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How to Effectively Use Reverse Psychology in Relationships

How to Use Reverse Psychology in Relationships
Reverse psychology is a powerful psychological technique that can be used to influence people to do what you want them to do by suggesting the exact opposite thing of what you want them to do. Confusing? Read this post to understand the nuances of this technique and how to use it effectively.
Rujuta Borkar
Last Updated: Feb 24, 2018
Did You Know?
Reverse psychology is a common tool used by parents to discipline their children.
Any adult, having been in a relationship or two, will be aware of the fact that for all the Disney fairy tales and the romantic comedies that are spun on a daily basis, the real relationships are not remotely like that. Real relationships are not about riding off together into the sunset, they are not about never arguing and always saying the right things―they are about being there for each other, sure, but also about a lot of arguments and fights in the bid to getting to know the other person. And when two people are getting to know each other, they're slowly becoming aware of what their partner likes and dislikes, and in a way are training their mind to know what ticks a person off, or how to behave in a particular situation to not anger the other person (to give an example). This is not only true of romantic relationships, but of every relationship in this world.

The simple fact is that humans are complicated. There are many layers and nuances to our behavior and personality, and we can't always be straightforward and blunt, saying things exactly the way we want to because there are feelings involved. So what do we do? We use certain behavioral mechanisms and techniques to 'get our way'―everyone does it. So there's the passive aggressive thing happening and then there's the silent treatment bit or the communication through non-verbal signs―all a part of putting our behavior out there and trying to get our way. While all these techniques tend to be used subconsciously, reverse psychology as a technique is used deliberately and consciously with the simple objective of getting one's way by manipulating the behavior of another person. Granted it sounds crass and horrifying even (?) when the word manipulation is used, but people don't seem to realize that it is something that they do more often than they would like (subconsciously, of course) because it has become such an innate part of their personalities. It is also important to clarify that it's not something wrong. It's adaptive behavior to be able to 'survive'.
What is Reverse Psychology
Reverse psychology, like we said before, is a technique of manipulation used for getting a person to do something by telling them not to do it or suggesting that they should not do it because they probably can't. This technique is driven by the fact that by telling someone that they are incapable of doing something or that they can't have something, you're driving the person to do exactly that to prove that you're wrong, and to rebel against the feeling of being told what to do.
This technique is based on a psychological phenomenon called reactance in which a person has a negative reaction to being forced or persuaded to do something because he feels that his freedom of choices and alternatives is being curbed, and often ends up doing the exact thing that is being advocated against.

While it sounds simple enough to read, using this technique in the most effective manner is another matter altogether. Even if you have the best interests of the other person in mind, learning that one is being manipulated can lead to a lot of negative emotions and could be damaging for relationships. Which is why it becomes important to understand how to use reverse psychology in relationships in the correct manner. The following sections of this PsycholoGenie article will deal with exactly that.
Using Reverse Psychology in Relationships―The How
We know the basic crux of how this technique works―by telling someone they can't do something, you get them to do exactly that. For this to work, there are a few things that have to be kept in mind and a few rules followed. We will highlight these with a few reverse psychology examples and how to use them in relationships.
Factors to Consider
◀ Be absolutely calm and composed when using this technique. Any hint of anger or being demanding and controlling, or using the wrong tone will put the other person off.
◀ Present an option that is more unpleasant than the first.
◀ There are two ways to use this technique, either you spite them to get a reaction out of them or you appeal to their saner side by agreeing with them and putting the onus on you―this forces them to act on their own, wanting to do the right thing for the right reason and not simply to prove a point.
◀ Statements that are made when using reverse psychology may seem to border on sarcasm, and if not used with the correct tone, there is a high possibility that they might seem exactly that way. Which is why, the tone and manner in which this technique is used is very important.
Examples of Reverse Psychology
You want your husband to clean up after himself.
Man cleaning dishes
What You Usually Do:
You nag, fight, and use every possible persuasion technique to get him to clean up after himself but to no avail. You eventually clean up after him.

Using Reverse Psychology:
Say his friends are coming over or there are going to be guests over, and he's not cleaned up as usual, instead of requesting and fighting with him, you say―"I realize that I've been asking you to do something that you're not comfortable doing and that I should be more accepting of your ways. I would not like it if you constantly nagged me either. So from now on I am going to let you be. In fact, now that the guests are coming over, we can finally have a good time without all these negative feelings, and if anyone asks, I'll just ask them to let you be."

How it Works:
One, your tone is calm, you're not angry or demanding, this in itself is such a change from the negative emotions of before that he will be forced to think about what you're saying and not how you're saying it; and two, by providing an unpleasant option (in this case, that his friends are coming over and they will see the house in a mess) you're forcing him to think about the less unpleasant option, i.e. cleaning.
You want your wife to be ready on time.
Woman getting ready
What You Usually Do:
You pass sarcastic comments and taunts, shout in anger, and make a scene when she's not ready on time.

Using Reverse Psychology:
Say you'll are meeting some friends for dinner, this is what you do―be exactly the opposite of your hyper self and put on a calm and composed personality. Get ready on time and sit calmly. Then say that you've told your friends to start off without you and that you will try to make it by dinner. Say they asked you why and you told them that it's just not possible for you to be ready on time, something or the other comes up. So instead of being pissed off, it's better that they don't expect you'll to be on time.

How it Works:
You're not shouting at her or accusing her, you are simply stating what is the truth and when she hears the truth (that there is no pressing reason for her to not be ready on time), she will be forced to think about it. Secondly, knowing that your friends now think she is always late, she will want to change their opinion by being on time; and third, she may be angry at you for saying this to your friends and will want to be ready on time just to prove you wrong.
You want your boyfriend to go to an event.
What You Usually Do:
Your boyfriend gets very stubborn when it comes to social events, not making any efforts to go and backing out at the last minute leaving you to go all alone. You either plead with him or have an argument with him about wanting to go but to no avail.

Using Reverse Psychology:
When using reverse psychology on your boyfriend, it is important that you don't use any emotional threats or blackmailing, he will read into it sooner than you think (especially with experience) and that will be the end of the eve. Instead of pleading and begging or using threats, simply strike up a conversation and say―"Angie was asking if we were going to XYZ's party, I said you won't. She asked whether you have any pressing work for missing the function, and I said you don't like parties and would rather spend your time sitting at home. And then she started laughing and said you wouldn't know how to behave at the party any way because you never attend any."

How it Works:
By using an example of your friend and stating her views about him, you've taken the issue beyond the parameters of you two and into the world. Spited by her words and her opinion about the inability to attend and display appropriate behavior at a party, your boyfriend will be geared up to show that he can not only attend the party but also be at his charming, social best
You want to go out with this one particular girl.
Man and Woman in dating
What You Usually Do:
You use a combination of varied techniques like asking her directly or throwing subtle hints about wanting to go out but she just does not seem interested.

Using Reverse Psychology:
When you'll are talking over the phone or are having a conversation, pick up on a quality that she has, like being a brunette or her ability to sing, then when you see a brunette walk past, you say―"I don't really see myself with brunettes but she's kind of cute". Or you could be a little more direct and say―"If we were a couple, we'd surely break up, what with you always arguing with me like this (then laugh)."

How it Works:
With this method, you're using the most potent way of reverse psychology to get a girl―first, you're making her jealous, and second, you're leaving her wondering why it is that you don't go for brunettes, which is, in a way, saying that she can't have you. And then you're also planting the idea in her head about how it would be if you guys were a couple, forcing her to think about the scenario.
You want your child to take a bath.
Mom scolding her son
What You Usually Do:
Scream and shout and run after him so he takes a bath.

Using Reverse Psychology:
You - Time for a bath.
Child - No, I don't want to have a bath.
You - Okay. It's time for bed then.
Child - It's not bedtime yet.
You - No it isn't, it's bath time. But if you aren't going to take a bath, bed time it is.

How it Works:
By giving him a more unpleasant option in place of the first one, you're forcing him to consider the first option.
Effectiveness of Reverse Psychology on People
Reverse psychology is not a simple technique, and if one cannot hone the skill of using this in a subtle manner, one should not use it at all. Moreover, its effectiveness is influenced by other factors as well. This technique is seen to work more with stubborn people, narcissists, type A personalities, and egotistical individuals. This is because, their overinflated egos, their exaggerated sense of self, and their need for power, control, and success makes using reverse psychology on them simpler. They are more swayed over by wanting to prove a point than analyzing the situation at hand.

Interestingly, this technique does not work on people who have low self-esteem and those are more likely to accept defeat. If someone says that they are not capable of doing something, they will simply accept the statement without rising up to the challenge.
Reverse psychology is a powerful tool, no doubt, but unless it is used in a subtle manner to bring about a positive change in people and motivate them to become better people, it is best not to use it at all; the simple truth of the matter is, no one likes to know that they are being manipulated and used, no matter for how noble a reason.
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Girl sitting on table with parents beside her