12 Subtle Signs Of Manipulation In A Relationship

signs of manipulation

Have you ever felt like someone was trying to control or manipulate you in a relationship?

It can be hard to spot the subtle signs at first, but once you learn the techniques manipulators use, you can recognize the games more quickly.

This will help you set better boundaries or decide if it’s time to end an unhealthy relationship.

Through personal experience and talking with people in similar situations, I’ve identified 12 common signs of manipulation to watch for.

In this article, I’ll go through each of these red flags. My hope is this information will help you feel more empowered in your relationships going forward.

Keep reading to gain awareness of manipulation tactics and how to deal with a manipulative partner.


Manipulation in relationships means controlling your partner in covert ways to get what you want.

It often leads to a lack of trust, low self-esteem, and poor mental health if it goes on for a long time.

A manipulative partner uses emotional tactics and mind games to maintain power over you and fulfill their own needs.

You may not realize what’s going on until you’ve been in the toxic situation for a while.

If you suspect your partner is manipulating you or trying to control you, it’s important to pay attention and watch out for signs of manipulation in a relationship.

signs of manipulation


Do you think your partner is being manipulative or controlling?

When you’re being manipulated, you may not recognize the signs at first because they’re often subtle but over time, it would be easy to identify them.

If you recognize these manipulative tactics in your relationship, consider setting clear boundaries or ending things altogether.

1. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is when someone manipulates you into questioning your own sanity and perception of reality.

A manipulative partner may deny that something happened when it did or claim that you said or did something you don’t remember.

For example, if you mention an abusive scenario that happened in the past, they might say you’re overthinking things or it wasn’t that bad even if you were traumatized by the incident.

Manipulators often use gaslighting tactics to avoid responsibility for their actions and make you doubt yourself.

Over time, you can become anxious, confused, and insecure in your mind.

To avoid being gaslit by a partner, learn to always trust your instincts and don’t ever doubt yourself.

You can also share your experiences with a close friend or keep records of your conversations and messages so you’ll have solid evidence.

This way, you’ll know your truth and won’t be easily manipulated into believing a lie.

2. Emotional Blackmail

Emotional blackmail is when a romantic partner threatens to withhold affection or approval if you don’t do what they want.

They may say things like “If you really loved me, you’d do this for me” or “I’m not talking to you until you apologize” to coerce you into certain behaviors by making you feel guilty or fearful of consequences.

Manipulators often use threats, guilt, or emotional blackmail to control the other person’s behavior.

This can create a sense of obligation or fear that prevents the victim from asserting their own needs.

The best way to deal with emotional blackmail is to stay confident in yourself and don’t let fear control your actions.

If you struggle to keep your emotions stable, you can try the grey rock method.

This involves ignoring an abusive partner, detaching emotionally, and not engaging with them no matter what they do or say.

Practicing grey rock can help you take back your power so you don’t fall for any manipulative tactics in the future.

Plus, when your partner notices that you’ve become uninteresting and unresponsive, they’ll leave you alone and find someone else to taunt.

signs of manipulation

3. Constant Criticism

A major sign of manipulation in a relationship is when a partner constantly criticizes you, undermines your self-esteem, and makes you feel less confident.

This criticism can be disguised as “constructive feedback” but is often aimed at belittling you and controlling your actions.

If your significant other is highly critical of you and constantly points out your perceived flaws and mistakes to make you feel like you’re never good enough, this is not a good sign.

Constant criticism can damage your self-esteem over time and make you more vulnerable to their control.

Learn to see your partner for who they really are and stop trying to please them all the time.

Build your mental strength by ignoring their harsh words and filling your mind with positive thoughts about yourself.

Be confident in who you are and don’t let someone else dictate your actions.

4. Isolating Behavior

Does your partner try to cut you off from friends and family who could provide support?

Maybe they make you feel like your loved ones are against you or that you don’t need anyone else but them.

This is a manipulative tactic to keep you under their control and make you solely dependent on them.

Manipulators often try to isolate their victims from friends, family members, or supportive people.

They may make excuses for why you can’t see certain people and become jealous or resentful when you do.

They may also insist that nobody else really cares about you or knows what’s best for you like they do.

Isolation often makes it easier for a manipulative partner to control and abuse you without interference.

By cutting off external relationships, they increase their control over your thoughts and actions.

If the people who love you don’t have access to you, they won’t be able to tell you when something is off or give you advice that can help you.

Make sure you maintain contact with your close friends and family members. Don’t let a partner dictate who you can see or talk to.

When you’re in a healthy relationship, you should be free to interact with your loved ones anytime you want.

If you’re being isolated from the most important people in your life, you need to consider leaving.

5. Love-Bombing

Love-bombing refers to excessive displays of affection early in a relationship to win you over and make you dependent on the manipulator’s approval and praise.

Once you’re hooked, the love-bombing stops, and their controlling, abusive behavior begins.

But the memory of how good it felt keeps you clinging to the hope that the love-bombing will return.

If your partner showered you with affection, attention, and gifts when you first started dating but no longer pampers you, they were most likely love-bombing you to fall in love with them so you’d be easier to control.

If they usually buy extravagant gifts to make you forgive them for hurting you, that’s a red flag.

Buying your forgiveness is a sign of manipulation and you don’t have to tolerate it.

When your partner offends you, ask for a sincere apology and a positive change of behavior before moving forward with the relationship.

signs of manipulation

6. Blaming And Shifting Responsibility

A big sign of manipulation in a relationship is when a partner always plays the victim to avoid being accountable for their bad behavior.

If your significant other blames external factors for their own mistakes or makes you feel sorry for them to manipulate you into doing things for them, that’s not a good sign.

Manipulative partners often blame others for their abusive behavior and make excuses for their actions.

They never take responsibility for their role in issues and turn things around to make you feel bad instead.

This blaming and refusal to acknowledge their actions is meant to make you question yourself so you’ll feel responsible for their behavior or forgive them out of guilt.

When you notice your partner is playing the blame game, don’t give them attention or act out of guilt.

Allow them to bear the consequences of their actions and only help them when they admit their mistakes.

7. Guilt Tripping

Does your significant other frequently make you feel guilty for small things or act disappointed in you to get their way?

Guilt tripping is another common manipulation tactic to make you do things that benefit your partner.

A manipulative partner will make you feel guilty for not giving them enough attention or not meeting their needs.

For instance, they may say things like “If you care about me, you’d do this for me.”

This manipulative behavior preys on your good nature and desire to please them.

You’ll find yourself constantly apologizing and compromising just to keep the peace.

If you feel responsible for your partner’s happiness and well-being, you’re likely being guilt tripped to prioritize their needs over your own.

Learn to take care of yourself and don’t abandon your needs to make your significant other happy.

8. Withholding Affection Or Approval

Does your partner withhold affection, gifts, or compliments until you do what they want?

This is a way to manipulate you into certain behaviors by making you work for basic intimacy and approval.

Manipulative individuals often use affection, attention, or approval as a reward for compliance with their demands.

This can create a cycle of manipulation where the victim seeks validation by meeting the manipulator’s expectations.

If your significant other refuses to show you love or avoids being intimate with you until you do something they want, that’s a big red flag.

Don’t let them control you; stand up for yourself and demand to be treated right.

signs of manipulation

9. Lying And Deception

Constant lies, half-truths, or deception are common signs of manipulation in a relationship.

Manipulators may use lies to control the narrative and maintain power over their partners.

If your partner is constantly lying to you or deceiving you to hide things or get their way, this is a major red flag.

Manipulative people have no problem lying and see it as a means to an end. Don’t let yourself get deceived by sweet talk.

Always find out the truth instead of blindly believing what your partner says.

10. Giving Conditional Love

Does your partner’s love and affection seem to depend on you doing certain things for them or acting a certain way?

Manipulative individuals often make their love or approval conditional on their partner’s behavior or meeting certain expectations.

This can create a sense of insecurity and dependence on the manipulator’s validation.

You’ll find yourself constantly doing things just to get their approval even though it’s not what you want.

If your partner acts nice to you only when you do something they like, consider leaving the relationship.

A good partner should love and support you whether you do what they want or not.

11. Moving Goalposts

Do you feel like you can never satisfy your partner or make them happy no matter what you do?

Maybe they criticize everything you do and are always disappointed even if you try your best.

Manipulative people constantly change their demands and expectations just as you meet the current ones.

This keeps you stuck in a cycle of trying to please them and feeling inadequate.

Even when you go out of your way to make them happy, they’ll always find something to criticize. It’s like you never win and always have to work for their affection. 

If you notice your partner keeps moving the goalposts and changing their standards, stop bending over to please them.

Just do what’s right and don’t pay attention to their criticisms.

12. Creating Dependency

Another sign of manipulation is when a partner creates a sense of dependency in you by making you feel unable to function without their input and approval.

This traps you in the relationship and makes you easier to control.

If your partner hides money from you, stops you from working, and says you can’t survive without them, that’s a sign they’re trying to make you codependent.

Don’t stay in a relationship where you don’t have freedom.

If you feel stuck and don’t have the resources to walk away, seek help from your loved ones or a professional to leave your toxic partner.

signs of manipulation


When you realize you’re in a relationship with a manipulative partner, it can be difficult to know what to do.

You may have to choose between walking away or staying and working things out.

The most important thing is to stand up for yourself while also protecting your mental health.

Here are some tips on how to deal with a manipulative partner:

• Set clear boundaries

Sit down with your partner and calmly explain that their manipulative behavior needs to stop. Be specific about what is and isn’t acceptable to you.

Let them know that if they continue to cross these lines, there will be consequences like taking a break from the relationship.

And don’t be afraid you follow through if they don’t respect your boundaries.

• Don’t engage or argue

Manipulators want to provoke emotional reactions and drama.

When your partner tries to play with your emotions, stay composed and do not yell, call names, or make threats.

Respond in a calm, gentle tone. If an argument starts, walk away until you’ve both cooled down. Manipulation tactics won’t work if you refuse to engage.

• Seek counseling or mediation

Speaking to a counselor, either alone or together, can help give you strategies to stand up to manipulation and set healthy boundaries.

A mediator can also facilitate a constructive conversation between you and your partner.

When you notice manipulation, consider going for counseling. It may help to improve the relationship or give you the clarity to leave.

• Limit contact if needed

Take a break from your partner if their behavior becomes emotionally or psychologically damaging.

Let them know their actions are hurtful, and that you need time apart. Go stay with a friend or family member, and avoid contacting them during this time.

Taking a break from a toxic partner can help you gain perspective and determine if the relationship has a chance to survive or if it’s best to end it.

The bottom line is that you deserve to feel respected and cared for in your relationship.

Don’t tolerate abusive behavior from anyone no matter how much you love them.

Learn to identify the signs of manipulation and be ready to do what’s best for you.

By standing up for yourself, setting clear boundaries, or limiting contact with your manipulative partner, you’ll be one step closer to building a healthier relationship.


Take some time to think about if you’re experiencing any of the signs mentioned above in your relationship.

If you suspect manipulation is going on, have an honest conversation with your partner about your concerns.

Be wary of excuses or attempts to make you feel like you’re overreacting or being too sensitive.

Trust your instincts and stand firm in your truth—you know what a good relationship should look like.

Don’t ignore red flags or hope for sudden change. You may need to set firmer boundaries, get counseling, or even walk away if the manipulation continues.


Recommended reading:

How To Tell If Someone Is Lying In A Relationship

10 Subtle Signs Of Disrespect In A Relationship

10 Signs A Partner Is Keeping Secrets In A Relationship

About The Author

Jennifer Dagi
 | Blog

Jennifer Dagi is happily married to her best friend and the love of her life.

As a relationship coach, she is passionate about helping couples build healthy and happy relationships.

She strongly believes communication and intimacy are the most important ingredients for building a successful relationship.

Join her on a fabulous journey to improve your love life one step at a time and don't forget to subscribe for weekly blog updates.

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