7 subtle signs your partner is manipulating you, according to psychology

Manipulation can manifest in sneaky ways, leaving the victim questioning their perceptions and emotions.

Even more, it exists on a spectrum.

While honesty is the best policy, many people resort to manipulation tactics at one time or another to get what they want.

Consequently, it can be challenging to assess whether your significant other’s shrewd actions are unintentional or whether they have more nefarious intentions at heart.  

When these tactics become the norm rather than the exception, however, you have reason to worry.

Here are 7 subtle signs your partner is manipulating you, according to psychology.

Calling them out on their behavior is job one.

1) They consistently flatter you

We’ve all been so caught up in a new relationship to the point where we become a little obsessed with our new boo.

During the honeymoon stage, they can seem like the most perfect person to have ever existed.  

You want to shout your happiness from the rooftops and shower them with affection 24/7.

But while there’s nothing wrong with enthusiasm, your new partner moving too fast and bombarding you with over-the-top displays of adoration might spell trouble.

Psychologists call this tactic love bombing and warn that it can be a precursor to manipulation and abuse.

Trouble is, sometimes it’s difficult to gauge your significant other’s intentions.

Are their nice gestures a sign that they are falling for you hard, or a tactic to make you let your guard down?

Your boo might be trying to love bomb you if they:

  • Buy your unnecessary, excessive, or extravagant gifts
  • Insist they fell in love at first sight
  • Call you their soulmate after you’ve only hung out a couple of times
  • Are in a rush to make the relationship official
  • Have trouble taking “no” for an answer when you cancel or postpone a date

Love bombing is effective because who doesn’t want to believe they are so wonderful/sexy/clever/appealing that they make someone else go a little crazy?

Once you’re smitten, though, your partner might try to exert more control over you.

And if you resist, they bail, leaving you hurt and confused.

Make sure your new relationship advances at a pace you’re completely comfortable with.

2) They guilt-trip you

I don’t know about you, but when I fall for someone, I want to see them as happy as possible.

Unfortunately, my people-pleasing tendencies come with a big downside: occasionally, I do what my partner wants to the detriment of my own needs.

We’re told we must compromise to make a relationship work, but there’s a fine line between reaching common ground and dismissing your own desires to keep the peace.  

Especially when your partner knows how to play on your emotions.

According to psychology, guilt-tripping is a form of emotional blackmail employed to make you do something you don’t want to do.

While it can be unconscious, a skilled manipulator will intentionally rely on it to get their way.  

They generally say something along the lines of, “If you would really love me, you would do that,” which makes you feel like a monster for failing to meet their request.

Even so, it’s crucial to acknowledge guilt trips for what they are: subtle manipulation tactics.

Rather than submitting to your partner’s wishes, acknowledge their request and clearly explain why you can’t comply.

Repeatedly caving to their demands leaves you powerless and resentful.

In a healthy relationship, partners should have an equal say.

If you have to give up bits of yourself, things aren’t going well.

Which brings me to my next point.

3) You’re losing sense of who you are

Manipulation can have profound and lasting effects, often leading individuals to lose a sense of their own identity.

When you’ve been subjected to it for a while, you find yourself entangled in a web of self-doubt.

The manipulator skillfully chips away at your self-esteem, subtly suggesting that your worth is contingent upon meeting their expectations.

This makes you increasingly reliant on external validation and approval from your partner.

According to psychologists, you can begin to question your sanity, frequently apologize for your behavior, and walk on eggshells around your partner to avoid confrontation.

In other words, you don’t stay true to who you are.

Do it for long enough, and you gradually lose sense of what makes you tick in the first place.  

4) They dismiss your concerns

How does one make you question your sanity, you ask?

By gaslighting you.

They systematically feed you false information, leading you to question what you know to be true.

A few examples:

  • Your partner dismisses your concerns about a disagreement during which they said something hurtful: “I never said that; you must be imagining things”
  • When you express frustration about something your partner did, they insist you are blowing things out of proportion: “You’re too sensitive; I can’t believe you’re making such a big deal out of this”
  • Your partner engages in suspicious behavior but accuses you of the same behavior when you bring it up: “I’m not being secretive; you’re the one who’s always hiding things from me”
  • Your partner keeps important information from you and then claims they told you or you should have known: “I already mentioned that; you never pay attention to me.”

Gaslighting is subtle and gradual, which makes the tactic challenging to recognize.

Keeping a journal of your interactions with your partner can help you make sense of things.

5) They give you the silent treatment

Withholding is another subtle sign your partner is manipulating you, according to psychology.

By holding back information, emotions, or engagement, they manipulate the power dynamics within the relationship.

For instance, your partner refuses to express their feelings, leaving you in the dark about their emotions or concerns.

As a result, their lack of transparency makes you feel dazed and uncertain.

Or, they use affection as a tool, withholding physical intimacy or emotional closeness as a means of control.

This creates a sense of vulnerability and emotional dependence.

One of the most popular forms of withholding is the silent treatment.

By not replying to your texts and refusing to see you, your partner is trying to control your behavior.

Not only do they have the upper hand, but they inflict a deep emotional wound.

They are leveraging your fear of abandonment and rejection to push you to conform to their demands.

That is a big no-no.

6) They put you down

Skilled manipulators undermine your confidence by making damaging statements about your appearance, intellect, or circumstances, according to psychology.

You would think that you would notice that, but their tactics aren’t obvious.

In fact, they’re quite sly:

  • They compare you to others, and you always fall short
  • Rather than celebrating your achievements, they disregard your efforts, suggesting they weren’t a big deal in the first place
  • They openly criticize you, but when you call them out, they insist they were joking
  • Instead of encouraging you to grow, they bring up your shortcomings to suggest you’re better off in your comfort zone

Manipulators can easily identify your insecurities and use them against you.  

The more they do this, the more inadequate you feel.

Don’t let them get away with it.

7) You’re losing your support system

When someone is trying to manipulate you, they want you at your most vulnerable.

In order to achieve this, they might try to cut you off from your support system so you become as dependent on them as possible.

They do this steadily over time, so it’s possible you might not even notice their schemes until they’re already successful.

According to psychology, isolation is one of the earliest signs of emotional abuse.

Your partner might insist you spend all your free time with them.

They disguise their true intentions by telling you how much they enjoy your company and how closer quality time together will bring you.

Alternatively, they might attempt to drive a wedge between you and your loved ones.

They’ll insist they don’t have your best interest at heart, say they don’t treat you well enough, or even instigate conflicts so that you’re more likely to distance yourself from them.

Early signs to look out for include:

  • Fostering an “us against them” mentality, creating a sense that it’s the two of you against the world
  • Insisting you make every decision together because you are a team
  • Monitoring your social media too closely
  • Constantly checking in when you’re out and about without them
  • Discouraging you from engaging in social activities without them

Isolation serves as a barrier to intervention by friends or family who can recognize and address your partner’s manipulative behavior.

If your gut tells you something isn’t right, trust your instincts.

Final thoughts

Learning to recognize the tactics above is crucial to protecting your mental sanity.

As manipulation can be subtle, spotting it early ensures you can take the necessary steps to protect yourself.  

Set boundaries and seek support from loved ones or a mental health professional when needed.

Relationships should be based on mutual trust and open communication.

Your partner trying to control you is a huge red flag.

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