  • A woman, who has mismanaged her finances, promises her fiancé that she will clear up her debt before they get married.  But after they get married, she not only hasn't cleared up her prior debt, but she continues to overspend because she has no intention of changing.  When her husband confronts her about this, she tells him that he is "making a big deal out of nothing."
  • A fiancé, who has unresolved emotional problems that are affecting his romantic relationship, promises his fiancee that he will participate in psychotherapy.  However, time passes and he doesn't make an effort to start therapy.  When his fiancee confronts him about it, he refuses to go to therapy, denies that he ever said he would, and tells her that he sees no reason to do it.  He tells her that she is the one with the problem so she should go to therapy.
  • A significant other promises she will get help for her gambling problem after she and her fiancé get married.  But after the marriage, she denies having a problem, and she accuses him of "imagining things." 
  • Knowing that his girlfriend will not marry him if the rumors that he is the father of another woman's baby are true, a man adamantly denies to his girlfriend that he is baby's father.  He denies even knowing this other woman.  However, after they get married and he gets the results of a DNA test and a court order to pay child support, he tells his now-wife that he is the baby's father and denies ever telling her that he wasn't.
  • A woman, who was charming and loving before the marriage, becomes emotionally abusive to her husband after the marriage.  When he confronts her about it, she tells her husband, who is stunned by the change in her behavior, that he is the one with the problem because he is "too needy" and "too sensitive."  Eventually, the husband finds out that his wife was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder long before they got married, but she intentionally kept her diagnosis a secret from him before the marriage (see my article: Coping With a Spouse Who Has Borderline Personality Disorder).
  • Before getting married, a couple agree that they both want children.   But after they get married, the husband reveals that he never wanted children, and he only told her that he did because he knew she wouldn't marry him if he told her the truth.  He doesn't understand why his wife is so upset with him now.
And so on.

There are many more examples of "bait and switch" in relationships, but I think you can see a pattern in the examples that I've given and note that information is either intentionally withheld and/or lied about.
"Bait and Switch" as a Form of Manipulation in Relationships

In most cases, the person who engages in "bait and switch" is manipulating to get what s/he wants, knowing all along that s/he won't fulfill the commitment.

The person who engages in "bait and switch" often lacks empathy for the partner, which is the hallmark of people with narcissistic or sociopathic traits.

People who engage in this form of manipulation are often very good at deceiving others to get what they want and can switch on the turn of a dime once they have gotten what they want (see my article: A Relationship With a Narcissistic Partner: Where Did the Love Go?).

In my next article, I'll give a clinical example with more detail to illustrate how these dynamics often play out in a relationship, and how psychotherapy can help (see my next article: "Bait and Switch" as a Form of Manipulation in Relationships: A Clinical Vignette).

Unfortunately, "bait and switch" in relationships isn't as uncommon as most people would like to think.

It can be very upsetting and confusing once the trusting partner realizes that s/he has been "conned" by the significant other.

Many people who are on the receiving end of the "bait and switch" tactic go through a phase of shock and denial before they fully accept who the partner is and what happened in the relationship.

Getting Help in Therapy
Realizing that the person you love has manipulated and lied to you is a betrayal that most people find too difficult to cope with on their own.

An experienced psychotherapist cannot tell you what to do about your relationship, but she can help you to go through the process of making a decision that will be right for you (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

Rather than struggling on your own and feeling trapped, you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed mental health professional who can assist you to work through your problems (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, Somatic Experiencing therapist and Sex Therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I am a sex positive therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 or email me.