16 Warning Signs Of Manipulation In A Relationship

When we love someone, we tend to overlook some of their flaws and mistakes, making emotional manipulation in relationships tough to spot or recognize. Manipulation and coercion is not confined to just romantic or familial relationships, it can also extend to other parts of your life.

If you are with someone who leaves you feeling obligated or guilty, confused or insecure, you might be in love with a manipulator. Manipulation has patterns of behavior that can help you discern it. This post discusses the various signs and tactics a manipulator uses and ways to handle them.

In This Article

What Is Manipulation In Relationships

Manipulation is the act of controlling a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors through words or deeds. The purpose is to hold sway over another person in a way that will benefit them. It can happen in any kind of relationship, close or casual.

Manipulation is also a form of emotional abuse that leaves the victim confused, anxious, depressed, and uncertain about their instincts and emotions. It causes psychological harm to the victim and morphs a healthy relationship into a toxic one. Manipulation is a spectrum that can range from barely noticeable or unintended to calculated and thought-out.

Ruban F. Ribeiro, a writer, shares how his partner was manipulating him and he was constantly battling his own insecurities to keep the relationship intact and eventually discovered the truth of his life. He says, “It’s likely that your manipulative partner is linked with one or a few personality disorders — Narcissism, bipolar, borderline, etc. In my experience, finding this out and reading more about it saved me and allowed me to run from my nightmare. Before I considered I was being manipulated, I considered our problems to be challenges. That in itself is another sign of manipulation. My first mistake was allowing myself to become blind to reality for the warmth of wanting to love and care for someone abusing my kindness. The idea of being a good person outweighed the idea that I was being used (i).”

protip_icon Did you know?
Manipulation is one of the most common traits of narcissism (1).

16 Signs Of Manipulation In A Relationship

Manipulation may leave the victim depressed.

Image: Shutterstock

Most of the time, the victim doesn’t realize that their partner is manipulating them. A manipulator knows the victims’ weaknesses and exploits them for their benefit.

  1. They make you feel guilty: If you are being emotionally manipulated, you will feel guilty about your actions most of the time. You may find yourself yielding to your partners’ whims and fancies even if you did not want to initially. 
  2. They make you lose your sense of self: Excessive pressure from a partner to conform to their wishes and desires can indicate manipulation in a relationship. You start to lose your sense of individuality, identity, and freedom. You become a puppet of your partner’s wishes and bidding, discarding your opinions and interests.
  3. They give you the silent treatment: Also known as ‘stonewalling,’ it is a form of punishment where your partner stops conversating or communicating with you if they are unhappy with something. They will continue to give you the silent treatment until you give in to their demands. A power imbalance in a relationship can be a warning sign of manipulation, where one partner exerts control over the other and uses their position to manipulate their decisions and actions.
  1. They isolate you from others: A manipulative partner will separate you from the people you love, so they become the sole person you depend on (2). They may also isolate you if your family and friends dislike them because of their manipulative behavior.
  2. They make you apologize all the time: Manipulators will often try to blame you or someone else for something they did. They will play the victim card to justify their actions and make others feel guilty to gain sympathy and attention.
  3. They use your insecurities against you: Manipulation stems from deceit, so it is no surprise if the manipulator uses your insecurities to make fun of you. They know your vulnerabilities and use them to cripple your self-confidence. These hurtful remarks will be masked as attempts at jokes or humor.
  4. They twist facts and words: Manipulators are good liars. They employ deception whenever they can. They can exaggerate or play down a situation to their advantage to gain the sympathy and support of other people. They will change their words from time to time, saying something today and then denying it a few days later.
  5. They don’t respect your boundaries: Manipulative people do not care about other people’s boundaries. They disregard their partner’s feelings and make it all about themselves.
  1. They make you prove your love: Time and again, a manipulative partner will make you prove your love for them. It can vary from little requests to dramatic gestures that would trigger your feelings of guilt and emotions into doing something they want. It could stem out of jealousy or possessiveness too.
  2. They use fear to control you: A manipulator uses fear and intimidation to blackmail you emotionally. They can use whatever private information they have about you and threaten you so that you will comply with their demands (2).
  3. They overlook your problems: Whenever you try to share what you’re going through with a manipulative partner, they will bring up similar instances and compare their experience with yours. They will steal the spotlight, forcing you to focus on their problem, not yours.
  4. They change topics when it suits them: Manipulative people never take accountability for any wrongs they have committed. If you are trying to call a manipulator out, they will immediately change the topic of conversation to avoid the blame. This makes it difficult to solve any issues healthily.
  5. They exercise threats: Manipulative partners can use overt acts such as threats to ensure things go their way. They may threaten to divorce, leave you and your family, or even threaten to self-harm, which may cause you to give in to their demands.
  6. They react dramatically: Manipulative people will want all the attention and focus on themselves. If something does not go their way, they find it challenging to manage their emotions. This causes them to throw tantrums and become agitated and aggressive.
  7. They use kindness as a weapon: A manipulative partner may be kind to you but with the wrong intentions. They only do nice for you because they expect something in return. They may also use kindness to shape or turn you into someone they want you to be.
  8. They use passive aggression: A manipulator often avoids confrontation or directly addressing a concern. They do not express their feelings and often try to change the topic while having a serious discussion. They express their thoughts indirectly, often using their friends or others to get their aggressive message delivered to you. Sarcasm can be another way of expressing their passive-aggression. They want to exert control over you in a less recognizable way and may make you wonder what’s wrong by making childish or suggestive expressions. The key is to identify these behaviors early and ward off his pursuits by setting clear boundaries.


protip_icon Be watchful
Manipulation has four stages; flattery, isolation, devaluing and gaslighting, and fear or violence. Identify this pattern early and save yourself from emotional turmoil.
Manipulation can get aggressive

Image: Shutterstock

Common Tactics Of Manipulation In A Relationship

A manipulator uses various tactics and mind games to get what they want from their victim. They are cunning and know what to do to manipulate their partner.

  1. Gaslighting: It is one of the most common forms of manipulation. A manipulator distorts their victim’s reality and makes them question their understanding and experience of certain situations. If your partner repeatedly lies to you and you question your knowledge of what happened, they are probably gaslighting you into believing their version of events (3). Withholding information is another common tactic used in manipulative relationships.
  2. Love bombing: It is another form of manipulation involving excessive attention, compliments, time, or gifts. They will use these gifts or romantic claims as baggage to justify their maleficent behavior. This is all done during the early stages of the relationship to gain affection, intimacy, and trust, but later on, it might slowly turn into emotional abuse.
Love bombing is a form of manipulation

Image: Shutterstock

  1. Triangulation: It is the act of involving another person in a discussion or argument. The manipulator intends to gain the third person’s support to silence you and your views. If this is done repeatedly, the victim will eventually stop arguing or questioning the manipulator. Triangulation can also make the victim feel isolated, increasing their dependency on the manipulator.
  2. Projection: It is a defense mechanism that a manipulator uses to put you in a bad light. Projection is transferring a person’s unpleasant feelings, characteristics, or desires to another person to avoid how it makes them feel or look.
  3. Name calling: It is a tactic that manipulative people commonly use to make their partners feel inferior and worthless. It is a form of abuse that attacks their behavior, actions, or personality traits using derogatory words. It may begin as a joke, starting less noticeably, but it will continue to intensify if not stopped.

Dealing With Manipulation In Relationships

For healthy relationships, couples need to make a certain level of compromise and sacrifices for each other. But if you find yourself over-compromising all the time, it’s time to back away from that relationship and stand your ground against your partner’s manipulation.

  1. The first step is to recognize your partner’s manipulative behaviors. For this, you must be conscious, self-aware, and think objectively.
  2. Then you must have the courage to call or confront them about their behavior. But be prepared as they may further try to manipulate you.
  3. You must be specific while confronting your partner and addressing the issue. Do not let them stray the conversation to some other topic.
  4. Openly communicate your emotions to them, expressing your honest feelings when they use guilt-tripping, threats, or mocking your insecurities as manipulative tactics.
  5. Boundaries should be set to avoid being manipulated. It shows the other person what you will and won’t tolerate. You can also set boundaries for yourself to ensure that the treatment you are receiving is acceptable.
  6. If your partner pushes these boundaries and starts abusing you, consider calling it quits.
Be open and honest

Image: Shutterstock

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What does manipulation in relationships lead to?

Manipulation in relationships can start off subtle and undetected. It can be disguised as flattery, kindness, or care. After the manipulator has a chokehold on you, they may start using different tactics of manipulation that may intensify to the point of fear or violence.

2. Why do partners become manipulators?

A person becomes manipulative in a relationship to gain control over their partner. They distort the facts and alter reality to conceal their shortcomings and make their partners do what they want.

3. Can manipulation in a relationship ever be healthy or justified?

No, manipulation in a relationship is not healthy or justified. It erodes trust, undermines communication, and hinders the individuals’ well-being. Fundamentally, healthy relationships are built on trust, respect, open communication, and mutual understanding.

4. Can manipulation in a relationship be unintentional or subconscious?

Yes, manipulation in a relationship can sometimes be unintentional or subconscious. It is so mainly when individuals are not aware of the impact of their actions or have unresolved emotional issues. However, it is important to address and take responsibility for such behavior, seeking personal growth and developing healthier patterns of communication and interaction.

5. Can therapy help you deal with manipulation in a relationship?

Therapy provides a safe and supportive environment where individuals can explore and understand the dynamics of the manipulative relationship. It can help gain insights into the thinking, feeling, and behavior patterns of the individuals involved. The therapist can help you develop healthy boundaries, assertiveness skills, and communication strategies to counteract the manipulation. They can also assist you in rebuilding your self-esteem and self-confidence, which manipulative tactics may have eroded.

6. Are there any red flags to watch out for when getting involved with someone new?

Lack of respect for boundaries, controlling behavior, frequent manipulation or gaslighting, excessive possessiveness, emotional unavailability, an overwhelming expression of love and affection, and a history of abusive relationships are some telltale red flags that one should watch out for when starting a new relationship.

7. How can you establish healthy boundaries in a relationship to prevent manipulation from occurring?

Understand your needs, values, and limits, and communicate your boundaries to your partner. Encourage your partner to share their boundaries and listen actively to their needs. Educate yourself about common manipulation tactics, such as gaslighting or controlling behavior, to identify and address these issues directly. Most importantly, reinforce your boundaries by setting consequences and seek support from trusted individuals whenever needed.

Manipulation in relationships is unacceptable. Staying in a relationship with a manipulative partner can significantly harm your mental health, confidence, and self-esteem. Identifying the different ways of manipulation and exploitation can help you understand what kind of relationship you share with your partner. The root causes of this behavior can be identified and worked on, but only if the person is open to change. Lastly, make wise decisions for yourself, even if your partner is against it.

Infographics: Phrases A Manipulative Partner May Use

Manipulators have a way with words that can make you feel guilty, and you can’t say no to their requests. But if you know some of the most common phrases that manipulators use, you may identify the behavior and avoid being manipulated. Check out the infographic to know the common phrases used by a manipulative partner.

8 common phrases a manipulator uses (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Get the high-quality PDF version of this infographic.

Download Infographic in PDF version

Key Pointers

  • Manipulation can be verbal or nonverbal.
  • Manipulators seek to control their partners and get what they want.
  • A manipulative partner uses various tactics to intimidate their partner.
  • Identify signs of manipulation in the relationship early to avoid emotional turmoil.

Take a look at this video to understand the ten essential signs which indicate that you are being manipulated and what to do about it.

Personal Experience: Source

References

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Grandiose narcissists and decision making: Impulsive, overconfident, and skeptical of experts–but seldom in doubt – PMC (nih.gov)
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7427600/
  2. Recognizing the signs of unhealthy relationships
    https://www.mass.gov/info-details/recognizing-the-signs-of-unhealthy-relationships
  3. “It’s Not in Your Head”: Gaslighting, ‘Splaining, Victim Blaming, and Other Harmful Reactions to Microaggressions
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34498522/
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