13 ways emotional manipulators control their partner in a relationship

Emotional manipulators are difficult to date. 

That’s actually an understatement, and I speak from experience. 

This is a list of some of the top tactics and behaviors that emotionally manipulative partners use to jerk you around. 

1) Gaslighting 

Gaslighting is the tactic of getting a person to doubt what they see. 

Manipulators love to gaslight because: 

  1. It’s effective
  2. It fits with their idea that they’re never to blame. 

Regardless of what the situation is, the manipulator is likely to make their partner believe that nothing is going on. The manipulator will try to make their partner feel that they’re “crazy” for being uncomfortable or upset about anything. 

If the emotional manipulator is caught dead to rights and can’t wriggle out of something like cheating or dishonesty, they will do their best to gaslight their partner even more. 

The manipulator will do this by trying to make their partner believe that what they did wrong was actually caused by the partner or their fault somehow. 

2) Guilting 

Guilting is when somebody is controlled or influenced through guilt. 

This manifests in many ways in relationships with manipulators, who like to try to make their partner feel guilty. 

Whether they blame their partner for saying something hurtful or being distant lately, the goal isn’t real communication:

The goal is to make their partner feel they’ve done something wrong and is lesser and sinful. 

Once somebody has internalized a feeling of being inferior, guilty and wrong, they are then much easier to manipulate and get to do whatever the manipulator wants. 

On a closely related note comes: 

3) Playing the victim

The emotional manipulator loves to play the victim. 

They use guilt and gaslighting while claiming to be a victim of everything under the sun. 

The reason the victim role is popular for manipulators is simple: 

  1. It’s easy
  2. It makes their partner doubt their own value and actions, creating instability which can then be taken advantage of. 

By playing the victim as much as they want, the manipulator tries to get everything to go their way. 

4) Running hot and cold

Sending mixed messages and running hot and cold is another manipulative behavior you’ll see a lot. 

I’ve experienced it quite a bit in some past relationships. 

Let’s be clear on this:

We all have good and bad moods or times we’re more sociable and affectionate or less so. That’s fine. That’s being human. 

But running hot and cold is more intentional than that. 

It’s focusing all your attention and love on someone for a few days or weeks and then pulling most of it away without warning. 

And then switching it back on for a bit. And so on. 

The key is to be unpredictable and also act like you aren’t doing what you’re clearly doing: emotional manipulators are often masters at this tactic. 

They use it to get somebody addicted to them and to become putty in their hands. 

5) Leveraging weak points in their partner

The emotional manipulator may love playing the victim, but in reality they’re usually quite predatory. 

They seek out a partner’s weakness or vulnerability and then use that to control them. 

For example, if an emotionally manipulative man is dating a woman who he knows is very scared of abandonment, he will try being distant for a few days. 

Then he will ask all sorts of favors of her or proceed with all the power in the relationship. 

In another example an emotionally manipulative woman who knows her boyfriend is insecure about his salary will use her financial wellbeing to remind him who has the real power.

This ties into the next point…

6) Using their strengths to gain more power in the relationship

The emotional manipulator tends to be narcissistic and insecure. 

But they also tend to be self-aware and smarter than they seem. 

They use this self-awareness of their own strengths to gain more power in relationships. 

This can be very simple but powerful things like knowing their partner finds them physically irresistible and using that sexiness. 

It can also be things like being better at practical things and criticizing their partner over being disorganized or messy.

7) Using finances as a weapon

Finances are one of the favorite tools of the manipulator. 

But it’s important to mention that this goes both ways. 

The manipulative individual with money is apt to use it to control and influence their partner, most definitely. 

But the manipulative partner who’s low on funds is also apt to use their financial hardship as a crutch. 

They may seek pity for their money problems, handouts or blame other issues and wrongdoing on their stress over money. 

In other words, money can be a way manipulators keep a leash on a partner, but also a way they freeload off a partner. 

8) Possessiveness and controlling behavior 

I’ve mentioned possessiveness and controlling behavior a few times here, and it’s important to clarify. 

The manipulator is often a narcissist suffering from hidden insecurity

As such, he or she craves constant validation and control. 

But people don’t really work like that, leading to a lot of frustration and a lot of the behaviors I describe here. 

These are the manipulator’s attempts to gain the control they crave, and to feel assured their partner is loyal and in love with them completely. 

This brings up the next point… 

9) Being accusatory and jealous 

The manipulator is often very accusatory. 

He or she is full of suspicions and paranoia and may even stoop as low as loyalty tests. 

“Well, if you really love me, you’ll do this.”

“If you care about me for real, you won’t go to that party.”

And so on…

The bottom line behind all of this kind of behavior is a self-absorbed insecurity and a manipulative disrespect for others. 

It’s sad to see, especially when directed toward their partner. 

10) Drawing on past fights as ammunition 

Manipulators are flawless record keepers when it comes to past fights. 

They’ll often go back and reference what was said and done in past disagreements. 


To blame their partner further and raise the temperature in a way that they can then exploit. 

By bringing up past fights they hope to portray their partner as unreasonable and stressful and present themselves as the victim

11) Making the relationship full of must-do obligations 

The manipulator will often become a kind of taskmaster. 

They can fall into the scolding and nagging role, demanding their partner to do more and be more responsible. 

This is what is done by a more active, aggressive manipulator

This is generally quite one-sided, however, and is part of how they manipulate and exploit. 

If the manipulator is more of a submissive, passive manipulator, they will usually do the opposite:

They will complain about having too many duties and not being appreciated enough. 

They will say the relationship has just become a drag and they should be treated better and given more freedom and relaxation. 

Either way, it’s clear the manipulator is not pitching in and doing their fair share!

And the negativity tends to bring a relationship down significantly. 

12) Turning friends and family against their partner 

Manipulative people come in all shapes and sizes. 

Some of them can stoop so low as to trash talk their partner and try to get their friends and family to turn against them. 

This is really disturbing to see, and it leads to all sorts of toxic situations. 

It’s especially likely if the manipulator has a close friendship or tie with one of their partner’s friends or family members. 

Once tension or an issue arises they then reach out to that person, seeking to exploit the connection to trash talk their partner.

13) Making promises to change 

The manipulator loves to make promises and dangle hope in front of their partner like a glitzy prize. 

Sadly, this hope rarely comes to pass. 

And when the manipulator does follow through on a promise, he or she will use their success as leverage to then extract more of what they want. 

Many manipulators have narcissistic traits and essentially want endless affection and attention. 

When that affection or attention starts to dry up or looks like it could be taken away, they promise to change! 

Then they just don’t change and make more promises to change, again and again… 

Saying goodbye to the drama

Every relationship has drama and imperfections. 

We all treat partners in ways we regret and apologize once we realize how our actions and words have hurt somebody we love. 

But the highly emotionally manipulative partner is a different story:

He or she takes our limits and tramples all over them. 

He or she finds out our vulnerability and uses it to hurt and control us

He or she is somebody who has a lot of work to do on themselves and it’s best for you to get out of such a relationship if your partner won’t take steps to change. 

13 signs you’re in a relationship with someone who truly loves you

12 signs that the man in your life is a total narcissist