17 Signs You're Being Manipulated In Your Relationship

Updated October 28, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Robin Brock

Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention topics that include types of abuse which could potentially be triggering.

Spotting these signs may be difficult at the beginning. It often happens with those thinking it won't happen to them. Countless people don't realize this is happening or controlled by their partner. The perpetrator may play various mind games ways to get what they want. Their actions seem normal, but for a healthy partnership, they are unacceptable because they can cause problems both emotionally and mentally. Their behaviors are part of habitual patterns potentially connected to other forms of abuse even if they seem reasonable at the moment. It's important to remember that you are not alone and this article can help you identify these signs and be proactive at protecting yourself.

I Think I'm Being Manipulated - What Can I Do?
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"Manipulation can happen to the best of us, so don’t feel bad if it happens to you. Manipulation does not come with a loud roar, it usually creeps quietly into a room until you are under its spell. If this happens to you, don’t feel ashamed, rather acknowledge the manipulation and seek out a counselor for guidance on how to set boundaries to avoid falling into the manipulation trap again. It’s definitely doable!" - Dr. Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPCC

Manipulation Is A Common Type Of Abuse

Master manipulators thrive in partnerships and have endless ways to control their partners to get their way. A person may not notice they are being controlled at first because manipulators have a systematic way of influencing your actions and emotions.

They make a person believe they did something to encourage their manipulation behaviors. The aspect of this being used within a partnership can be scary when you don't know it is happening. That's why knowing the signs may help you understand when to end your relationship.

Partnerships with emotional or physical abuse may include forms of manipulation. Perpetrators of manipulation in relationships are good at making their partner feel like they are on top of the world. It is part of their plan to use you to meet their motives.

They can use your emotions in so many ways; it is why those experiencing it can feel so bad when the partnership is over. Your emotions are played with and taken advantage of in multiple aspects of your life. It can affect connections with family, friends, and limit your ability to meet priorities.

You can talk to a couple's counselor to assess your partnership and determine options if you think you're experiencing manipulation.

17 Signs You're Being Manipulated In A Partnership

It is important to know actions to look for if you suspect manipulation in your partnership. If you're wondering, "Am I being manipulated?" quiz yourself by asking about signs of manipulation in partnerships. Here's what to look for:

  1. They Pick a Fight Over Petty Things.

    Things were good in the beginning, and you found no problem being agreeable, making choices on what to do and where to go as a couple. Now it seems your partner starts a fight over little things and because they know people don't like confrontations, they expect you to give in. Perpetrators use this tactic to be a controlling force in other areas of your life.

  2. You Are Blamed for Actions Caused by Someone Else.

    A person consciously expressing manipulation does this to control your behavior, but some may assume they are jealous of you. You didn't do anything wrong, but they attack something about you, such as how you look or your personality. They may blame you for someone else's behavior. It may seem protective, but they are trying to change you so they can feel better about themselves.

  1. They Hide Things From You.

    You notice they act secretive at times by taking a phone call in another room, go places without telling you, or other activity you find sketchy. You may have lunch with a friend and if they find out they blow up in anger. It looks like they are taking time out for themselves, but you feel unsure of what they are doing when you're not around.

  2. You Are Not Allowed Privacy.

    They want privacy but won't let you have any. They may check up on you via call or text to see if you are where you said you would be. They may want to know who else you're communicating with by checking your phone activity.

  3. You Get Blamed for What They Do.

    If your partner gets suddenly upset or thinks about a previous mistake they made, they pin it on you. They are using you as a scapegoat for actions they did wrong, making you feel guilty in the process and seeking their forgiveness. You did nothing wrong, but they make you feel that way.

  4. They Take Advantage of Your Kindness And Care.

    A manipulator will use your needs to gain control. They like people that are kind and trustworthy. They make offers to help out but use the opportunity against you. It's a way of tricking you into believing you need them. The perpetrator may also use kindness to make you do things for them; you don't want to know it will benefit them more. They may say they did something nice for you but expect you to do something in return.

  5. They Make You Feel Little or Less Than.

    The partnership gets more dysfunctional when a partner believes they are better than you or that you are nothing without them. It is a form of abuse. They may tell you you're not good enough, or they were not as interested in you, but you got lucky. They talk you down often leaving you feeling small.

  6. They Change Your Words.

    Manipulators like to play tricks and mind games. They will attack you if you question something they've said and put words in your mouth. It may have been a meaningless comment you said, but they take it to another level or think you're trying to make them feel inferior, but they are purposely making you feel worse.

  7. They Make the Relationship About Themselves.

    You want to talk about your day, but they make it seem like their day was more important. They could care less about validating your hardships. They think your issues are incomparable to theirs. The partnership is imbalanced when they make you regard them over things you do or talk about.

  1. They Express Passive-Aggressive Emotional Behaviors Towards You.

    They control how they express their emotions but with manipulation tendencies. They may hold something against you by doing an action that annoys or bothers you. They may make rude comments under their breath or purposely leave a mess. This helps them carry their anger longer. Perpetrators can be calm, cool, and collective when they want to control your emotional response.

  2. Their Guilt Controls You.

    We are imperfect humans that make mistakes, but they won't let you forget yours. They make it a game to bring up your mistakes if you get upset with them. As a result, they want you on their side.

  3. They Make You Think You Are Wrong About A Lot Of Things.

    They hide their insecurities, making you think you're wrong about something. It may be during a discussion about an opinion or something that was said earlier. They may exaggerate words, excuses, or actions to make themselves look smarter or better than you. They keep at it until you admit you're at fault.

  4. You Have Not Seen Friends or Family as Often As Before You Started Dating.

    When the person actively expressing manipulation doesn't have your best interest, they keep you away from people who do. They become a controlling force in your life and keep you from spending time with others.

  5. They Make You Prove You Love Them Constantly.

    Perpetrators often use the aspect of "If you love me…" They may say this before certain things to make you change your mind or be shameful. It is the worst form of manipulation and the most innocent.

  6. They are a Bully Towards You.

    They make subtle hints when they are angry, and you choose not to do something they want you to do. They come off as mean, sneaky, and may use a form of violence to make you agree. Later, they may say something that makes them look good.

  7. You Are Controlled by Fear.

    A manipulator instills fear with people similar to how they use guilt, but it shows they lack patience. They use fear to control you if you owe them something or they know a secret about you they threaten to tell others. They may promise to do something for you, but if you disobey them, they make threats. If they threaten violence or make you feel scared, leave, and find a safe place immediately.

What You Can Do

There are things you can do to combat a manipulator, but it may depend on the situation and expectation. You can stand up for yourself and say, "no."

Sometimes it is a matter of letting the manipulator have what they want if it will help you end the relationship or get away from them immediately. A healthy relationship includes both partners making choices and agreeing with each other. 

Get an idea of what forms of manipulation your partner engages in most often and don't fall for it. If you apologize, do so for something you feel is necessary but avoid giving in. If at any time you feel hurt, scared, or threaten, don't hesitate to leave.

If you can't leave the relationship right away, start planning. If you're not sure what to do or want to talk about what is going on with your relationship, connect with a couple's counselor or relationship expert, whether that’s online or in your local area. The licensed mental health providers at ReGain are here to help.

It is crucial to identify and recognize manipulation behaviors in partnerships. Your safety, self-worth, and integrity are significant. It may feel difficult to leave when feeling stuck, but you don't have to deal with this alone. Talk to a professional counselor or someone you trust about your concerns, including how to end the relationship.

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