8 things every manipulative person does in a 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.

Have you ever been stuck in a relationship where you’re constantly on edge, questioning your own judgment, or wondering if you’re overreacting? 

Doesn’t feel good, does it? But you’re not alone – I’ve been there myself. It took me a while to recognize the signs, but eventually, I realized I was dealing with a manipulative partner. 

A manipulative person is sneaky for sure, but the good thing is, there are several things they do that should signal you of their dubious intentions. 

In this article, I’ll tackle eight of those things. Hopefully, they’ll help you spot red flags much easier. Let’s get started! 

1) They gaslight you

The first thing you must know about manipulative people is that they are experts at gaslighting. What’s that, you say? 

Gaslighting is a trick manipulative people use to make you doubt your own feelings, memories, and perceptions. They do this by constantly questioning or dismissing your concerns and making you feel like you’re imagining things. 

For example, they could say something hurtful, then when you call them out on it, they’ll insist that you must have misunderstood or heard/remembered it wrong. They may say things like: 

  • “You’re imagining things.”
  • “That never happened.”
  • “You’re making things up.”

If they’re really good at it, you’ll begin thinking, “Hmm, maybe it was all in my mind. Maybe I did imagine it…”

In the end, it’s going to be your fault, not theirs. It’s a subtle but powerful way to gain control, and it can take a toll on your self-esteem and mental health. 

So…no, you’re not going crazy. You’re not imagining things. Listen to your instincts – they’re there to protect you from people trying to distort your sense of reality. 

2) They lie to control you

Creating a false reality? That’s something manipulative people have nailed down to an art. And to do that, they resort to lying. 

As I mentioned earlier, it’s all about control. They might lie about their feelings or their past, or even fabricate entire situations, all for the purpose of controlling you

I experienced this firsthand when my ex lied about a job opportunity to make me feel guilty for not being supportive. It was a blatant manipulation attempt that left me feeling confused and betrayed.

Once again, trust your instincts. If you feel like something’s off, it probably is. And always remember, for a relationship to be healthy, there needs to be open and honest communication. 

If your partner doesn’t seem capable of it and constantly lies, it’s best to consider if this toxic relationship is worth investing in. 

3) They play the victim

Another thing that manipulative people do is to manipulate your sympathy. And they do this by playing the victim

Oh, this one’s a real red flag. Whenever I notice how someone turns a disagreement around and makes it seem like it’s my fault, I do a quick “sashay away,” to quote RuPaul. I’m not wasting any more time on that person. 

Because if there’s anything I hate, it’s being manipulated into feeling guilty and ultimately giving in to someone’s demands. I’ve been put in such a spot in the past, and every single time, I come away feeling taken advantage of. 

These days, I’m doing better, though. I’ve learned how to be firm in my boundaries – I try to be as compassionate and understanding as I can, but I also know when to say no to emotional manipulation

But fair warning: when you say no to a manipulative person, expect them to try another tactic – the silent treatment.

4) They give you the silent treatment

See, manipulators won’t take your pushback sitting down. They’ll try every trick in the book to get what they want, and that includes the silent treatment.

If you’ve been savvy enough to say no to the previous attempts to manipulate you, they will punish you – without words. 

It’s a classic tactic, and believe me, this bratty, passive-aggressive behavior can be incredibly frustrating. 

Because it’s just another way to make you give in to their demands. It sends this message: You either do what I want, or I won’t talk to you at all. 

In the past, I would eventually give in when someone would do this to me. I didn’t really want to; I just wanted the cold war to end.  

But over time, I realized, wait a minute, we’re both adults here…so why are we communicating this way? 

That was the turning point for me, and from there on, I would be firm as well. Either they communicate, or I walk away. 

5) They hold your feelings hostage

I once had a friend who was stuck in a manipulative relationship. She wanted to leave, but she couldn’t because every time she tried, the guy would threaten to harm himself. 

That’s called emotional blackmail – another tactic where someone uses your emotions against you to manipulate you into doing what they want. 

Emotional blackmail may come in other forms, such as: 

  • Threatening to reveal your secrets
  • Threatening to leave you
  • Comparing you to others
  • Holding past mistakes over your head
  • Playing on your guilt
  • Using children or pets as pawns
  • Exaggerating negative consequences

Whew. That’s a lot of threats, isn’t it? That’s the whole point of it – to make you feel afraid. You’ll end up walking on eggshells and terrified of what might happen if you don’t go along! 

So, how do you deal? Well, take this tip from all the Hollywood movies ever made about blackmail – never give in to these tactics. Stand your ground. 

And if they continue to threaten you, it might be time to walk away. Remember, the right person should make you feel safe, not scared! 

6) They do love bombing

Ah, love bombing. I totally understand how it can make you feel head-over-heels in love. After all, being showered with excessive affection and attention can really make you feel so special! 

But heads-up: it’s only to grease you up and make you more receptive to their manipulation tactics

See, overwhelming you with affection is another way for manipulative people to gain control. Lavish compliments and gifts upon gifts are simply their means to earn your trust. 

Far from being a true demonstration of love, it’s actually a form of psychological and emotional abuse. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to detect until it’s too late…and hard to get out of. 

So, how do you know if they’re really just in love with you or love-bombing you

According to Psychology Today, a reliable way is to set your boundaries and see if they respect those. See how they respond when you raise your discomfort over the excessive displays of love. 

7) They isolate you from friends and family

“You and me against the world” – this is something you might hear from a manipulative person

And while it might make the whole situation feel so romantic at first, so Romeo-and-Juliet…you should know that it’s actually another way to control you

Because manipulative people want to control your support system, they may try to isolate you from your friends and family. They want to be your sole source of support. They want you to depend completely on them. 

I remember when an ex would frequently find faults with my friends and discourage me from spending time with them. At first, I found his opinions flattering – I took them as a sign that he wanted to be with me all the time, and of course, that made me feel so loved. 

But that isolation also cut me off from the people who truly loved me, and I began to feel alone and helpless, especially when the relationship started turning sour. 

So, learn from my mistake – a healthy relationship should never require you to cut ties with those you care about. 

8) They make you feel inferior

Lastly, manipulative people often make you feel inferior, whether through subtle put-downs or overt criticism. 

Their goal is to erode your self-esteem, making you more susceptible to their control. 

How might they do this? Through subtle little things like backhanded compliments, constant comparisons to others, or even overhelping, all of which could make you feel inadequate and insecure.

That’s why I recommend being mindful and staying attuned to yourself. That way, you’ll recognize when someone’s trying to make you feel less than and keep your self-worth intact

Final thoughts

These are just some examples of things manipulative people do. There are many more, much more than can be covered in a single article. After all, manipulation is such a complex topic that encompasses a wide range of behaviors. 

But the main thing to consider is that it’s all about control. That’s why it’s important to trust your instincts and maintain healthy boundaries

And don’t be afraid to walk away if the behavior continues. Remember, somewhere out there is someone who will treat you with the love and respect you deserve.

Did you like my article? Like me on Facebook to see more articles like this in your feed.

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

If someone displays these 10 traits, they’re getting too codependent in a relationship

12 subtle signs you’re more perceptive than people think