10 signs you’re in a manipulative relationship without you even knowing it

Truly gifted manipulators can be very hard to notice. They pull your strings like you’re a puppet without you even realizing. 

Eventually, however, when disagreements and tensions arrive, you notice the darker side of your partner. 

Often by then it’s too late, and the damage to your heart and future is enormous. 

That’s why it’s key to spot a manipulator before they can pull their tricks on you. Here are the top often overlooked signs you’re in a manipulative relationship.

1) Your partner never reveals themselves 

You may be in a relationship with a very reserved person who doesn’t like to talk about themselves much. 

But it’s good to be aware that some very manipulative people refuse to open up as a way to gain power. 

You are the one speaking about yourself, opening your heart and sharing your experiences, and they are the one taking it all in. 

They never reveal their own vulnerabilities and begin to subtly shift into the role of the one with power in the relationship. 

This can often seem like compassion or your partner just being a good listener, but you have to be quite careful it doesn’t become a situation where your partner feels superior to you. 

2) Your partner sends you mixed signals 

Next we come to mixed signals, one of those bewildering phenomena that are so common in dating. 

The partner who sends mixed signals isn’t always aware of it and may just be very impulsive:

One day they’re gushing and affectionate because they’re in a great mood, the next day they’re withdrawn and surly because they had a bad day at work. 

This is frustrating in its own right, but the kinds of mixed signals that are often used by manipulative partners are more specific and calculated. 

What kinds of mixed signals?

Let’s take a look… 

3) Your partner is a big-time love bomber

Love bombing is the practice of making somebody feel on top of the world. 

Love bombers will be the kindest, most affectionate, intimate, seductive people you’ve ever met in your life. They make you feel like you won the lottery in love and that every part of you is seen.

From funny jokes hitting your inbox to hugs when you don’t expect it, it feels certain that you’ve finally found a partner who truly gets you and appreciates you.

But then… 

4) Your partner starts picking fights with you and finding fault with everything

Suddenly in the middle of the love bombing it’s like a switch goes off:

Your partner becomes your biggest critic, finding fault with everything you do and seeming to pick fights out of nowhere. 

If you have any self-doubts or cracks in your self-esteem, these criticisms are going to hurt, especially since they’re coming from somebody you care about.

So then the doubts begin:

Are you a drag? Are you making all sorts of mistakes? Why are you so bad? Your partner must be right?

You’d do anything for him or her to go back to being kind and loving to you again… 

5) Your partner gaslights your own perceptions and emotions

The common thread between the mixed signals and many behaviors of the manipulative relationship is gaslighting.

This is where your partner blames you for problems that aren’t your fault or makes you doubt what you’re seeing or experiencing. 

“How am I being unreasonable?” they protest during their critic phase.

“What do you mean? This is how I always am,” they insist during their love bomber phase. 

You start to wonder if it’s just you who’s oversensitive and reading too much into everything. 

Maybe the relationship is doing just fine and it’s you who’s got a problem. 

6) Your partner plays the victim if you stand up for yourself 

men do in relationships when they lack emotional intelligence 10 signs you're in a manipulative relationship without you even knowing itIf and when you do stand up for yourself and refuse to be drawn into your partner’s frame of reality, you’re met with them descending into victimhood. 

Suddenly you’re just too hard on them and you should give them a break. 

They will do some of the best acting this side of the Academy Awards and have even the most seasoned individual unsure of their own eyes and ears. 

This is why it can be so difficult to be sure when you’re being manipulated, because standing up to a manipulative partner and having them become a victim is very disconcerting. 

It’s made even more confusing by the fact that those who play the victim often truly believe their own narrative and may truly feel they are the victim. 

7) Your partner engages in emotional blackmail

Emotional blackmail is the perfect word for this kind of mixed signaling and playing the victim that I’ve described here. 

If you don’t cheer up or do what they want, agree with them, give them more attention (or whatever their demand is) then they punish you. 


It may be by withholding affection, by blaming you for things that aren’t your fault, by emotionally shutting down on you or by giving you the cold shoulder. 

Some manipulative partners will also go out of their way to make you jealous or get you worried that they will cheat.

It can be hard to realize that somebody you love is actually do this and easy not to notice or to blame yourself, but it’s not your fault and it is happening.

8) Your partner weaves their self-interest into the genuine parts of the relationship

It seems easy to spot a gold digger: somebody who’s always asking for money and checking how much you’re worth. 

But it’s not that simple. 

Some individuals who are very much gold diggers are very good at disguising it. 

They may be genuinely likable, attractive and fun to be around. They may not ask for money or talk about material things for weeks or months. 

But then a situation comes up where they need financial support and suddenly the whole relationship hinges on it. If you say no they become gloomy in the extreme or threaten to end the relationship

9) Your partner always helps you but it’s just to disguise controlling you

Who doesn’t want to be with somebody who’s helpful and kind?

There’s no real downside to being with a helpful partner that I know of, except when it’s actually helpfulness that’s done to control you. 

This is the kind of individual who is always there when you need them, but they are also there when you don’t need them. In fact, they insist on being there at all times and being involved. 

You can barely make a trip to the grocery store without feeling like you need to account for why you bought Gain laundry detergent instead of Tide. 

Your partner is there “helping” you at every turn, but it becomes some kind of “helicopter partner” syndrome. 

You know you should feel grateful, but there’s just something over the top about it and you feel guilty for noticing that… 

10) Your partner doesn’t apologize but expects you to

There are always going to be situations in a relationship where an apology may be called for.

But here’s the thing:

It’s a two-way street. 

When you’re in a relationship where it’s only you who’s expected to say sorry, it’s not only unfair it’s also manipulative. You’re put in a position where you have to chase the approval of somebody you love by prostrating yourself before them. 

If you ever feel like you have to beg and apologize over and over just to get your partner’s attention, even when you haven’t done something very bad at all, then the relationship is manipulative.

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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