8 Signs of Manipulation in Relationships: A Guide to Recognizing and Overcoming Them

Being in a relationship can be a fulfilling and satisfactory experience. Sharing your day to day experiences, your hopes, and dreams with another person should leave you cared for and feeling secure.

But what happens when you don’t feel this way? What happens when you feel anxious, uncertain, insecure, and continuously needing to please your partner? This might be related to you being manipulated in your relationship.

Becoming aware of manipulation in your relationship, whether you are the one manipulating or being manipulated, will serve you in finding a way forward toward a healthier relationship. This may require assistance from an outside support system such as a therapist.

What Is Manipulation?

Manipulation is an intentional practice. It involves one partner deliberately doing something to influence the other’s mental or emotional state in order to get what they want. This can be done in many different ways. Manipulation is often used to maintain a power dynamic where the manipulator is always the superior partner.

It is important to note that even though manipulation is an intentional practice, it can be done unintentionally within relationships. This could be because the manipulating partner’s coping patterns are deeply ingrained and subconscious, leading them to manipulate without being consciously aware of their actions.

However it is done, the manipulation is geared toward making the other partner feel inferior or at fault. When they feel this way, it is more likely that they will behave in a way that the manipulator wishes.

These actions of manipulation are usually subtle and continuous in nature. They may have you unsure of how to respond, and so you rely on your partner’s guidance for the response that will keep the peace.

You may feel some of the following ways if you are being manipulated:

  • You may end up feeling guilty and questioning yourself. You may feel that you can do nothing right and your partner’s irritation is being caused by your actions. This will decrease your self-confidence and autonomy.
  • You may feel like you are uncertain and anxious most of the time. Feeling like you are ‘walking on eggshells’ will cause you to continuously doubt yourself. This increases your anxiety and insecurity, which will often leave you relying on your partner’s judgment more than your own.
  • You may question yourself increasingly. This leads you to not trust yourself and your judgment. You may even question your sense of reality. It will also begin to affect your sense of yourself. Soon your own interests and ideas will be discarded for those of your partner because you will feel they are more valid than your own. You will feel increasingly anxious and stressed when needing to make a decision.

Being in a relationship with a manipulative partner is a highly stressful situation that will leave you on edge and without the feeling of security and satisfaction that is expected within a relationship.

Signs of Manipulation

There are various ways manipulation can occur. Usually, the manipulator will use a few methods that they find are effective with you. You can look for them and become aware of these behaviors, especially if you identify with some of the feelings described above.

Passive-Aggressive Behaviours

Passive-aggressive behaviors involve indirect communication. Instead of openly speaking about a topic that is troubling them, they will resort to behaviors such as the silent treatment, avoiding you, or sarcasm.

For example, you may want to talk about your feelings for each other and the next step in your relationship is. This might make your partner feel insecure or anxious; instead of saying this to you directly, they make a sarcastic comment about you being ‘emotionally clingy’ and tell you to relax. The comment, combined with the avoidance of the subject, can make you question whether you were right in asking the question in the first place.

Love Bombing

Love bombing is a phenomenon where your partner will shower you with affection, attention, and care. This sets you up to expect this level of intimacy and engagement. When they don’t give this to you, it makes you think you have done something wrong. This makes you work harder to please them and meet their needs so you can receive the same treatment you did at the beginning of your relationship.

For example, you might receive gifts or compliments every day in the beginning of your relationship. You feel seen and validated, secure in the way your partner feels about you. Suddenly you notice that you are not receiving these compliments. You worry you are not as attractive to them as you were, that they are losing interest. This makes you anxious and insecure. You may find yourself trying to dress differently, and behave differently, all to gain their attention again.


Gaslighting refers to a practice where your partner will invalidate your thoughts and feelings, dismiss your concerns, and blame you for things going wrong in your relationship. The aim of gaslighting is to make you question yourself and your perception of reality. This is a subtle and continuous behavior to keep you off kilter and unsure. This will eat away at your self-esteem and make you more dependent on your partner, even though they make you feel inferior.

You may ask your partner why they have stopped checking in on you or asking about your day. A gaslighting partner may respond that you are being ridiculous and they do ask you; it is, in fact, you who do not ask them. This example shows how gaslighting can involve outright lies as well as the twisting of the truth.


Manipulation can be threat orientated, where your partner convinces you that they will take action of some kind if you do not agree with them or do what they want. These can be aggressive threats, such as threatening to hurt you. Often they are threats to make you feel guilty and as if is your fault. This encourages you to question yourself and see yourself as the one who is being unreasonable or in the wrong.

Threats such as, ‘I’ll kill myself if you leave’, or ‘Think of what this will do to the children’ are all possible threats that a manipulative partner could use to control you. These threats make you weary and worried.

Isolating Behavior

Another sign of manipulation is isolating behavior. Manipulators may attempt to isolate you from your friends, family, or support system. They do this to gain control over you and limit your access to alternative perspectives or sources of support. By isolating you, they create a dependency on themselves and make it more difficult for you to seek help or escape the manipulative relationship.

For instance, your partner might discourage you from spending time with your friends, claiming that they are a bad influence or that they don’t really care about you. They may criticize your family members and try to create tension between you and them. Over time, you find yourself spending less and less time with people outside of the relationship, becoming increasingly isolated and reliant on your partner for social interaction and emotional support.

Emotional Blackmail

Emotional blackmail is another manipulative tactic used to control and manipulate others. It involves the manipulator using guilt, fear, or other negative emotions to manipulate your behavior and choices. They may threaten to withdraw their love, approval, or affection if you don’t comply with their demands or meet their expectations. This places a heavy emotional burden on you, making you feel responsible for their emotions and well-being.

For example, your partner might say things like, “If you really loved me, you would do this for me,” or “If you don’t do what I ask, I’ll never trust you again.” They may also use emotional manipulation by playing the victim and making you feel guilty for things that are not your fault. This can create a sense of fear and obligation, leading you to prioritize their desires and needs over your own, even at the expense of your well-being.

It’s important to recognize these signs of manipulation in a relationship and take steps to protect yourself. If you find yourself experiencing any of these manipulative behaviors, it may be beneficial to seek support from a trusted friend, family member, or professional couples counselor to help you navigate the situation and consider your options.

Coercive Control

Coercive control is a form of manipulation where the manipulator establishes an oppressive and dominating dynamic in the relationship. They exercise control over various aspects of your life, including your finances, social interactions, and daily activities. They may use intimidation, threats, or manipulation tactics to enforce compliance and obedience.

For example, your partner may control your finances by closely monitoring your spending, limiting your access to money, or demanding an account of every expense. They might dictate who you can see or communicate with, isolating you from friends and family members. They may also impose strict rules and expectations on your behavior and actions, punishing you emotionally or physically if you fail to comply.

Coercive control creates a constant state of fear and subordination, making you feel trapped and powerless. The manipulator uses this control to maintain dominance and undermine your autonomy, gradually eroding your self-esteem and independence.

It’s crucial to be aware of these signs of manipulation in relationships and take steps to protect yourself. Seek support from trusted individuals and consider reaching out to helplines or professionals who specialize in dealing with manipulation and abusive relationships. Remember that you deserve to be in a healthy and respectful relationship where your needs and well-being are valued.

Invalidation and Undermining

Invalidation and undermining are additional signs of manipulation in a relationship. Manipulators often dismiss or belittle your thoughts, feelings, and experiences, making you doubt yourself and your perceptions. They may use tactics such as mockery, ridicule, or condescension to invalidate your emotions and opinions.

For instance, if you express a concern or disagreement, a manipulative partner might respond with dismissive comments like, “You’re overreacting,” “You’re too sensitive,” or “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” They may mock your emotions or trivialize your experiences, making you feel foolish or irrational for expressing yourself. This constant invalidation can lead to a loss of confidence and a heightened dependence on the manipulator for validation and guidance.

Furthermore, manipulators may undermine your self-esteem and confidence by constantly criticizing you, pointing out your flaws, and making you feel inadequate. They might use subtle or indirect methods, such as backhanded compliments or subtle comparisons to others. By undermining your self-worth, they create a sense of insecurity and dependency, making you more susceptible to their manipulation and control.

Recognizing these signs of invalidation and undermining is crucial for maintaining your emotional well-being and asserting your own value. It’s essential to surround yourself with supportive individuals who validate your feelings and opinions, and to establish boundaries that protect your self-esteem and independence.

In Essence…

Manipulative partners intentionally use methods to emotionally and mentally influence you. They want to meet their own needs and desires without taking into consideration what you want and need. If you find yourself in a manipulative relationship, it is a good idea to reach out to a support system. This might be a trusted friend, family member, or a therapist.

By reaching out for help, you can find the most beneficial way forward for you. Contact us to schedule your free 15-minute consultation today.

1 Comment

  • Jessica W.

    June 29, 2023 - 6:34 pm

    This is so true. I know bc I have experienced this first-hand!

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