My uncle used to say “Sometimes, you’re too close to the forest to see the trees.”
In other words, we occasionally get so caught up in life that we begin to lose objectivity.
This is something particularly true in our closest relationships.
For instance, you can be dealing with a manipulative partner for years without even really realizing it.
Occasionally, all that’s needed is someone from the outside looking in to provide a bit of clarity.
This is where I come in.
In this article, I’ll take you through some of the tell-tale signs your partner is low-key manipulating you.
Let’s dive in!
1) They gaslight you
Like a predator sensing weakness, a manipulator will not hesitate to gaslight you given the slightest opportunity.
They’ll work to make you question your reality, memory, and even your own sanity by flat-out denying something they did or said.
This is the manipulator trying to change history; and they can be so convincing at pleading their case, that we often fall for their tricks.
You’re crazy, you’re simply being manipulated. Don’t be a victim.
The next time you feel gaslighted, stand your ground and call them out.
Remember, until you rock the boat, they won’t let up.
2) They give you backhanded compliments
At times, this one can initially be a little hard to decipher.
On the one hand, they’re technically praising you; but on the other, you walk away feeling confused and, well, kind of crappy about yourself.
I remember when I opened my dream restaurant a decade ago. At the opening, my friend, several beers deep, told me: “Congratulations on finally doing something with your life.”
Backhanded compliments are like little jabs at the soul, particularly when done with finesse and subtlety–which is often the case.
On the surface, the person is “unassumingly “giving you a compliment, but deep down they just want you to feel bad about yourself.
Stop falling for it.
3) They’re passive-aggressive
To those predisposed to anxiety (like myself), passive-aggressive behavior can work wonders for the manipulator.
Instead of being forthcoming about their feelings, they’ll intentionally leave you feeling uneasy as a means of torture and payback.
They’re aware of the inherent anxiety that comes with uncertainty.
Subtle, cryptic comments are the standard.
I remember my ex always used to faintly blurt out “I’m not happy here,” after a mild disagreement between us.
I’d be perplexed, even borderline panicked, frantically badgering her about what she was talking about.
She’d respond by acting completely clueless as if her comments meant nothing or were unrelated to our relationship.
Right. In hindsight, it’s clear she knew what she was doing.
Live and learn.
4) They guilt-trip you
As you may have gathered, the manipulator has little dignity, they’ll resort to below-the-belt tactics to get their way.
Your actions, feelings, and choices can be perfectly justifiable, but if they don’t align with the manipulator’s agenda, they’ll pull out all the stops to make you feel like a horrible person.
They’re aware of how powerful the emotion of guilt can be and hence will deploy it when need be.
Maybe they’ll make you out to be the abusive partner, while they assume the role of the hapless, harmless victim.
And they’re so persuasive, with the acting chops of a prime Daniel-Day Lewis, that you end up buying it.
Once snap out of it, you’ll realize that it was a con all along. Facepalm.
5) They play the victim
Speaking of victims, another textbook quality of the manipulator is their absolute loathing of accountability.
They can be caught red-handed cheating or flagrantly crossing boundaries, but they’ll still somehow portray themselves as the faultless, innocent victim–maneuvering like a hot yoga teacher to deflect blame onto you.
Once this goes on long enough, you have to put an end to it; your self-worth is at stake.
Keep standing tall. You deserve dignity and respect as much as anyone.
6) They withhold affection or communication
Ah, the silent treatment–one of the oldest tricks in the manipulator handbook.
You see, with the manipulator, control is the name of the game.
So if they feel wronged or they aren’t getting their way, they’ll intentionally become cold and distant towards you, effectively punishing you for being “disobedient.”
Like an impressionable toddler, you can’t allow their bad behavior to become the norm or risk paying the price later on.
So take action before things spiral.
Besides, nobody wants to have to constantly walk on eggshells around someone who is supposed to be a romantic “partner.”
You deserve an equal, a co-pilot, not a juvenile, unruly passenger who refuses to wear a seatbelt.
I promise you: you can do better.
7) They constantly test boundaries
In an ideal world, you want to be with a grown-up woman, or a grown-up man, not a petulant child.
Respect is the foundation of any functioning union, so when that goes, so does the relationship.
If you’ve clearly communicated your boundaries, yet they continue to push the envelope to see how much they can get away with, this isn’t just blatant disrespect, it’s plain gross.
Let’s say you’ve made it adamantly clear that you hate to be tickled, but your partner disregards this and goes ahead, regularly and aggressively tickling you for their own amusement.
Sure, tickling (hell, even the word is funny) may sound harmless, but when it’s done non-consensually, it can also be indicative of some serious character flaws.
Crossing boundaries in a relationship, whether big or small, shouldn’t be normalized.
This is basically a manipulator’s way of desensitizing you to their behavior. Not good.
8) They’re jealous and controlling
Look, just because you’re in a relationship with someone doesn’t make you their property.
In mature relationships, both people tend to mutually respect one another as living, breathing, autonomous human beings.
So when feelings of possession begin to surface, this is not the greatest of signs.
If, for example, your partner tries to make you feel shitty for spending time with friends, implying you care more about them, this needs to be addressed, particularly if not true.
You should celebrate each other as individuals, accepting that you both may have separate interests and friends. This is healthy.
What’s unhealthy is thinking you have ownership over another and acting like it.
And when your partner is manipulative enough, you’ll allow it to happen without even realizing it.
9) They invalidate your feelings
Manipulators don’t like to fight fair.
So when you bring up or express a legitimate concern or emotion amidst an argument, their default move is to downplay and dismiss you.
This in itself is a form of gaslighting.
They’re so cunning they’ll make you feel like a hypersensitive, hormonal lunatic, as they bask in level-headed superiority, free of any culpability.
They might say things like “You’re too sensitive,” or “You’re totally overreacting,” confusing you and making you question your own judgments.
The bottom line is that your feelings matter. A lot.
Don’t let anyone, manipulator or not, tell you otherwise.
10) They use your insecurities against you
It’s a real low blow when the manipulator uses your own weakness against you.
But the thing is much of what they’re saying likely isn’t real (or heavily exaggerated), instead simply being a manipulative ploy to hurt you and gain the upper hand.
Once you realize this, your spirits can no longer easily be dampened.
I remember going through some serious financial issues at the height of the pandemic.
My business was in some major debt, my savings were dwindling rapidly, and my phone was constantly being flooded by angry texts and calls from threatening creditors and suppliers.
I think it was the most stressful period of my life.
So of course, I’d regularly open up about my troubles to my live-in girlfriend at the time.
For the most part, she was understanding and even occasionally consoling, assuring me that everything would work out.
Eventually, however, finances got so tight, I started asking her to pay a bit more for our shared bills.
This caused some major friction.
We’d get into some pretty heated spats. I remember thinking “We’re that couple now. The one that fights about money.”
I never thought we’d get to that point, but there we were, fiercely duking it out over dividing rent and utilities.
During these fights, she’d say some really hurtful things, calling me “poor” or “bad with money”, citing my past financial mistakes, the exact ones I painstakingly told her about in confidence.
This was a real turning point for me: the fact that she would weaponize some of my most vulnerable admissions was damaging.
At the time, it almost felt like a deal-breaker.
We broke up a few months later for a number of reasons.
But I’d be lying if I told you that her using my insecurities against me, at my lowest point, wasn’t one of them.
The bad news is that manipulative partners are everywhere. So it’s best to be a little cautious.
If you suspect you have a manipulative partner in your life and they’re someone you value, it’s worth making the effort to sit them down and try to talk through your issues.
But if that doesn’t work, or they become defensive at the very notion that fundamental changes need to be made, you owe it to yourself to walk away.
Stop enabling them and let them learn the hard way. A little harsh, yes, but sometimes being firm is necessary.
Life is short, find someone who is compatible with you and your well-being. You owe yourself that much.