It’s sad to think, but often it’s the people closest to us that can best push our buttons.
Manipulation is when someone tries to influence you through some sneaky and underhand methods.
The ways they go about it can be really varied, but the ultimate goal is always the same — control.
It can show up in relationships in lots of different ways. So if your partner does these things, I’m sorry to say, they’re emotionally manipulating you.
1) They sweet talk you into doing what they want
Manipulation can use the carrot and the stick.
Meaning your partner may try to charm you and incentivize you or they may try to make you feel bad and punish you.
Sweet-talking doesn’t always feel like manipulation, but it is. Insincerely offering flattery to try to persuade you into doing something you don’t want to do is not fair.
“Come on, it’ll be fun!”
“You’d look super hot if you wore that.”
“Go on, live a little, I know that you’ll enjoy it if you try it.”
Bottom line: We shouldn’t use pressure on our partners in an attempt to coax and cajole them into our wishes.
2) They act all wounded when you do things without them
It’s healthy to have separate interests, hobbies, and friends in a relationship.
It’s good for you to spend a bit of time apart.
But if your partner doesn’t like it, they may get jealous when you do anything without them.
Jealousy is actually a pretty ugly emotion. So rather than openly admit they are possessive, they may try to flip that around and act like you’re abandoning them.
If they try to make you feel guilty or selfish for making plans that don’t include them, it’s manipulation.
3) They try to assign blame for their feelings or actions on you
They mess up, yet somehow, it’s still your fault.
How does that work?!
It’s a clever slide of hand where they manage to side-step all responsibility and put it back on you.
They were mean to you in an argument? It’s “only because” you weren’t listening to them.
They got super angry and couldn’t control their temper? It’s “only because” you wind them up so much.
They cheated on you? It’s “only because” you made them feel so unwanted that they went looking for affection elsewhere.
Yes, there are always reasons behind how we feel and what we do, but that never excuses it.
We are all accountable for our own thoughts, feelings, words, and actions. No matter what.
4) They give you the silent treatment rather than saying what’s wrong
This one is a total classic.
And it highlights how easy it is for manipulation to creep into any relationship.
Many of us are familiar with giving the cold shoulder as a form of punishment.
Saying to your partner that you want to take some time to yourself to process things after a fight is one thing. But it’s quite another when you just shut down.
You may have asked several times “What’s wrong?”, only to be met with denials.
“Nothing, I’m fine.”
But they are clearly not fine.
And whilst they continue to refuse to talk with you about it, nothing gets resolved.
Whilst the odd bout of silent treatment doesn’t have to spell the end of your relationship, it can signal deeper problems.
We all know that the quality of a relationship rests on its communication. If they won’t participate in that then it’s hard to make it work.
5) They make you question your version of reality
Otherwise known as gaslighting.
They don’t just deny something, they twist things around to make you the one who is in the wrong.
You end up doubting your perception of events, and even your sanity.
They may say things like:
- You’re acting crazy
- Your insane accusations are what’s killing this relationship
- I never said that
- You’re just too sensitive
- You’re totally paranoid
Flat-out denial, fabricating lies, and trying to minimize your legitimate concerns all fall under this type of manipulative behavior.
6) They keep tabs on you all the time
They always want to know who you’re with and where you’re going at all times.
They make out that it’s because they care about you or are concerned for your safety.
They may even insist that as your partner, they have a right to know these things.
- Want access to your social media
- Insist on having your passwords
- Want to check your phone
- Expect you to check in when you’re out and about
Everyone is entitled to privacy in a relationship.
No matter how much they try to twist things, remember that having privacy is not the same as secrecy.
7) They play the victim to try to make you feel bad
Purposely acting weak can give you power over someone.
Because as we all know, when someone comes down hard on us or tries to tell us what to do, we’re more likely to rebel against it.
But when someone tries to use blame and shame, it’s surprisingly effective.
We then end up policing ourselves for them, so they don’t have to.
We do what they want because we feel like horrible people if we hurt their feelings and put our own needs or wants first.
That’s why guilt trips can be super effective for getting your own way in a relationship.
“How could you do this to me” pulls on your heartstrings and prompts you to want to fix things and make your other half feel better.
8) They make mean jokes that feel more like put-downs
Sarcasm and humor can be a manipulative weapon in relationships.
What’s the difference between a joke and an insult?
- How it makes you feel
- Whether you are laughing together, or if they’re laughing at your expense
Put-downs may masquerade as “kidding around” in order to passively aggressively attack you.
It may be that they want to get out some frustrations they are feeling toward you — which they haven’t learned to communicate in a healthy way.
Or they may be intentionally trying to strip away your confidence and self-esteem in order to put themselves in a position of power over you.
9) They question the sincerity of your feelings for them
“If you really love me, you would X, Y, Z.”
“Clearly you don’t care about me at all.”
“I’m not sure if you ever loved me.”
I had a friend whose ex-girlfriend constantly turned to this style of manipulation.
It’s the ‘woe-is-me’ technique, and it can be very effective.
Because rather than be overtly demanding, they are trying to present themselves as weaker in order to get an advantage.
They play the pity card to try to get you to do what they want or pander to them.
If they question your feelings or loyalty, they hope you will offer reassurances and displays of your affection to prove them wrong.
10) They withdraw affection to try to punish you
Sure, when we’ve just had a blazing row we’re not particularly in the mood to cuddle on the couch straight away.
We all get pissed off with our partners. It’s okay to make your feelings known rather than repress them.
But there is a way to do it.
We can let someone know we’re mad and hurt, and we can even explain that we prefer to have some space.
But sulking for days on end isn’t healthy.
It’s withdrawing love and attention purely as a way of hurting the other person.
11) They don’t take no for an answer
If you say no to them or seemingly turn them down, you never hear the end of it.
Rather than respect your decision they will keep on badgering you.
It’s a bit like sweet talking but without the charm. They will proceed to wear you down until your willpower falters.
They may question your choices or try to make you feel like you’ve made the wrong decision.
Essentially, they’re not respecting your boundaries.
Whenever your choices don’t match up with their preferences, they’re not happy about it.
12) They use your insecurities against you
Our partners often know us better than anyone.
We open up to them about countless intimate details. They get insights into the inner workings of our brains.
They know our deepest fears and our biggest insecurities.
A manipulative partner may well use these against you to make you feel bad.
They may bring certain things up in an argument to try to get you to back down. Or they may use this information to convince you to do, or not do, something.
13) They never let the past drop
You’ve made mistakes. Haven’t we all?!
But every single disagreement you have, all of your transgressions are dragged out again.
Even when your fights have zero to do with it, that doesn’t stop your partner from rolling it out to use as ammunition against you.
Rather than move on and let go, you constantly get pulled back into the past.
They use it because it gives them an automatic moral advantage in your current dispute.
It allows them to be right, and reminds you that you are wrong or a “bad person”.
Manipulation can be hard to spot
When you’re in the thick of it, you don’t always realize it’s happening.
So it’s important to step back and ask yourself where manipulation may be showing up in your relationship.
But here’s the truth: It’s always wrong, yet it is pretty common, even if it’s in small and subtle ways.
You may even be unwittingly guilty of it yourself from time.
That’s why we should all work hard at learning better communication techniques and what a healthy relationship should look like.