17 signs your partner is a master at emotional manipulation (even if they deny it)

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It’s no fun to be with somebody who emotionally manipulates you. 

In fact, it’s almost unbearable to have feelings for a person who only takes advantage of your fondness.

When you want to try your best to make this relationship work, you’re likely to downplay or even write off the behavior of your partner. You may find that you even blame yourself:

Am I just too sensitive? Am I reading too much into my partner’s behavior?

If they do the following then your partner is emotionally manipulating you even if they won’t admit it. 

1) Brazen guilt-tripping 

Making you feel responsible for anything that goes wrong is a stock-in-trade for the manipulator. 

He or she finds ways to make you feel guilty even when you did nothing wrong whatsoever. 

They find the smallest aspects of your behavior or actions and find fault with them. 

It’s like you can’t do anything right. 

2) A selective memory

We don’t all have a great memory, but pretending to forget things can definitely be an effective manipulation tactic.

If you’re with somebody who has a very selective memory and always seems to forget things they did wrong or commitments they don’t want to live up to, you’re with an emotional manipulator

They’re trying to make you feel crazy or demanding by pointing out things that they conveniently forget.

It’s a game you can’t win, since anytime things get too uncomfortable your partner can just claim to have a memory gap of what happened or what they did. 

3) Intense gaslighting

Gaslighting is another favorite tactic of the emotional manipulator

They make you doubt your perceptions, memories and judgments and blame you for their mistakes.

If you don’t have a strong support network or strong belief in yourself then it’s easy to fall prey to gaslighting tactics. 

“Maybe my partner is right and it is my fault!” you may find yourself thinking… 

4) Weaponizing victimhood

There’s nothing to celebrate about being a victim. It’s painful and difficult to move on from and not get dragged down by.

But for manipulators, victimhood is something that can be weaponized.

They will find the one time you treated them poorly or they were given a bad break in life and then use it as a cudgel.

You can’t criticize them because X happened when they were younger. You not giving them their way is cruel and selfish, since you know their last breakup hurt them a lot.

And so on… 

5) Rationing approval

Emotionally manipulative partners are masters at rationing approval.

They give you recognition and validation sometimes but only a little bit at a time, then withdrawing it.

They keep you working for those nuggets of validation that come at the least expected time.

Even when you think it would be easy to spot this and resist, you may find yourself falling into the trap of seeking their approval.

6) Passive aggressiveness 

Passive aggressiveness is a disturbing thing to experience, and manipulators love to do it. 

One day they are completely withdrawn, and so easygoing that it seems like you need to do and say everything in the relationship. 

The next day they are all over you, pushing you to think faster and respond more quickly. 

There seems to be no happy medium, and you never know whether you’ll draw the short straw on any given day. 

7) The silent treatment

The silent treatment is another go-to tactic for the emotional manipulator. 

They will revert into a stoic silence that they claim has nothing to do with you. 

If you ignore it they get even sulkier. If you press for them to open up they will sometimes get quite angry and claim you are being pushy or taking it personally.

It’s a no-win situation. 

8) Taking out mood swings on you

This is all part of a pattern of the manipulator taking out his or her emotions on you. 

When they have a mood swing you’re the one who gets hit by it. 

They take a nine iron to your life like you’re a golf ball on a tee, and if you say anything about it you’re accused of being too sensitive. 

Is that really true? 

9) Making you feel isolated

When you are gaslighted and turned into the subject of a partner’s emotional manipulation it’s a very isolating experience.

Your partner makes you doubt the reliability and intentions of everyone else in your life, encouraging you to only turn to them as a source for what’s real or unreal. 

You become almost like the member of a cult who’s told not to believe your eyes and ears. You start to feel very alone, locked into this cycle of manipulative behavior but unable to fully explain it to anyone else. 

It feels all consuming, and you feel all alone.  

10) Dodging accountability 

If and when they’re asked to stand behind a decision they made or action they did which didn’t work out right, your partner dodges accountability.

They always have an excuse, no matter what.

It may be playing the victim as I mentioned earlier, or it could be any number of a hundred other things from the traffic light turning green too late to not remembering something. 

They never take accountability. 

11) Love bombing

Love bombing is all too common among emotional manipulators. 

You’re bombarded with constant praise, positivity and expressions of love. 

Just take note of when it happens…

The emotionally manipulative partner will love bomb after they’ve done something wrong and been caught or are saying sorry. Then they’ll taper off as you begin being affectionate towards them again. 

12) Praising you with an agenda

The manipulative partner likes to dole out praise and compliments, but rarely just for the sake of it. They do so in order to soften you up or get you to do what they want. 

If your partner wants to move and you don’t, for example, they may praise how dedicated you are to your job and your love for the place where you currently live. 

But laced into that praise is an implication: they get you and appreciate you, but now it’s time for you to bend more to their will and move with them. 

13) Invalidating your values

The emotionally manipulative partner won’t just try to convince you that they’re right.  They’ll convince you that your whole lens on the world is flawed and distorted. 

Your values are off-base and make no sense. Your reality is skewed and incorrect. 

They are the one who sees the world for what it really is. They are the ones who actually know what your relationship needs, what its standards should be and what the future should hold. 

14) Using triangulation

The emotionally manipulative partner will often engage in triangulation, bringing a third person in to “mediate” between the two of you. 

It could be a friend or colleague, but the real issue is that the person basically just acts as a way for your partner to amplify their own point of view.

You now have two people gaslighting you instead of one, and even more pressure to see yourself as the issue in the relationship. 

As marriage therapist Tameca Dove explains:

“This is usually done to create emotional distance and space between the abuser and the person they would like to control or manipulate.

A person uses triangulation to manipulate others and communication is used as a way to control and mislead.”

15) Empty promises 

Emotional manipulators like to make empty promises. They want that positive reaction from you and that increased leverage. 

Being nice and making all sorts of big promises is a way to grease you up and make you pliable. They can then have even more control over you and be in your good books. 

Plus, it’s easy to do: they have no intention of actually following through. 

16) Emotional blackmail

Emotional blackmail is highly common and highly toxic. 

Insecure partners will engage in it when they want to manipulate you. 

They may threaten to break up with you or make you feel like you owe them some loyalty or favor in return for being with them. 

As Rod Louden, LMFT explains

“Pay attention to feelings of fear, obligation, or guilt after interactions with the person in question. 

A sudden shift in emotional tone and repeated promises or threats that never happen can also be red flags signaling emotional blackmail.”

17) Financial game playing

Finances can be a very difficult topic for many couples and emotional manipulators love to play games with dollars and cents. 

This commonly takes the form of not contributing financially and demanding more money from you if you “really” care about them…

It can also be the flip side, where the manipulator is the financial provider and uses that to control their partner, threatening to stop paying for anything if their partner doesn’t fall in line.

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