8 Signs of Emotional Manipulation in Relationships

Manipulation is inevitable. From the commercials you see on TV to billboards featuring juicy burgers lining highways, you encounter scores of messages intended to influence your behavior every day. 

However, when it comes to your romantic partner, you trust them to respect your unique desires and wishes. If they disregard these, you could end up miserable, feeling trapped in a life you never chose. Here are eight signs of emotional manipulation in relationships — heeding the red flags early can prevent future heartbreak.

1. Too Much Too Soon 

While there’s no set timeline for relationship progression, people raise their eyebrows at folks who rush off to Vegas after one date for a good reason. It takes time to get to know someone and learn whether your wants, needs and future aspirations mesh. 

Too often, people rush into relationships to cure unhappiness, believing that once they meet their match, everything else in their lives will magically fall into place. In reality, the opposite is true — you’re far more likely to attract the right partner once you feel secure in who you are and what you want out of life beyond the altar. If you are “meant to be,” then tapping on the brakes won’t destroy your union. 

Sometimes, emotional manipulators accelerate the pace to get what they want. For example, if someone you’re dating lost their housing in the pandemic, they may look at your apartment as an attractive place to crash. Consider it a red flag if they step up the pace to benefit themselves after only a handful of dates. 

2. Words and Action Mismatch 

A sure sign of emotional manipulation in relationships occurs when your partner’s words don’t match their deeds. They might tell you, “I adore your independence,” but then raise a fuss when you plan a solo road trip or a girl’s or guy’s night out. 

Please don’t confuse humanness with manipulation. If your partner says, “I’d love to go to your company party,” but gets sick that evening, they may legitimately have eaten something iffy or have a migraine. However, if it happens all the time with no medical explanation, consider it a red flag.

3. Maintaining “Home Court” Advantage

Do you always hang out at your partner’s home? It’s one thing if you share a studio apartment with two roommates, and space is a premium. It’s quite another if you do it for no apparent reason. 

This situation is problematic because the manipulator maintains the upper hand through comfort and familiarity. Their sense of belonging helps them exercise dominance and control — you feel isolated and vulnerable. It’s not unlike a criminal trying to maneuver you to a more private location to do their worst. 

4. Preying on Your Weaknesses

Part of intimacy involves revealing your weaknesses to your partner. However, emotional manipulators will use this information against you. 

The process may start innocently enough. You mention that you aren’t talented at trivia. When you watch a game show together and miss an answer, your partner taunts, “Well, it’s not like you would have known, anyway.” 

Over time, this type of emotional manipulation can erode your self-esteem. If your partner has narcissistic traits, they may welcome this development — if you feel no one else will want you, you’re less likely to leave them. 

5. Playing the Victim 

Manipulators are experts at appearing innocent. In cases of narcissistic abuse, this behavior can take the form of gaslighting, where your partner contradicts your recollection of events and makes you feel as if you are losing your mind. 

For example, if you get in an argument, and they call you a hurtful name, they may later deny ever saying it. Another frequent tactic emotional manipulators use is claiming they don’t remember what they said — they may blame drugs or alcohol for their memory lapse. 

6. Belittling Legitimate Concerns 

You don’t feel comfortable dining at an indoor restaurant yet. Instead of agreeing to alfresco or takeout, your partner mocks you for being concerned over “a little cold.”

Belittling your legitimate concerns is a sure sign of emotional manipulation in your relationship. Your partner should be your shield against a sometimes hostile world, not contribute to your stress levels by making you feel foolish for doing what you must to ensure your safety. 

7. Brushing Off Insults as “Jokes” 

Another emotional manipulation red flag occurs when your partner repeatedly puts you down, then claims that they were only joking. Admittedly, some people do love a good roast. However, if you don’t, and you expressed this dislike to your loved one, they should honor your sensibilities. 

Sometimes, this treatment becomes downright abusive in public. If your partner makes fun of you to look “cool” in front of their friends, run the other way. High school ended for a reason.

8. Giving the Silent Treatment 

Sometimes, your partner might ask for a time-out — however, don’t confuse a legitimate need to withdraw with deviousness. The “silent treatment” refers to intentionally manipulative behavior where your partner strives to inflict emotional pain by refusing to communicate. 

Your partner might struggle to express their emotions if they grew up in an environment where their family viewed sharing feelings as a weakness. Try to open up the door by confiding in them about your upbringing. If they still reply with nothing but grunts, you may need to walk away. 

Beware These 8 Signs of Emotional Manipulation in Relationships 

You want a union based on openness, trust and honest communication. Learning these eight signs of emotional manipulation in relationships can help you avoid the wrong partners and free you to find the right ones.