What Does An Emotionally Manipulative Partner Look Like?

By: Dylan Buckley

Updated February 24, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Laura Angers

Healthy relationships consist of compromise and the proper give-and-take between both parties. When you love someone, you want to make sure that they are happy and taken care of, which means you are often willing to do things that won't necessarily benefit you as a result. Unfortunately, there are many people who are only seeking to take from the relationship and will resort to psychological manipulation to gain the power that they want.

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Being in a relationship with someone like this can be difficult because, unlike physical abuse, this form of abuse may not be as easy to detect and act on. Do you feel as though you are drained and stuck in your relationship? Do you believe that your partner holds all of the power at the cost of your emotional well-being? If so, we are going to walk you through some of the tell-tale signs of an emotional manipulator so that you can cultivate awareness around the issue and reclaim your personal power.

What Is Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse and emotional manipulation are one and the same, and it is important to emphasize this fact as emotional manipulation is not acceptable, no matter the circumstances. That being said, it can be difficult to determine what may be emotional manipulation and what may be perfectly acceptable in a relationship if you are currently going through a rough patch with your partner.

To make things clear, abuse emotionally is only present in a relationship where someone's behavior is, unintentionally or intentionally, suppressing you and manipulating you into acting or feeling a certain way. While certain things such as arguments, yelling, or spending time apart may feel like abuse, many of these are perfectly natural in a relationship and should only be a source of concern if they are used to control you.

So if some of these issues are not signs of abuse emotionally, what is considered abuse? If you notice any of the following in your relationship, you may be dealing with an emotional manipulator.

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Common Emotional Manipulation Techniques

1. Your Partner Is Always Putting You Down or Making You Feel Bad

A relationship is supposed to be a period of joint growth, exploration, and mutual love. Your goal is to explore life with the person that you love and help them become the best version of themselves in the process. For those who are only seeking to take in the relationship, however, they will often put their partner down in an attempt to raise themselves up and to break the other person down to the point where they will give in to what they want. Your partner may constantly make inappropriate comments about things that you are self-conscious about and make you feel bad about the things that you say, do, or enjoy. When you become accustomed to this type of behavior, your partner may convince you that this is what you deserve and that, although they are cruel to you, they are the only person who is going to stay by your side. If your partner makes an effort to make you feel bad about yourself, this is one major sign of emotional abuse and manipulation that helps the offender to achieve their goals.

2. You Are Being Guilted into Doing Things for Your Partner

Emotional manipulators are great at learning what makes you tick and then using those emotions and behaviors to get what they want. Using guilt as a method to get away with something is another one of the more common emotional manipulation signs that you may see in your relationship. For example, let's imagine that your partner decided to get you a gift by surprise and then asked for something in return a couple of weeks later. The thing they want is something that you can't fit into your budget, but your partner plays on your emotions and guilts you into buying it for them by referencing that gift that they recently purchased for you. An emotional manipulator knows how to play your emotions and guilt you into doing their bidding. This behavior may seem normal at first but make no mistake, these people will continue to use this tactic if it works for them.

3. Things Seem to Become Your Fault, Regardless of the Situation

Have you ever been blamed for something that your partner did? Did you find yourself convinced that your actions were indeed the cause of the issue? Emotionally abusive partners are great at placing blame and shame on others. Even if they are yelling at you, they can make you apologize for something hurtful you may or may not have said and act as if the cause of the argument lies entirely on your shoulders. Once you find yourself in this cycle, you will often find yourself apologizing for everything that you do in an attempt to spare your partner from dealing with the emotional consequences that they are feeling. Whether they are unable or unwilling to take responsibility for their own actions, the blame will always be shifted to you. Remember, however, that it takes two to tango and that everyone is responsible for their actions as well as for the way they react to things.

4. They Gaslight You

Great liars can get away with almost anything by working their way out of tight situations and coming up with convoluted plans that cast self-doubt. Gaslighting is a form of manipulation in which your partner causes you to doubt things that you have said, things that you have done, or even things that have happened between you in the past. Their indignance and their place in the relationship can make you feel as though they are right, which only makes you more vulnerable to these lies in the future. This may not work on everyone but when it does, you become dependent on them to function properly and will believe everything that they say. If you think that you are dealing with this type of manipulation, make sure to keep track of everything to prove your sanity and protect yourself.

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5. They Isolate You from Others or Turn to Your Connections for Support

Your friends and your family are helpful resources to turn to when you are experiencing trouble in your relationship, but they are also excellent assets for a manipulative partner. People who are convincingly building up a story about how terrible you are will often turn to your social connections for their own "support" as a way to plant the idea that you are an unreliable or terrible individual. Once they've managed to build that image with the people you know, you have few people to turn to, which keeps you isolated and prevents you from breaking away from the relationship. In some instances, a partner may force you to stop speaking to others or use the same technique to convince you that your friends and family are terrible people instead. Whether you are dealing with the former or the latter, being away from others and only being able to speak with your partner makes it easier for them to control you.

6. You Are More Present in Their Life Than They Are in Yours

Things are easier to control when we are the ones dictating what happens. For example, someone who is attempting to manipulate you may make little to no effort to do things that you want but will ask you to stay at their house, go out with them, and meet their friends. When you are at the mercy of their environment, it makes it simple for them to control the relationship. If something goes wrong, it must certainly be your fault. Relationships should always be 50/50 when it comes to deciding what you want to do, who you are going to stay with, and who you are going to be around. Although it doesn't seem like a big deal if you give your partner more control over what happens in your relationship, this can quickly be used to their advantage.

7. They Seem Interested in You to Get Information That They Can Use Later

Does your partner shift between being cold and being extra loving? Do they ask about you more on some days then they do on a regular basis? Not only is this method a great way to keep you hooked (after all, being cared about may feel better if you are not always receiving this treatment from them), but it allows them to get information out of you that they can use later. With this tactic, they can gain access to your insecurities, your fears, and your weak points. Then, they make it so that it is easier to prey on you throughout the relationship. If a partner shares too much or tries to learn about you to quickly, this is a major red flag.

8. They're Always Needy at Inconvenient Times

Despite being someone who is controlling the relationship, your partner may be someone who constantly needs to be helped or who is very reliant on your attention and care. When this type of behavior is present in a relationship, there are two results that serve the emotional manipulator. Firstly, you may end up feeling as though your partner needs you and this sense of being needed can be mistaken as a form of love and may convince you to stay in the relationship. Secondly, they can use this constant neediness to prevent you from going out and living your own life. Whenever they need attention, they can feign illness and keep you with them. Needing your partner on occasion is okay but constantly requiring care and love can quickly lead to you becoming trapped by your partner.

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9. Your Partner is Always Calm in the Face of Any Situation

Your emotions are your guidance system in life. They tell you how to react to certain things and lead you in the right direction. A partner who seeks to control you knows this and knows that altering your emotions will alter you. One way they can choose to do this is by remaining calm when things go wrong. By keeping a cool head, they can say that you are always overreacting and tell you when something is bad and when it isn't. Once they control you, they can get away with most things without you being able to react in a way that is appropriate. You should always be wary of an individual who remains too calm and who doesn't validate your feelings. Trust your instincts and you will be able to work your way out of such a relationship.

10. They Use Blatant Emotional Blackmail Techniques

Blackmail is scary enough, but emotional blackmail can be truly frightening and is an effective technique to convince you to stay in a relationship. If you have ever had a partner that has threatened to hurt themselves if you didn't stay with them, you have already experienced emotional blackmail. Although it is something we are warned about and told not to react to, the thought of someone losing their life over an ended relationship can scare us into staying. The truth is that you are not responsible for other people's behaviors and that you always need to do what is best for you. It is typically a threat rather than a true statement. If you do feel like your partner would go through with something like this, however, it is important that you make sure to contact the proper authorities or encourage them to get mental help for their feelings.

Are you dealing with negative mental health effects as a result of your partner's behavior? If so, you can reach out for help by visiting ReGain. Regain is an online relationship resource and counseling platform that will help you to heal from the trauma that you have experienced in your relationship. Just click on the link above, answer a few questions, and begin your healing journey today!


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