Do you ever find yourself wondering if your partner is manipulating you? Or do you just want to know the signs to look out for to protect yourself?
If so read this article and learn how to spot the signs that someone is treating you badly.
But first, let’s take a moment to understand what manipulation is. Because it took me a long time to be able to understand and articulate it fully:
The ‘heart’ of manipulation is someone getting you to do what they want. And it usually involves them preying on your weak points. They know the things that affect you, or what you feel guilty about. It can be as simple as them knowing that you really care about being a good person.
They then weaponize those things and use them against you. And in the worst of cases, the manipulator then presents themselves as the solution to the problem. The problem that they created. Do you see how the cycle works?
1) They use your vulnerability against you
So here’s an example. Let’s say that you have a secret fear that you are quite selfish or self-absorbed. And you tell your partner this, thinking that you can trust them with the things that make you feel shame – a powerful and usually unhealthy emotion.
Now the very fact that you are worrying about this shows that you are probably not selfish. Or that if you are a bit self-involved, you care enough to try better. But that’s not the point. When the manipulative partner wants you to do something that you don’t want to do, they will call you selfish.
(Side note: people in relationships who accuse others of being selfish are often the selfish ones!)
Then they tell you that if you do what they want – perhaps attending an event that they want to go to, or bending your will about something, this will prove that you are not, in fact, selfish.
That is the secret of weaponization against vulnerability in action. Look out for this in the world and unfortunately, you will see it often. Especially from so-called self-appointed gurus, but also from manipulative lovers.
A kind partner will take your secret shame and be sympathetic or maybe try to help you. They will not guilt trip you to get what they want.
2) You frequently end up in huge arguments about small things
Do you get home from a night out and find that your partner is furious with you because you didn’t pay them enough attention at a party? Or you made an innocuous comment about not liking something at dinner?
Instead of talking about things rationally with you, they create a massive drama that just doesn’t seem proportional to what happened.
This is usually due to some kind of insecurity on their part and, often, it is intentional manipulation. But why? Because by creating tension, it also creates heightened emotions and a push-pull dynamic. The pain of the argument is then contrasted with the closeness of making up.
This emotional rollercoaster is a ‘good’ way to keep you on your toes, making you feel that you have stronger feelings for them than you actually do. This is a technique often used by narcissists who, by design, are inherently manipulative.
3) You often feel confused about what you ‘did wrong’
So we’ve talked about arguments about something small. Like the time when my ex-boyfriend went crazy at me because I said I was thinking of calling my ex – who he knew I was friends with. He could have simply asked me not to or told me that he was uncomfortable with it. Instead, there was a huge drama.
But there’s something worse. And that’s when you don’t even know what you’ve done wrong. When you ask them they say, ‘You should know.’ or, ‘If you don’t know I’m not going to explain it.’
Communication is key in relationships and anyone who says this is either very immature or deliberately trying to manipulate you.
I dated a full-on narcissist in my early 20s, and a lot of the time I didn’t know why we were fighting. We were together for two years. And after we broke up I had nightmares for months, where he was angry but I didn’t know why.
Only in hindsight did I realize that I likely hadn’t done anything at all. It was all just an excuse to create that tension and push-pull dynamic. So if this happens to you a lot, watch out, it’s a big red flag.
4) They break up or threaten to break up with you regularly
So about that narcissist. After some hours of arguing and guilt-tripping, he would usually threaten to break up with me. Or even just leave the house for days without me knowing why. This would happen pretty much every week.
Now I can hear you asking, ‘Why would you stay with someone like this?’. The answer? I was confused and drawn into his game. I was full of fear. I couldn’t tell wrong from right.
The manipulator knows that by keeping you in a state of tension and conflict, you don’t have time to assess what they are doing or if you are happy.
5) They don’t accept your boundaries
Let’s say that you’ve started to notice some patterns that you don’t like.
You decide to set some healthy boundaries around what you will and won’t do. Maybe it could be as simple as on a work night you don’t want to be out past 10 pm. Now obviously there may be exceptions to this – a birthday or other special occasion. And this would be something you navigate together.
But the manipulative partner may want to keep you close at all times, or just to know that they have control over you.
So instead of accepting your boundaries, they will find reasons that you have to come to the bar to watch the game, or go to their sister’s house, or a friend’s party. And when you decline they don’t accept it but instead tell you that you are a bad person for not agreeing.
6) When you go out with your friends you get told you need to come home
This one is another example of the manipulator wanting to keep you close and not respecting your boundaries. A good friend of mine got himself into a very toxic relationship. Like many insecure relationships, his girlfriend didn’t like it when he spent time with us – his friends of many years. So mostly we didn’t see him.
But occasionally he would come to visit us. Everything agreed and fine with his girlfriend. Or, in fact, not. Because somehow she always found a way to call him home.
At first, it seemed believable, she’d fallen down the stairs and needed help. Something critical had broken in the house. But after a while, it was every time. And she wasn’t above using sex as a tool, telling him that she really needed him right then and there!
Eventually, it was obvious to us that she would say and do anything to keep him close to her and away from us.
And that leads on to the next point which is that:
7) You find yourself increasingly more isolated from your friends and family
The manipulator knows that friends and family are more likely to notice these toxic patterns than you are. After all, they know you and what you are like. They are not subject to the suggestions and brainwashing that your manipulative partner uses on you.
Just like my friend’s girlfriend in the example above – there is a mixture of insecurity and the wish to control. That makes them want to keep you close.
When I dated the narcissist, I was expected to answer every call within a certain number of rings, and do it away from my friends (so there was a lot of me leaping out of chairs and running out of rooms to achieve this!). My friends noticed this. And they saw the way that my behavior and demeanor changed when he entered the room. (Unfortunately, they didn’t tell me until after we broke up but oh well!)
Ultimately the manipulator will try to distance you from your friends and family, perhaps telling you that they are no good for you, and even forbidding you from seeing them, or causing huge drama when you do.
If any of these toxic behaviors seem familiar to you, it’s time to seriously re-assess your relationship. It can be hard to see the wood for the trees when you are under the control of a manipulator.
So turn to friends or family you trust and share your story. Or perhaps consult an impartial professional.
Problems are normal in a relationship. But feeling constantly scared of conflict and controlled is not. Take some time away from the person to see how you feel. A little bit of perspective can be exactly what you need to escape the clutches of a manipulative partner.