15 things emotionally manipulative people do in relationships

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It’s not always easy to spot a manipulative person.

If you don’t know what to look out for, they might seem nice enough. But of course, they’re anything but.

Wondering if you’re with an emotionally manipulative person?

Here are their hallmark traits.

1) They lovebomb their partner

Love Bombing is all about showering one’s partner with so much affection that they end up overwhelmed.

It’s easy enough to shrug and say that they’re probably just being loving. But they’re not—they’re doing it to have power over their partner and that’s what’s so insidious about it.

For example, they might give you plenty of gifts and give you whatever you want, and then use this as justification for why you should give them what THEY want later on.

2) They make sure they’re needed

Power is the name of the game when it comes to manipulative people

They will act as loving and loyal as they need to be as long as they have power over their partner.

And to that end, they will try to sneakily cut their partner off from friends and family. Even simply putting some rift between their partner and everyone else is more than good enough.

The more dependent their partner is on them, the better. Their goal is to be the number one person in their partner’s life—always.

3) They make their partner feel bad for speaking up

If their partner opens up about how they’ve been feeling neglected lately, they’ll take offense. Then they’ll go on a rant about how much they’ve done for their partner and how dare they feel dissatisfied.

If their partner asks them why they’ve been coming home later than usual, then they’ll go off on how their partner is a bad person for suspecting them of cheating.

They want to make their partner feel small and in the wrong for even daring to voice their concerns. Because, of course, how dare they try to stand up for themselves!

4) They like to always “teach” their partner a lesson

They take the saying “You teach others how to treat you” way, waaay too literally.

They believe that it’s their duty to “train” their partner on the proper way they should act towards them.

And if they think their partner is not acting “right”, then they’ll act like they had just committed a class A felony right under their noses.

They do this so that they can mold their partner into their “ideal” person instead of simply appreciating them for who they are.

5) They relish in passive aggression

Communication is important for a properly functioning relationship. Unfortunately, emotionally manipulative people aren’t exactly looking for a functioning relationship.

They want control, and that’s why instead of communicating their problems with their partners, they instead fall back to passive aggression.

They’d turn up their noses around their partner, stomp and pout like a kindergartener, and hit their partner with mean-spirited snark.

6) They go hot and cold

They’d shower their partner with sweet messages one day, and then ghost them hard the next.

They’re so unpredictable and moody that their partner simply can’t ever find the opportunity to relax and have some peace of mind.

There’s always that element of uncertainty that keeps their partners on edge.

And that’s precisely what emotionally manipulative people do because it makes their partners easy to manipulate.

7) They tone-police their partner

That is to say, when they get into an argument with their partner they’ll often spend more time critiquing the way their partner speaks than actually listening to the points being made.

If their partner goes off on them for failing to lock the door, then instead of owning up to their mistake, they’ll criticize how their partner is being “too emotional” or even “hysterical” over a “non-issue.”

It’s not always obvious. But if you know what to look out for, you’ll find they tone police a lot, and they do it to get out of arguments while “humbling” their partner for being “crude.”

8) They blame their partner for everything 

Did the goldfish die? Obviously it’s their partner’s fault for forgetting to remind them to feed it!

Did they grow a gut and see all their hair disappear? Well, that’s obviously on their partner too… somehow.

Emotionally manipulative people will always find a way—no matter how bizarre—to make their partner take the blame every time something bad happens, regardless of who actually was at fault.

9) They make a big deal over how hurt they are

When their partner has done something to displease them, they’d get hurt. But what makes them manipulative is that they’d emphasize just how hurt they are.

They’d act like a victim and their partner is one mean, heartless, unloving person.

And they won’t let go easily. 

They’ll keep showing just how affected they are by their partner’s actions so they’ll chase them and ask them “How can I be more loving to you?”

10)  They gaslight

If their partner complains about how they keep on leaving the car doors unlocked, they’ll say things like “I always lock the doors. Maybe it’s YOU who keeps forgetting to lock the doors!”

And if their partner tells them that they’re hurt by what they said, for example, they’ll go “huh? Why would you be hurt with that? You’re too sensitive!”

They try to make their partner lose confidence in themselves and the soundness of their judgment. And the moment their partner starts believing it? They’ve already won.

11)  They say “I’m okay” when they clearly aren’t

And I don’t mean to say that they’ll simply pretend that they’re doing better than they actually are.

They would say “oh, I’m okay!” with such a sharp, sarcastic tone that it’s immediately obvious to their partner that they’re anything but okay.

This is typical manipulative behavior.

They want their partners to feel bad and then beg them to open up or ask what they did wrong. 

Predictably, if their partners ever take them on their word, then they’ll hate their partners even more.

12) They use their partner’s past misgivings as weapon

They have no qualms at all about weaponizing their partner’s past mistakes, even mistakes that the average sane person would have long since forgiven.

But that’s the thing with emotionally manipulative people—they neither forgive nor forget.

It doesn’t matter to them that 10 years had passed since their partner emotionally cheated on them, and in that time they had proven themselves worthy of trust again.

To the emotionally manipulative person, the only thing that matters is that it’s something they can use to control their partner.

13)  They withhold affection

It’s normal not to be in the mood for any kind of affection after a big argument of some kind. 

But emotionally manipulative people aren’t concerned about reconciliation or using that time off to calm down.

They want to milk it as much as they can because they enjoy having power over other people.

So they’ll start holding back their affection, keeping their partner high and try until they finally bend the knee, apologize, and make compromises.

14) They get offended by boundaries

When their partner says “no” when they ask to check their phone, they’d get mad and insinuate that their partner is trying to hide something.

And when their partner won’t tell them about the secrets their best friend confided to them, they’d pout and say “But I thought we’re partners.”

Manipulative partners believe they are entitled to every aspect of their partner’s being. To them, the very healthy act of their partner setting boundaries is an act of selfishness, and they loathe it.

15) They always question their partner’s love

Manipulative people say things like “I think you don’t really love me” or “It seems like you’re just using me”.

But here’s the thing. Most of the time, they don’t actually care whether their partner actually loves them or not. What they care about is if their partner would still do anything and everything for them.

Last words

It might seem like emotional manipulation should be easy enough to spot.

But it’s not, precisely because they’re good manipulators.

The last thing you want is to underestimate just how smart an abuser can be and how hard it is to break free.

The best thing you can do is to remain as vigilant as you can and, if you ever suspect that you’re with a manipulator, try to find ways to undo what grasp they must have on your mind so that you can actually start healing and moving on to the right direction.

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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