13 phrases manipulators use to control their partner in a relationship

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People don’t always see when they are being manipulated in a relationship.

We sometimes have a misguided idea of what control looks and sounds like.

Rather than laying down the law or making strict demands, control can be way more sneaky than that.

Just a few subtle phrases can have you wrapped around someone’s fingertip and doing or saying what they want.

That’s manipulation, pure and simple.

Be on the lookout for the following phrases manipulators use to control their partner in a relationship.

1) “You know I love you really”

Maybe it’s true, but it doesn’t excuse poor behavior.

Yet this phrase is all too often used by manipulators in relationships to try to do just that.

They roll it out when they’ve acted inappropriately, maybe after losing their temper or saying unkind things.

But this doesn’t replace an apology. Neither does it absolve them for mistakes they may have made.

It’s spoken in the hopes that you will quickly forgive and forget any misdemeanors and move on.

But here’s the thing:

Love has boundaries.

Saying you love someone is never a justification for crossing someone’s boundaries or failing to meet reasonable expectations within the relationship.

2) “If that’s how you feel, then maybe we shouldn’t be together”

Picture this:

Your other half has done something that you found disrespectful or hurtful in some way, and so you tell them how you feel.

But when you try to talk about it, rather than discuss the problem, they make threats.

“Let’s break up” is often rolled out during a disagreement or argument.

It’s an attempt to shut you down.

They may be trying to get you to do what they want or to agree with them somehow. Or, like in the example I just gave, they may be trying to avoid having to explain themselves.

Ultimately, the risk of splitting up is being used as a bargaining tool to try to get you to back down.

We all have a right to feel safe and secure in a relationship, and we can’t do that if every time we fall out our partner’s go-to response is to suggest a split.

3) “I don’t know what I’d do if you ever left me”

At first, this may sound like a rather sweet declaration of love, but it’s not.

There is an unhealthy undercurrent of codependency that runs through it.

It hints at a need to have someone in your life.

Far from being some kind of romantic notion, it’s actually a lot of pressure.

They’re inadvertently suggesting that their entire world revolves around their partner.

They may even go as far as to say that they “couldn’t go on living” if you ever left them.

It’s essentially emotional blackmail. It makes you feel responsible for their feelings.

It’s important to remember that not all control happens through displays of aggression.

For example, love bombers use flattery and excessive attention to get someone to feel obliged and dependent on them.

A lot of manipulation flies under the radar. What is ultimately control they try to masquerade as being the victim — as we’ll see next.

4) “I’m not sure you ever truly loved me”

This is yet another guilt trip phrase designed to make you tell them how much that’s not true.

Think of it as a fishing expedition.

They want to hear that you do love them very much.

It’s a way of turning the tables so that you are the one who feels like you have to prove yourself, even when you have done nothing wrong.

By calling your love into question they are implying that they don’t feel loved. Your words or behavior has somehow fallen short.

But by playing the victim and seeking pity, they are trying to get the upper hand.

5) “Lighten up, can’t you take a joke?”

Light and playful teasing in a relationship can be quite common. Plenty of couples enjoy banter to keep each other on their toes and heighten the chemistry between them.

But it should always feel flirty and fun — for BOTH of you.

You should both feel in on the joke, not one of you the butt of it.

Manipulators can passively aggressively try to use humor to mask their cruelty and control.

It might be mean things that they try to pass off that they were “just kidding”. It could be “practical jokes” that don’t feel funny, they feel pretty unkind.

For example:

“Are you really going to wear that? They’ll be able to see your ass from space. Why not wear this one instead?”

There is an ulterior motive with a sentence like this to undermine you.

That’s why if something upsets you, it is inappropriate. Your partner has crossed a boundary.

Yet a manipulator may try to make you feel like you are simply taking it the wrong way.

That way, you become the one who is in the wrong, when it is in fact them.

6) “You’re overreacting”

Of course, there can be times when we jump to conclusions, get the wrong end of the stick, or lose control of ourselves. In those instances, we may find ourselves overreacting.

But that’s also why this can be a sneaky one. Because it makes you question yourself.

Telling someone they are overreacting is often an attempt to invalidate their feelings.

So when it is used by a manipulative person in a relationship it can become a form of gaslighting.

They are trying to undermine your perspective of the situation and make you doubt your own emotions and reactions.

7) “You’re so sensitive”

Much like the above phrase, telling someone that they’re too sensitive is a way of making them believe that their emotions and feelings are inappropriate.

But rather than that being the case, the manipulator is just looking for ways to excuse their insensitivity.

The more they can convince you that what they are doing is normal, and it’s your reaction that is abnormal, the more likely they will get away with it.

8) “If you really cared, you would do this for me”

If anyone ever says this to you, run a mile!

Trying to use your affection as a way to make you do things you don’t want to do is 100% wrong.

We are entitled to autonomy and free will in a relationship.

Love is not and should not be a bartering tool. Neither do we have to prove it to someone by fulfilling a long list of unreasonable tasks.

The point is not that if you loved them you would do as they asked.

The real point is that if they loved you, they would never ask you to do something you did not feel comfortable doing.

9) “I give you everything and all I ask in return is…”

This phrase weaves a powerful, yet totally skewed, narrative:

It’s one where they are the selfless giver, and you are the ungrateful taker.

“After everything I’ve done for you”, and similar phrases, try to put you in someone else’s debt.

But it is manipulation. You do not owe people. Kindness is not a debt we must pay, certainly not with things we don’t want to do.

10) “You’ve changed since you started hanging around with” 

Controlling partners try to isolate you.

They don’t want any influences other than their own in your life. The more cut-off you feel from everything else, the more you will turn to them.

So they may start to tell you that they think certain friends are a bad influence or that your family is always interfering in your relationship.

The aim is to make you turn away from other people and things in your life, and in the process, increase their power over you.

11) “I never said that”

Flat-out denial that events transpired the way they did is another sign of gaslighting.

They may also say something like: “That’s not what happened”.

The aim is to make you question your memory and perhaps even your sanity.

12) “Look what you made me do”

This is one of the most devious attempts at dodging responsibility on our entire list.

Trying to make you responsible for their actions is always wrong.

Yes, cause and effect exist. But something you say or do can never “make” anybody do anything. That’s down to them.

If a partner suggests that they cheated because you “drove them away” or that they flew into a rage because you “wound them up” they are just trying to shift blame.

You can never be held accountable for the actions of others.

13) “I know you better than you know yourself”

When someone says that they “have your best interests at heart” or “know what’s best for you” tread carefully.

Saying that they know you better than you know yourself may be used when they want to take more control.

No matter how well they know you, that doesn’t give them the right to try to override your decisions and choices.

They don’t have the right to police you or keep a close eye on you, regardless of whether they protest that they’re doing it “for your own good”.

How do you tell if you’re being manipulated in a relationship?

Words have power. Far from being harmless, they act like spells.

As we’ve just seen, manipulative partners will try to use their words as another tool to exert control.

If something doesn’t feel right, listen to your instincts. It’s important to be vigilant for signs you’re being emotionally manipulated in your relationship.

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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