Playing the victim: 10 signs you’re in a relationship with a covert manipulator

Many relationships go through what’s called a “honeymoon phase.”

This period generally lasts anywhere between six months to two years.

Everything seems golden and even boring or annoying moments are no big deal. Or they certainly don’t seem like a big deal.

But when the honeymoon phase starts fading, reality sets in. Even somebody you love has flaws and likely has behaviors that you find unattractive or upsetting. 

Some of the worst behaviors are when you’re with a partner who begins to show signs of playing the victim. They do this to manipulate you and get their way. 

Here’s the key…

The good news is that these signs often show up in the honeymoon phase. 

If you know what to look for and keep your eyes open you can avoid getting trapped into a manipulative, toxic relationship. 

Here’s what to watch out for…

1) They often dodge responsibility 

Even if you’re still in the honeymoon phase, you may notice that your partner doesn’t like taking responsibility. 

He or she may be ultra charming, funny, caring and lovely. But they don’t like to really commit to something. 

Their schedule changes on a whim, what they want to do shifts around, and they are all-around not that dependable!

It can seem like a very small matter initially in a relationship, and to be fair sometimes they are just going through a topsy-turvy time. 

But long-term this can become a situation that causes enormous hardship and heartache.

2) They rarely admit when they’re wrong

Humility isn’t everyone’s strong suit!

You may be with somebody who really likes to be right and has a bit of an ego. 

What’s the big deal, right? 

Well, after a longer time a refusal to admit when they’re wrong can become extremely frustrating and lock out many channels of openness between the two of you. 

The person who won’t admit they’re wrong usually takes being wrong as a sign of admitting weakness. 

Why? Because they see themselves as a victim, or at least use the victim role to get their way.

3) They advance self-serving narratives

Another early warning sign of the victim manipulator?

Self-serving narratives. 

These are stories in which your partner always presents themselves as the one who was right, noble, and just. 

It was always “them” and “those other idiots” who wronged them, didn’t understand them, gave them a raw deal, and were generally major jerks. 

Maybe they’ve known a lot of jerks: there are more than enough jerks in the world, for sure. 

But if all you’re hearing from your partner are stories of their heroic lifelong difficulty with being so much purer and victimized than everyone else then you likely have a victim manipulator on your hands. 

4) They frequently trash-talk exes 

Part of these self-serving narratives often center on, you guessed it, exes. 

If your partner talks a lot about how horrible their exes were, red flags should go up. Their exes may have been bad. Some may have been horrible. 

But was every single one really a clinically insane psychopath with a vendetta to shred their heart?

Probably not!

This points to a trend of your partner seeing themselves as a deeply mistreated victim and shifting reality to fit that narrative. 

Are you sure this is somebody you want to be with? Imagine the stories they might tell about you one day.

5) They low-key try to guilt you into things

turn tables on a narcissist Playing the victim: 10 signs you’re in a relationship with a covert manipulator

How does your partner react when you say no?

A covert manipulator who uses the victim role will try to guilt you into things

They will use any injustice they have suffered or debility they suffer as a reason you should accord to their whims. 

Sometimes it might even be just bringing them coffee. 

Especially early in the relationship, these types of things may seem very minor. But keep in mind that this combination is extremely toxic and may amplify into a huge problem later in the relationship.

It is:

“Poor me” + “do this for me because of how unfair my situation has been/is.”

Toxic to the core.

6) They elicit sympathy to get their way

The covert manipulator will use sympathy to get their way. 

This is where we get into some really uncomfortable territory. This is where we get into pity f*cking, friend-zoning, nice guy syndrome, and all sorts of other highly controversial stuff. 

Let me just be extremely and brutally honest:

Sympathy and attraction don’t coincide.

You can sympathize with someone and also find them highly attractive and even want to commit to them. You can feel sorrow for what somebody has been through and sad about it while also falling in love with them. 

But to find somebody attractive who uses sympathy to try to elicit physical or romantic attraction? 

To fall for someone who wants you to feel sad about them? 

Doesn’t happen. Shouldn’t happen. If it does happen? Indication of serious psychiatric issues within the relationship.

We fall in love with beauty, even beauty in the face of struggle and pain. Those who play the victim and revel in their suffering (instead of finding meaning it) tend to unfortunately drive others away.

This relates to the next point…

7) They believe they’ve been uniquely victimized

I have no right to judge your level of victimhood, mine or anyone else’s. 

We’ve all been through wars others don’t know of, some objectively much worse than others, some much different than others.

But the key thing here is the self-conception. 

Those who are convinced they have suffered in a way that makes them special often become manipulative. 

They fall prey to an inferiority-superiority complex in which you as their partner owe them a gift of unconditional love no matter what happens. 

This is codependent and toxic, because real love is always voluntary.

8) They are needy about you giving them attention

Receiving love and attention is something most of us enjoy.

Being needy about it is something else. 

If your partner makes you feel like you must give them enough attention and love to prove how you feel or demonstrate it, they are manipulating you. 

Simply put, they are basing their well-being outside of themselves and demand that you sustain their sense of emotional well-being.

It’s toxic and manipulative. 

9) They try to get you to make their decisions for them

Decisions can be difficult. In a relationship, it’s healthy that you and your partner talk things over, especially big choices. 

He or she asking for your input is entirely reasonable. 

But asking that you make the decision is something else entirely, and it’s the sign of a covert manipulator. 

No matter how well you know your partner, it isn’t your job to take responsibility for their life choices or to be there to take culpability if it turns out badly. 

That responsibility is theirs. 

10) They use past issues to justify current behavior 

If you’re with someone who uses past problems to justify current behavior, you have a covert manipulator on your hands. 

To be clear:

Your partner may have fully genuine issues from what happened in the past and heartbreak or mistreatment they suffered. They may well have been the victim and undergone great suffering. 

But that is not your responsibility and it does not justify them behaving in a selfish, pushy or manipulative way towards you.

These two things are completely separate, and when you get somebody trying to convince you that you need to do what they want because of what happened before you, you are dealing with a dishonest, toxic individual.

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 and visit his website at

Enhance your experience of Ideapod and join Tribe, our community of free thinkers and seekers.

Related articles

Most read articles

Get our articles

Ideapod news, articles, and resources, sent straight to your inbox every month.