8 signs you’re unwittingly being manipulated in your relationship

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

When you first fall in love, ain’t it just grand?

Your heart pounds at just the thought of them. You can’t get enough of their face, their touch, their smell, their…!

But after the promotional period wears off, things start to get real. This is when the clouds lift, and you start to see each other for real.

For many people, this is great, and you fall even deeper in love. But for others, not so much.

Many people who start out smothering you with love and affection will change and start manipulating you. These users do it on purpose – they want to use you but also keep you around.

They want to get their way, always, and they’ll do whatever they need to so they can.

Sound familiar?

If you suspect something’s up, these eight signs you’re unwittingly being manipulated in your relationship can act as red flags telling you to get out of the situation.

1) You were love-bombed early on

A manipulator usually seeks out someone they can target for manipulation. They look for kind people-pleasers, preferably with low self-esteem.

And once they have you in their sights, the manipulation begins with a bang.

Love-bombing is a strategy that so many manipulators use for a very good reason.

It works.

What they do is almost smother you with love and attention at the start of the relationship. They send you flowers, buy you gifts, whisk you away to romantic locales, and send you sweet messages all day.

They make you feel special, and this creates an attachment, which is what they’re looking for. Later, no matter how badly they treat you, they can always point back to this time when they made you feel wonderful and use that to keep you hanging on.

Love-bombing is the bait, and now they’ve hooked you. 

That makes you the prey, of course.

2) You’re often guilt-tripped

Why do manipulators look for kind people-pleasers to hook up with?

It’s because it’s exactly this kind of person who’s easy to guilt-trip.

They’re the type of people who try to make their partners happy and can easily be made to feel guilty for not doing the smallest things to this end.

I have a friend whose sister is always doing this exact thing – it doesn’t just have to be used within a romantic relationship.

She’s a lot younger, and when he was a teen, he had to basically raise her. But now that they’re grown up, she still always asks him to do things for her – things she can clearly do herself.

If he does, she’ll keep asking. If he doesn’t, she’ll lay down a guilt trip.

She’ll say things like, “That’s fine. If you don’t care about me, then I guess I’ll find someone who does.”

This kind of guilt-tripping is, unfortunately, straight out of Manipulation 101.

3) They have no problems giving you the silent treatment

What’s another way you could be unwittingly manipulated in your relationship?

How about turning affection and attention on and off like a tap?

Some people just go quiet when they get mad as a way of stopping themselves from getting too worked up and saying things they don’t mean.

But the real silent treatment goes a lot deeper than that. It’s a total denial of attention to a partner in order to make them feel bad.

The manipulator will use this technique to try to guilt you and/or to get you to pay more attention to them.

It usually works, too, because their people-pleasing victims will eventually crack and start to do anything to make them happy and break their silence.

But what they don’t realize is that they’ve played right into the manipulator’s hands.

4) They play the victim

People who are secretly manipulative are, by definition, good at tricking you.

They don’t behave honestly – they play whatever role will benefit them in each situation.

So, while it sometimes benefits them to play a strong leader, other times, they’ll play the victim.

They’ll do something wrong and then turn it around and make it seem like they were the ones who got hurt in the whole thing.

Here’s an example: imagine your partner starts going under the radar frequently and coming home really late without any reasonable explanation.

If you confront them and ask what’s going on, they flip things around and accuse you of not trusting them. They’ll seem totally hurt and affronted and drag all of your attention into that. What they’ve been doing then slips through the cracks.

This is the power of playing the victim – it unwittingly produces sympathy in their partner and gets them off the hook. 

5) They always compete with you

What’s another big sign of manipulation in a relationship?

Competition in almost every aspect of your life.

Hey, I know many couples are into some of the same things and sometimes like to compete for fun or to motivate each other.

But it’s different with a master manipulator.  They’re trying to keep you under their thumb, and that makes them always want to push you down.

They don’t share in the happiness of your successes. Instead, they always try to one-up you to show that they’re better than you.

If they can make you feel this, after all, they can keep you needing them and looking up to them.

So if you’re happy about an accomplishment and share this with your partner only to have them tell you how they’ve done something better, be warned. This is a sign you’re being unwittingly manipulated in your relationship.

6) They always push your buttons

One thing that manipulators are great at is pushing your buttons.

This is their way of controlling you and generally makes them feel very successful at what they’re trying to do, which is control your feelings.

They’re going to prod and push around for your vulnerabilities so they can exploit them. The dangerous thing is that you let them because opening up and being vulnerable is supposed to be the way to build an intimate connection in a relationship.

But once you do, you can be exploited. 

If you’re being too positive and independent, they can push a button that makes you feel bad about yourself. They’ll do this by commenting on your weight or failures at work, for example.

At other times, they’ll do something to make you angry on purpose so that they can turn around and play the victim. You’ll get so worked up that it will make you look bad, and they’ll seem hurt. 

They secretly know all the ways to manipulate your emotions to their advantage.

7) They convince you to give things up for them

We all get into relationships that get complicated and tricky to manage. You might be juggling work, a side project, family life, hobbies, other activities, and the relationships all at the same time.

For most of us, it’s normal to make a choice and sometimes give up doing something we love because we don’t have the time to do everything we want.

However, a manipulator will try to get you to give up your interests for them but won’t give things up for you.

They’ll even help to convince you that it was your idea to stop going to yoga classes or give up your Tuesday night card game.

What they want is to control you and your time. They want to ensure that you’re always available when they need you.

If this means you give up parts of your life for them, so be it.

8) They disapprove of who you want to spend time with

It’s not strange that people in a relationship won’t like all of each other’s friends and acquaintances.

In fact, it would be really strange if this wasn’t the case.

I know there are people my partner hangs out with whom I have no time for, and I know that she can’t stand a few of my friends.

That’s fine – we still spend time with those people sometimes, but we don’t invite each other and don’t really talk about them.

That’s all.

But if you’re in a relationship with a manipulator, you’d better believe that they won’t be happy with such a set-up. They want to control your life and that includes the people in it.

They might not come right out and forbid you to see people, though. Instead, they might be a lot sneakier about the whole thing. 

They’ll spread rumors and gossip to make the people they don’t like seem unappealing. They’ll voice disapproval of things they know those people do without naming them specifically.

It’s all designed to control who you spend time with.


Do these eight signs you’re unwittingly being manipulated in your relationship suddenly ring any bells?

If so, you’re going to have to think about where you are in this relationship and whether it’s actually making a healthy and positive contribution to your life.

If not, it might be time to get out.

9 things mentally strong women do to overcome self-doubt

14 things smart people do to make their mornings incredibly productive