10 non-obvious signs of emotional manipulation in a relationship

non obvious signs of emotional manipulation 2 10 non-obvious signs of emotional manipulation in a relationshipThere are obvious forms of emotional manipulation in a relationship that we all know to watch out for:

Things like demanding that you prove your love by doing what your partner wants, or attempts to guilt you into compliance. 

But many relationships have much subtler, low-key forms of emotional manipulation that we don’t notice at first or write off.

“It’s no big deal,” we tell ourselves. 

And maybe it’s not at first. 

But what starts as small annoyances can eventually become massive issues and wreck the relationship if not addressed. 

So let’s dive in and take a look at these corrosive, non-obvious emotionally manipulative behaviors. 

1) The silent treatment

The silent treatment isn’t always easy to spot. 

When your partner doesn’t get their way they may engage in this tactic very gradually. 

At first they’re normal and respond but slowly they become a tiny bit less responsive over the course of hours or days, depending on the type of disagreement or tension taking place. 

Eventually they seem like a different person but you’re not sure if it’s all in your head or if it’s just a bad mood they’re going through unrelated to tensions between the two of you.

What can you do to make it better? (They now have you wrapped around their finger). 

2) Tying monetary help to love

This is one of those low-key emotional manipulation tactics that is hard to see because it’s so often in plain sight. 

Especially in a long and serious relationship, most couples would prefer to think this kind of distasteful and cynical pattern isn’t happening. 

But sometimes it is. 

Your partner is either offering monetary comfort to you in return for giving them their way, or they are expecting monetary comfort from you in order to be more loving. 

Both are highly toxic and codependent patterns that are best to become aware of and address if they are occurring. 

3) Doing an irritating habit to rile you up

Your partner likely knows certain small habits and actions that annoy you. 

This gives him or her a special insight into how to annoy you while still claiming they didn’t realize what they were doing.

Snapping their fingers over and over, tapping their feet rapidly, leaving their smartphone ringer onto the most annoying ringtone ever made…

All of this and more is only the start of the kind of immature, sneaky things that somebody may do to emotionally manipulate you. 

What’s the point?


It’s to get you riled up so that you lose your cool and can then be gaslighted and blamed for whatever tensions or unresolved matters are going on between the two of you. 

“Why are you so mad?” your partner asks, faking innocence. 

4) Faking sleepiness or sickness to get their way

This is a companion tactic to the silent treatment I discussed in point one. 

By pretending to be sick or highly fatigued, your partner withdraws and punishes you for something you are or are not doing. 

They may also do this preemptively just to soften you up. 

Your love for them is such that you feel awful about their exhausted, ill state and want to help out. 

Well it turns out there are things you can do to help out, starting with giving them their way and serving them in all the ways they want. 

In other words: classic emotional manipulation

5) Provoking your jealousy in low-key ways and claiming innocence

This is another way that emotional manipulation can almost be a kind of sick art form

Your partner will check messages from other potential romantic interests in front of you and then pretend they don’t know why you’re a bit jealous. 

They will check out men or women on the street when they’re with you and then act like you’re crazy for noticing. 

The goal is similar:

To rile up your jealousy while also gaslighting you about your jealousy and claiming it is over-the-top and irrational. 

6) Checking their watch frequently to get you to speed up or be quiet

signs youre dating the wrong woman 10 non-obvious signs of emotional manipulation in a relationship

Watch checking can be a very passive aggressive activity in the wrong context. 

But as soon as you notice or feel strange about it, you’re potentially the one overreacting. 

That’s why it’s the perfect non-obvious way to emotionally manipulate you in a low-key way. 

Your partner looks at his or her watch while you’re speaking, or glances at their smartphone and clears their throat. Then they sigh. 

They say they really want to hear what you’re saying and it’s so important to them. But they start indicating that they need to get moving. 

They clearly don’t have time for you. But you’re supposed to have time for them. 

It’s a subtle way of shifting the dynamics where your partner is the one in charge: their schedule rules the roost and their time is what’s the most valuable. 

7) Subtly withholding intimacy and affection to manipulate you 

It’s sad to think that somebody who loves you would do this, but in some cases they absolutely do. 

When a partner wants to emotionally manipulate you this is one of the most direct routes to do that. 

But it’s not necessarily something you’d expect. 

And if you’re not the kind of person who would ever do it, then it can be shocking and even hard to imagine that your partner would. 

Maybe they’re just feeling low lately, or dealing with issues at work? 

Surely they wouldn’t actually be playing with your emotions or using the love you have for them to manipulate you, right?

Well, sometimes they are doing just that… 

8) Spending more time with friends and family as a way to punish you

When your partner is upset at you, one of the ways they can emotionally manipulate you into chasing them is by simply spending a lot of time away from you. 

Suddenly their priority is to be around other friends and family. 

They’re rarely available when you call or text and they’re awfully busy with other social engagements and loved ones. 

If you bring it up, you’re being jealous and crazy! Why are you so needy? Can’t you see that they don’t only have time to be with you?

It’s just your imagination that they’ve withdrawn from you, or so they claim.

Have fun chasing that ghost… 

9) Talking about past relationships as a way to threaten and criticize you 

In the course of a relationship there is usually a lot of sharing about c:

What went right, what went wrong. What hurt you and what harm you may have caused.

Some people will manipulate by bringing up their past relationship frustrations and issues (or yours) as a way to denigrate you. 

They talk about how horrible their ex was, or the mistakes you made and make it clear that unless you do what they want and be how they want you’re going to make the same mistake again or be like their ex.

They never outright say it. They just dance around the subject, talking about their awful ex, or pretending to care about what went wrong in your past relationship. 

But the message is clear.

On the subject of implied threats…

10) Implying telling a dirty secret from your past if you don’t give them their way

This is another sneaky way to emotionally manipulate you is that your partner hints at dirt from your past that they’ll let out if you don’t bend to their will. 

You may have cheated on an ex, had an addiction or struggled with mental health problems that you don’t particularly want to be common public knowledge. 

Your partner takes this vulnerability which you’ve shared with them in the course of the relationship and dangles it over your head. 

Unless you do what they want or act how they want, your dirty laundry is getting aired. 

They may not come right out and threaten it, but by obliquely referring to your past in certain ways they make it clear that they’re blowing the whole popsicle stand unless you comply. 

Picture of Paul Brian

Paul Brian

Paul R. Brian is a freelance journalist and writer who has reported from around the world, focusing on religion, culture and geopolitics. Follow him on www.twitter.com/paulrbrian and visit his website at www.paulrbrian.com

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