Manipulation can be hard to recognize at first. But once you know the real signs of manipulation in a relationship, they are undeniable.
Unfortunately, manipulation in a relationship is more common than you may want to believe. It happens everyday, and a lot of the time you don’t even realize it. It leaves you wondering what exactly are the signs of manipulation in a relationship.
The manipulator tends to be so controlling in their own way that you are tricked into thinking their behavior is acceptable or even normal.
Look for the signs of manipulation in a relationship
If you aren’t looking for these things, you likely won’t notice them. People who are manipulated by their partner believe they did something to encourage that behavior, feel guilty, or even come to expect it.
If you’re reading this feature, there is a reason. And if you wonder if there are signs of manipulation in your relationship to be found, there probably are.
What are the signs of manipulation in a relationship?
There are endless signs of manipulation. Master manipulators are skilled at what they do and have handfuls of ways to cover their tracks, twist the story, and come off looking like the victim.
So, keep your eyes open and pay attention. If you notice any of these signs of manipulation in your relationship, it is time to do something about it.
#1 They start fights over something small so you give up. When your relationship first starts, controlling behavior can be hard to spot. You want to come off as agreeable and easygoing. You may not even notice it, but it can easily become a long-term pattern.
If your partner continuously starts fights about small things like where to eat dinner or Saturday night plans, they pick a fight so that you give in. Many people hate confrontation, and if that is you, they will use it against you to get their way in every aspect of your life.
#2 They blame you for other people’s actions. This can be misinterpreted as jealousy. If someone comes on to you and your partner gets mad at you, even though you did nothing wrong, they want to control your behavior.
If they attack your behavior, the way you dress, or even your personality for someone else’s behavior, be that a friend, a coworker, or even a waiter, they aren’t jealous in a cute, protective way. They are trying to change you to make themselves more comfortable.
#3 They blame you for their actions. Does your partner get outrageously mad out of the blue? Or make a mistake and come back saying if you didn’t get them upset they never would have done it?
That is a clear cut sign of major manipulation. They are using your actions to get away with something they did wrong. In simpler terms, they guilt you into forgiving them when in fact you didn’t do anything wrong.
#4 They convince you you’re wrong. Manipulators often hold themselves to a higher level. Although secretly insecure, they come off as if they are smarter than you.
One of the biggest signs of manipulation in a relationship is when their response when you share an opinion, claim they said something earlier, or even question where something went. In their defense, manipulators will twist the story around, make exaggerated excuses to justify their behavior, and will not give up until you admit you were the wrong one.
#5 They stop you from seeing your friends or family. People who are controlling lose power when you have other people in your daily life. That is because your friends and family have your best interest at heart, and this person does not. If you confide in friends, they may open your eyes to this controlling behavior.
A manipulative person cannot have that. They will do everything in their power to stop you from making plans or spending time with people closest to you.
#6 They flip around what you say. Someone who is manipulating you will trick you a lot. If you question them or even double check something they said, they will put words in your mouth.
I’ve been here. You might ask them if they are sure they wrote something on the calendar or picked something up at the store. And instead of simply replying, they will snap and say something like, “What do you think I am, stupid?” They take something meaningless and turn it into an attack on them so that you feel bad.
#7 They blame you for mistrusting them. I was once in a very dysfunctional relationship where this behavior became the norm. A boyfriend cheated on me, so I was hesitant to trust him. And if I ever even questioned him talking to another girl he would get furious that I didn’t trust him.
He would actually be so good at manipulating me that I would end up apologizing for not trusting him when in fact he was betraying me.
#8 They keep secrets. If you even keep the smallest thing from them like the fact that you had an innocent lunch with a male coworker they freak out. But they keep secrets from you all the time.
They take sketchy phone calls, go out at weird times, and even spend money without you knowing. Someone like this may take a lot of time for themselves, but you have no idea what they’re doing.
#9 They don’t allow you privacy. Again there is another double standard. Although they require you give them endless privacy you cannot have the smallest bit of it. If you go shopping they might call you or even FaceTime you while you’re out to make sure you are in fact where you said you were.
They might even want to check your phone regularly to see who you’ve been talking to.
#10 They use guilt to control you. This is another major one. No one is perfect, so surely you have made a mistake now and then. Probably not nearly as many as they have, but they will not let you forget it.
Every time you get mad at them, they bring up something about you to make you feel guilty and take their side.
#11 They talk down to you. This is when manipulation goes from bad or dysfunctional to unbearable. If they continuously talk down to you as if you are less than them or as if you are nothing without them they are not only a manipulator, but also an abuser.
I was once in a relationship like this and every time I tried to leave, he would tell me I would never find someone better than him. He told me I wasn’t good enough. I was lucky he was even interested. This may sound so obvious, but once you are talked down to all the time, you feel that small.
Emotional abuse not only eats away at your self esteem, but it also decreases the chance of you leaving them. Manipulators count on you feeling bad about yourself because if you have any confidence you could leave and do what you deserve.
#12 They make the relationship about them. Ever have a bad day at work and want to talk about it or vent to your partner? I’m sure you do. But if your partner responds by invalidating your hardships and comparing your problems to theirs, they are not just manipulative but also a narcissist.
If you feel like everything you do, talk about, and think about regards them and never you, there is an imbalance in your relationship in every possible way.
#13 They are passive aggressive. Someone who is manipulative may be good at controlling their emotions. That means when they are mad they might not explode or get obviously angry, rather they will hold things against you and carry their anger out for longer through passive aggressive actions.
This could be specifically making something you hate for dinner, saying rude things under their breath, or even doing things that they know bothers you, like talking to a flirty neighbor, leaving dirty dishes in the sink, or not recycling.
#14 They use your trust or your kindness against you. Manipulators prey on those who are trusting, kind, and even in need of something. They offer to help you with money. The second you take them up on it, they use it against you.
They use your trust in them to convince you of things and feed into your kindness to trick you.
#15 They use fear to control you. Other than guilt which is a bit more subtle, one of the strong signs of manipulation in a relationship is their lack of patience. Someone who is controlling and manipulative may not have great patience. When they are losing it, they use fear to control you. They know a lot about you. So, they might threaten to tell your parents or your boss a secret.
Maybe they promised to help you with your student loans or to cover your rent. They will hold that over your head as if you owe them. They will also threaten to take it away if you disobey them.
But if they threaten you with violence and if you ever feel scared for you safety or your life, leave immediately. Go some place safe.
This type of manipulative behavior is something no one deserves. You do not have to live with this. It is difficult to get out of a relationship where you feel you lack control. But you do. You have power over yourself and your actions.
As soon as you see any of these signs of manipulation in a relationship make a plan. This can become dangerous, both emotionally and physically. Not only can you shut down, but you could become numb to this abuse which can escalate it even further.
Counseling is a helpful option, but most often someone with such severe control issues probably is not ready to share their life with someone else. Any signs of manipulation in a relationship are red flags you should immediately avoid.