11 tactics manipulative people use in relationships and how to spot them

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Manipulation has no place in healthy relationships, but unfortunately, it happens all too often. 

And sadly, most victims of this behavior don’t know what to look out for, leaving them vulnerable and easy to control. 

So, here are 11 tactics manipulative people use in relationships and how to spot them:

1) Gaslighting 

Gaslighting is when someone makes you doubt your memories, feelings, or experiences. 

Imagine confronting your partner over a hurtful comment they made in front of friends at a party. You explain that they hurt your feelings and embarrassed you…but instead of taking responsibility and apologizing for their actions, they deny it ever even happened! 

Even worse, they might say something along the lines of, “You’re overreacting” or “You must have misunderstood”.

This is a clear tactic used by manipulative peopleit allows them to remain in control, and essentially, evade ever taking the blame for their bad behavior. 

And for the victim? 

Questioning your memories and feelings can make you feel helpless and confused! 

2) Love bombing 

Have you ever been in one of those intense relationships where it goes from 0-100 in the space of a few weeks?

You think you’re just getting to know someone, but they’re already saying, “I love you” and “Let’s lock this down”. 

This is a common case of love bombing

Showing lots of affection at the start, which then turns into a form of control as the relationship progresses

This is a major red flag to look out for. 

Trust your gut instinct – if someone is moving too fast, it’s usually for a reason and not a good one! 

3) Guilt-tripping 

Another tactic manipulative people use in relationships is guilt-tripping. 

Guilt is an effective weapon because it plays heavily on the conscience of the victim while allowing the manipulator to do whatever they want (including getting away with bad behavior).

Case in point:

Your partner has had a stressful day at work and they’re in a crappy mood. But somehow, it’s your fault because dinner is five minutes late – suddenly, you’re to blame. 

This shows a lack of emotional maturity on the part of the manipulator, but also that they may have excessively high expectations which can’t realistically be met. 

Stay in this situation long enough, and you’ll start to feel like you can’t do anything right! 

4) Triangulation 

Triangulation is when a manipulator brings in a third, external person and uses them to stir up trouble. 

For example, your partner might casually mention that they overheard your best friend talking badly about you (which could be true or could be a straight-up lie, you never know with manipulators). 

Instead of confronting the friend at the time, your partner might encourage you to give your best friend the cold shoulder, rather than sort it out maturely. 

So, why do manipulators do this? 

To isolate you (the victim) from your support group! It could be from a place of jealousy, insecurity, or simply wanting control over you

5) Playing the victim

Ah, the sympathy card.

This is another manipulative tactic that people use in relationships, and fortunately, it’s one you can spot quite early on! 

When someone constantly plays the victim, it’s usually to gain sympathy and control over their partner. 

But it can also be a way to avoid taking responsibility. 

If every argument ends with YOU being in the wrong, then something isn’t right. Taking accountability is incredibly important in a relationship, without it, there’s no room for growth! 

6) Passive-aggressive behavior 

Now, passive-aggressive behavior is something most of us have experienced at one point or another…

This is when a manipulator uses certain tactics to show their unhappiness or dissatisfaction. Look out for things like:

  • Giving you the cold shoulder instead of talking to you about an issue 
  • Snarky or sarcastic comments that hint at a problem but can be ambiguous 
  • Retaliation such as “accidentally” breaking something of yours after a fight

The best way to deal with passive-aggressive behavior is to confront it head-on. It could be a learned behavior and your partner doesn’t realize how damaging it is. 

But if they’re a serious manipulator, there’s probably very little you can do to change them, so it’s best to protect yourself!

7) “If you really loved me…”

This is a classic phrase used by manipulative people…as we all know, the “L” word holds a lot of weight! 

Essentially, when a manipulator utters this phrase, it’s a form of pressuring you to prove your love by meeting their demands.

“If you really loved me, you wouldn’t react this way.”

“If you really loved me, you wouldn’t go out with that friend I don’t like.”

Not only is it an easy way to guilt trip you into doing whatever they want, but it’s a big play on your emotions. 

Put simply, if you feel like you always have to prove your love, you’re not in a healthy relationship and you could be dating a manipulator

8) Controlling behavior 

We’ve spoken a lot about control already, as it presents itself in so many different ways. 

But with that being said, controlling behavior is one of the most telling tactics of a manipulator. They might want to control things such as:

  • Who you see, where you go, and what you do 
  • The food you eat
  • The money you spend (financial control is a form of abuse too)

The truth is, control can extend to every aspect of your life. Even to your opinions and needs. 

And whilst boundaries can help with this, ultimately, a controlling person is out for their own gain. 

So, if you feel like you’re being restricted from doing things you want to do, or from seeing your loved ones, it’s a major red flag to watch out for. 

9) Intermittent reinforcement 

You might not be familiar with this term, but you may recognize it in action:

Intermittent reinforcement is when a manipulator gives you praise, affection and attention, but only enough to keep you wanting more. 

They’ll often withdraw and act cold and distant, in a bid to make you seek their approval and love. 

Put simply – they send you on a rollercoaster of emotions because you never know where you stand with them!

This is done to keep you at their beck and call. They know that you’ll crave their attention when they withhold it, so they use this to manipulate you

And this ties in with…

10) Constant criticism 

Constantly criticizing someone is a surefire way to put them down and ruin their self-esteem. 

And it’s also a commonly used tactic by manipulative people

Essentially, they want to wear you down to the point where you’ve got no confidence left. 

This means you’re vulnerable, and in a perfect position for them to take control. 

Sure, even in healthy relationships people may criticize each other, but it certainly doesn’t happen on a daily basis. And crucially, the intention to destroy their partner’s self-worth isn’t there. 

So, be cautious around a partner who constantly puts you down, and ask yourself, if you really were so flawed, why are they with you in the first place? 

11) Threats and ultimatums 

And finally, threats and ultimatums are another telltale sign of manipulation

“If you don’t do this, we’re over.”

“Who’s it gonna be, me or your family?”

Here’s the thing – in a healthy relationship, we don’t resort to threats of breaking up every time we argue with our partners. 

Nor do we make our partners choose between us and other loved ones. If there’s an issue, we work through it and COMPROMISE. 

But manipulators don’t know the word compromise. They want things to go their way, everytime.

And they aren’t afraid to use threats or force you to choose between them and other people to get there! 

So, now we’ve covered the main tactics manipulative people use in relationships, it’s a good idea to take note of these points and share this article with anyone who you may be concerned about. 

Manipulators can only get away with this type of behavior if we allow them to! 

Kiran Athar

Kiran is a freelance writer with a degree in multimedia journalism. She enjoys exploring spirituality, psychology, and love in her writing. As she continues blazing ahead on her journey of self-discovery, she hopes to help her readers do the same. She thrives on building a sense of community and bridging the gaps between people. You can reach out to Kiran on Twitter: @KiranAthar1

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