Warning Signs of a Manipulative Partner, According to 8 Experts

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Manipulation, control, and obsession are not signs of true love.

Also, the worst part of being manipulated is that quite often you don’t even know it’s happening.

So, we asked experts to break down some of the crucial warning signs to watch out for.

Dr. Sherrie Campbell

Sherrie Campbell

Clinical Psychologist | Inspirational Speaker | 
Author, But It’s Your Family: Cutting Ties with Toxic Family Members and Loving Yourself in the Aftermath

Love bombing

Love bombing is probably the first manipulative sign. This is when your partner pushes the relationship really fast to be really serious right away, and then as they go along with you over time the love bombing is gone and you are doing all the work in the relationship.

Lying

Little lies white lies and withholding of information is a sign that you’re with a partner who may be manipulative. If your partner is not introducing you to his friends and family over a long period of time you may question if you were the only person in the relationship.

Lack of commitment

When your partner has a lack of commitment or does not want to give you clarity on the direction and depth of the relationship this person is manipulating you.

You’re always wrong and controlled

Also, if you’ve always made to feel wrong or you feel like you’re being overly controlled, this is a very clear sign that you were or are in a manipulative relationship.

Related: 25+ Warning Signs of a Controlling Partner

Dr. Carla Marie Manly

Carla Marie Manly

Clinical Psychologist | Author, Joy from Fear

  • A manipulative partner will often avoid giving the full truth on topics and may have variations on stories that create a pattern of inconsistencies.
  • Partners who are manipulative often use sarcasm as a tool for causing emotional or mental distress. A common sentence might be, “Hey, I wasn’t serious…I was only joking!” Or the common, “You just can’t take a joke!”
  • Manipulative partners often use guilt as a way to induce you to do what they want; such people try to make you feel guilty for honoring your own wants and needs.
  • Those who are manipulative often are passive-aggressive. Rather than being straightforward about their needs or concerns, they’ll get their needs met by emotional outbursts, withdrawing, or hostile behaviors.
  • A manipulative partner often “conveniently forgets” certain obligations, promises, or commitments. Although they’ll have a great memory when it suits their needs, their memories will fade when it’s convenient to feign amnesia.

Rori Sassoon

Rori Sassoon

Relationship and Dating Expert | Co-owner, Platinum Poire

They degrade your character in some way to make themselves feel better

If you’re partner constantly puts you down for something that makes you feel good about you self – working out, singing, improving yourself in any way, this is a sign that your partner is manipulative.

When your partner makes you feel bad for being jealous about something that you have the right to be jealous about, this should sound an alarm in your head.

They don’t apologize

Another red flag that your partner is manipulative would be if your partner always has an excuse for everything and does not acknowledge or apologize when they are clearly in the wrong.

“My friend doesn’t feel good, so I didn’t keep my commitment for the fifth time in a row… If you say something against that, you are the bad selfish a-hole. They give you zero room to let them know their behavior doesn’t work.” 

If the exchange always feels uneven this is another sign of a manipulative partner. An example would be someone that is overtly selfish and always makes the conversation about them. Red flag.

Ann Feister

Ann Feister

Writer | Relationship Expert, Truthfinder

The dating pool is filled with fish, what no one ever mentions is that some of those fish are manipulative and only looking out for number one. Dating someone who is manipulative is a massive energy suck and will drain you of your confidence as well as your peace of mind if you let them play their games for long.

There are many methods that manipulators utilize to get what they want. All of their actions are likely influenced by their focus on their ultimate goals, not your happiness. Some of the most common tricks that are used by people who are trying to manipulate someone else are:

Gaslighting

This term has been around for nearly a century and it’s having another moment in the sun due to its recent uses in the political sphere.

Gaslighting is essentially telling someone that what they see and hear are not what they see and hear. It’s crazy-making stuff and people who engage in this form of manipulation are being psychologically abusive.

Isolation

Often manipulative partners will try to isolate their partner from their support system. Once they are cut off from friends and family who have their best interest at heart, the manipulator is their only “friend.”

This puts them in the center of their partner’s universe and gives them more power in controlling their decisions. If your partner is constantly trying to keep you from friends and family, beware, that’s a huge red flag.

Snarky comments

If your partner is making derogatory comments or backhanded compliments, they’re likely trying to cut down your self-esteem. This is a tactic used often by manipulators to weaken their victim’s confidence in themselves. Once a victim starts questioning their own judgment, it’s easier to take advantage of them.

Related: How to Deal with Low Self Esteem in a Relationship?

Dependence

If they try to make you dependent upon them for any of your needs, financial, housing, vehicle, or otherwise, don’t fall for it! They will use that to hold over your head and you’ll be forever indebted to them (in their minds). This will be a new way for them to try to control situations.

Threats of harm

If someone is saying that they’ll harm themselves in some manner if you don’t do what they want, that’s a form of manipulation. The harm doesn’t always have to be physical.

Threatening to quit a job, skip a doctors appointment, or engage in otherwise reckless behaviors in order to achieve their desired outcome is a way to control a situation.

Flattery

If they need something they can turn on the charm like a light switch. These are the people who can be cold and callous one moment and once they need something from you are throwing around “I love you’s” like the term is going out of style. Be very wary of those who are only kind when they have something to gain.

Playing dumb

If they keep burning a can of SpaghettiOs in order to get you to make them a real dinner every night, they’re playing dumb (or too dumb to be with and you should walk away). Pretending to be helpless to get someone else to do things for you is a lazy child’s game of trickery and it shouldn’t be tolerated.

The blame game

You are always going to be the fall guy for a manipulator. If their bike gets stolen because they didn’t lock it, it’ll somehow be your fault. These people will find any opportunity to make themselves into the victim. You’ll find yourself in the role of antagonist because of their manipulative ways.

Your best bet is to leave a manipulative partner. These are deeply ingrained traits and patterns that have taken a lifetime to develop. You’re not going to waltz into their lives and change who they are fundamentally at their core.

Yocheved Golani

yocheved-golani

Author | Journalist | Life Coach | Editor, E-Counseling

Your dream date made rapid progress and seemed to make the universe move around you

Then, things changed somehow, but you only realized that over time. You began thinking about the disappointments that made no sense, the embarrassing moments, and some betrayals of your needs and desires.

The red flags were flying, but it takes a bit of wisdom to recognize them. Mental health experts know the warning signs to look for. Now you do, too.

Grooming is a major aspect of manipulative behavior

Pedophiles do it to young children, spending inordinate amounts of time with them, lavishing them with gifts, and insisting that the groomed victim-to-be fills their thoughts. That elaborate con job works on teens and adults, too.

If your partner startles you with lavish praise, adoring looks that border on hard staring, and a stream of unexpected gifts, you’re being manipulated to adore them. That is the gateway to manipulative hell. There’s more to the manipulative partner warning signs story.

Constant monitoring

When someone needs to know where you are and what you’re doing far too often for your comfort, you’re being monitored. Normal people stretch their wings and opportunities without causing concern, let alone suspicion.

Manipulative partners don’t accept that reality, however. They want to control you. Knowing whom you’re with, what you’re doing and when, is how they can assess how to prevent any of that from happening. The manipulative partner learns what you like, and strives to stop you from enjoying personal freedom and happiness.

If you spend time or go somewhere that they don’t know about in advance, they’ll feel threatened.

They want you to rely on them for recreation, comfort, and safety. If you fail to cooperate with their “Where were you, why did you, you should have listened to me, don’t you dare” tirades and interrogations, threats will follow the questions.

Other hostile statements will be made, including insults about your worthlessness, your insensitivity, and your stupid choices.

There will be times that the manipulative partner says things that embarrass you in front of other people. You’ll be amazed to compare those hostile comments with the huge doses of praise that preceded the misery of the deteriorating relationship.

The truth is that there never was a loving relationship. It was a contrived pretense. The manipulator pretended to be favorably impressed with you so that you could be tricked into trusting them, then into becoming dependent on them.

What to do about it

If you’re not sure that the above information applies in your case, ask yourself how many times the partner threatened to harm him/herself over you and your behavior.

Did they ask you if you want them to suffer or die? Did they pose other questions or situations in which you doubted yourself, your sanity, or your level of decency? Did they repeatedly fail to show up as promised, or to do something as promised, then refuse to accept blame for disappointing you? Do other people have such severe problems with you, too?

If not, the manipulator won’t believe you when you mention the reality check. Think about that. All that the manipulator cares about is convincing you to fall apart, to doubt your inner strengths, and to rely on them for anything, including a sense of identity.

Yes, they probably told you, in many different ways, that you aren’t much if you don’t have the manipulator in your life, you piece of worthless nothing. It’s enough to make any decent person look for the exits to that manipulator’s acquaintance.

If you want to figure out if your partner is a manipulator and/or how to end the relationship safely, speak with a licensed therapist who leaves you feeling comfortable after confiding in them.

Recovering from a manipulative person’s behaviors can be a painful process. The upside of the therapy is that you can come out of the situation wiser, more confident, and able to avoid manipulators with the insights that you’ll gain over time. It’s a worthwhile investment in your safety and happiness.

Stephanie Nilva, Esq.

Stephanie Nilva

Executive Director & Founder, Day One

In manipulative relationships, one controls the relationship through the use of force, intimidation, or fear

This is a form of dating abuse/domestic violence. Dating abuse is characterized by a pattern of controlling and sometimes violent behavior in casual or serious dating relationships. In abusive relationships, there is a cycle of behavior: abuse happens again and again, and it gets worse over time.

Too often, people equate dating abuse or domestic violence with physical altercations. Abuse can also be verbal, emotional, financial, or technological. Coercion, harassment, manipulation and stalking behaviors are frequently present when one partner is abusive. Relationships can be very unhealthy and unsafe, even when there is no physical violence.

Warning signs of dating abuse can include but are not limited to extreme jealousy or insecurity, possessiveness or treating you like property, telling you what to do, or taking away your ability to make choices.

The abusive partner may also employ tactics designed to make you feel powerless, like isolating you from your friends and family, making false accusations, repeatedly crossing your boundaries, and pressuring you to do things you don’t want to do.

Manipulative partners use subtle pressure to force someone to engage in activities (such as stealing or unwanted sex) or to avoid other activities (examples include skipping school or work, and not spending time with friends or family).

Dating abuse can affect anyone in a romantic relationship, no matter their age, gender, sexuality, marital status, race, religion, or culture.

Related: How to Deal with Controlling People?

Daniel Sher

Daniel Sher

Clinical Psychologist | Consultant, Between Us Clinic

Manipulators may engage in what is known as “love-bombing”

This involves the excessive expression of love and affection in a way that feels inappropriate and uncomfortable. Loveboming can play out in many ways: flowers sent to your work, chocolates left on your doorstep, continuous offers of candlelit dinners, non-stop texts or calls, and so on.

If this is a case of love-bombing, you’re being manipulated, not courter. How do you tell the difference? Listen to your gut – if you feel awkward or uncomfortable, this is a sign that the behavior is not appropriate.

Another strategy of emotional manipulation is known as “gaslighting”

This involves using very subtle strategies which lead you to doubt your own sanity. You may be well aware that you’re being manipulated, used and extorted; but at the same time, you doubt whether your judgment is correct.

This is a strategy of emotional manipulation that is often employed by people with sociopathic tendencies, and gaslighting can lead to a huge amount of distress in a relationship.

Caitlin Fisher

caitlin-fisher

Author, The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation

A manipulative partner often doesn’t show themselves early on, because they need you to get comfortable and settled into the relationship before they begin more overt forms of manipulation and control. But there are some warning signs and small things to look out for.

They don’t like hearing no

Don’t be shy about saying no to a partner, whether it’s rescheduling or canceling a date, refusing a level of physical contact you don’t want, etc. If your partner reacts negatively with anger or pouting, you may be dealing with a manipulator.

They take things back

Say your partner has loaned you their favorite book and can’t wait for you to read it. But before you’ve been able to read it, they ask about it and get upset that you haven’t read it yet — and they take it back from you so now you can’t read it without having to ask for it again or going out of your way to buy or borrow it elsewhere.

This is setting up a manipulator to do things on their timetable and shows that they have no problem denying you something positive if you don’t do it on their terms.

They tell you how you feel

Your partner may ask why you’re withholding affection, if you don’t like them as much as you thought, or otherwise place meaning on your behavior that isn’t there.

Failing to simply ask you how you’re feeling, and placing their own spin on things to make you out to look a certain way, is a sign that your partner may eventually gaslight you about bigger things.

This could be as simple as “We should cancel our date, I can tell you’re not really into me,” and can become years down the road “You never loved me, everything was always a game to you..”

They need to be the center of attention

Needing some reassurance is fine, and getting attention from a partner feels amazing! But beware the partner who interrupts your time with friends or alone to demand your attention, or who makes rude comments about how much time you spend without them.

You can’t reassure that away, because it’s a move to isolate you from your support network and wear down your boundaries.

These are four big red flags to watch out for, but honestly, trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, even if you don’t know why, I call that a “yikes..”

Just a gut feeling that something is off or not a good fit. You don’t have to wait around and make sure your partner is actually manipulative if you feel uncomfortable at all — there are plenty of people out there who won’t make you second guess your instincts.