Emotional manipulation in relationships is a scary phenomenon. Relationships are built on emotions, so any manipulation – emotional or otherwise – only end up hurting the feelings of the person at the receiving end. And feelings can be a very fickle thing. We feel many different things for many different reasons.
Some of them are good, some not so much. But as long as they come from an honest place, they are valid. However, some people can make you doubt the validity of your feelings through emotional manipulation tactics. Sadly, most of the emotional manipulation examples are found in romantic relationships.
Have you ever been in a relationship where you’ve felt your emotions being toyed with? You feel the manipulation but choose to ignore the signs. You give excuse after excuse for why your partner behaves this way. By ignoring the signs of emotional manipulation in relationships, you are encouraging this toxic behavior.
Being in an emotionally manipulative relationship can be damaging for your emotional well-being in the long run. To mitigate the risk of a romantic connection turning into a scarring experience, let’s explore the inner workings of emotional manipulation in relationships, with insights from psychotherapist Dr. Chavi Bhargava Sharma (Masters in Psychology), who has vast experience in diverse spheres of mental health and wellness, including relationship counseling.
What Is Emotional Manipulation In Relationships?
Emotional manipulation in relationships is a cruel way of creating fear and dependency. Manipulating someone requires knowledge of their insecurities and vulnerabilities as well as a tendency to intimidate. A romantic partner already has the former. A conclusive way to tell if you are emotionally manipulated is by checking if your partner uses intimidating language and behaviors.
These behaviors drive a wedge between the victim and the rest of their social support system, typically isolating them from friends, family, or anyone who would interfere in what often becomes an abusive relationship. Dr. Sharma has a very straightforward view of what emotional manipulation in relationships looks like. “Emotional manipulation is getting the reaction you want rather than the one that comes naturally to a person,” she says. Manipulation is when a person finds fault in your reaction and wants to shape it in a way that aligns with their expectations.
If you’re in a relationship with someone who manipulates you emotionally, it might be time to reevaluate the relationship. The manipulator will do everything they can to get under your skin and make you feel uncomfortable. If you stick around, they may resort to even manipulating your behavior or emotions. Emotional manipulation in romantic relationships is a red flag. It’s important to learn how to identify emotional manipulation and deal with it.
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5 Signs You Are Being Emotionally Manipulated
“Three years ago, a man came into my office. He didn’t have an appointment but when I saw the look on his face, I asked him to sit,” Dr. Sharma recalls one of her cases involving emotional manipulation in romantic relationships.
She adds, “His wife constantly doubted him of infidelity and could not stand him talking to other women. To avoid creating an issue, the man started being discreet about his conversation with female friends and colleagues. When the wife found out, she slit her wrists and threatened to commit suicide. The man realized he needed professional help and approached me.”
As emotional manipulation examples go, this is a pretty severe one. But not all emotional manipulation tactics are this explicit. Emotional manipulation is often subtle and forces victims to wonder if they are being overly sensitive. So, how to tell if you are emotionally manipulated?
If you find yourself questioning your reactions more than usual, there’s a good chance that you are being manipulated. We have compiled a list of the most common signs of emotional manipulation in relationships. They will help you learn how to spot them in your own life. If you see these signs of an emotionally manipulative partner in your better half, don’t ignore them.
Related Reading: 13 Tell-Tale Signs Of Manipulation In A Relationship
1. Your feelings are disregarded
Dr. Sharma says, “Feelings can be disregarded in more than one way. It could mean your needs are not being met, or maybe you are not being understood. Manipulation is when they find fault in your reaction. When your partner starts disregarding your emotions in a relationship, everything you say will be overshadowed by their views and needs.”
In such scenarios, the abuser is not interested in how you feel about an issue or conversation. They frequently dismiss your feelings and opinions as unimportant. You feel like your thoughts and feelings do not count for much in the big picture.
2. They always get their way
Your partner has a penchant for getting their way and undermining your needs and wants. For example, if you don’t want to move out of town, they might threaten to leave you. Your partner might be using emotional manipulation tactics on daily basis. If you find yourself constantly adjusting to your partner’s likes and dislikes, it means the relationship is solely focused on them. This is one of the signs of emotional manipulation in relationships.
Your partner believes in the “my way or the highway” approach. Emotional manipulation in romantic relationships is their way of getting you to comply with their demands.
3. They demand all your attention
If your partner makes you feel guilty about spending time with your friends and family, it’s a sure sign that they are being manipulative. In fact, guilt-tripping is one of the most potent emotional manipulation tactics. Your partner might even try to tell you that spending time with them is more important than spending time with your friends and family but that is simply not true. If they truly care about you, they won’t begrudge making time for those closest to you.
Amanda, a 35-year-old librarian, resented her husband Rob’s hanging out with his friends. “Why do you have to go out with those good-for-nothing fellows every other day? Our quality time together should be your priority. I’ll cook your favorite Pasta and we can chill at home, guzzling this sparkling Champagne I got for both of us,” she would say. Or go on a rant about how he never took care of her, followed by the silent treatment. This act of victim card to hog attention is a clear example of female manipulation in relationships.
Related Reading: 15 Signs That Say A Woman Only Wants Attention, Not You
4. Listening to their problems becomes a full-time job
Another sign of an emotionally manipulative partner is the use of emotional blackmail to keep themselves at the top of everyone’s priority list – especially yours! Here’s one example: Your partner calls you constantly throughout the day. Yes, emotional manipulation in romantic relationships can appear benign on the surface. But as you scratch the surface to probe deeper, you realize their acts of love are simply mental manipulation tactics to keep tabs on you.
They want you to spend every waking moment together. If you don’t answer the phone right away when they call, they get upset and accuse you of not caring about them. This kind of behavior is emotionally manipulative because your partner is trying to control your emotions by making you feel guilty or afraid of their reactions.
5. Their actions don’t match their words
This is one of the biggest signs of an emotionally manipulative partner. They may say they care about you while they are cheating on you or repeatedly doing things that seem to harm you. And they are always sneaky in their ways. Your partner may not say ‘no’ to you, rather they always sidestep your requests.
Suppose you plan a dinner date. The partner won’t reject the idea so you make all the preparations and are excited for the night. At the last moment, however, something will come up and your partner won’t make it to the date. Though there can be genuine reasons behind canceling or rescheduling a date once in a while, if such things keep happening repeatedly, it’s a clear sign of emotional manipulation.
While it would be nice if your partner could have a change of heart overnight, manipulators never transform that easily. Love is all about the unsaid things we do for each other. So, before trusting someone’s verbal affection, see if their actions back their words.
Why Do Partners Manipulate In A Relationship?
As Dr. Sharma pointed out, manipulation is when a person finds fault in your reaction. Your partner could be mentally manipulating you to get you to react in a way they want. Emotional manipulation in relationships is not an end in itself. It comes with a goal. Based on the findings of a thesis, there could be multiple reasons driving the behavior of an emotionally manipulative partner, such as:
- Emotional manipulation is a means to exert control over another person. Your partner manipulates you to make you a pawn in their hand
- Emotionally manipulative relationships are a tool to achieve self-serving goals. The study refers to this exercise of power as “intimate terrorism”
- Partners often manipulate a relationship to get sexual favors. In a study conducted on college students, it was found that 30% of men and 14% of women admitted to manipulating their partners to convince them to a sexual liaison
Related Reading: How To Cope When Your Partner Is A Control Freak
5 Examples Of Emotional manipulation In Relationships
Stacy wants Rick to cut off all ties with his ex, Lucy, even though they are no longer romantically attracted to each other. Rick, on the other hand, is not willing to give up on the confidante he finds in Lucy. Stacy lost her cool when she saw them together at a cafe. “What were you doing with Lucy, again? I’ve told you many times to cut her out of your life. I’ve had enough, now. You have to choose between us. If she stays in your life, I am keeping myself out of it,” she said. This is what female manipulation in relationships often looks like.
The problem with emotionally manipulative relationships is that the insidious patterns are often difficult to pin down. And that is the reason we have listed here a few ways and examples in which your partner could be trying to manipulate you, without you noticing them.
- Telling lies – “I canceled my plans with my BFF to spend time with you and here you are walking out on me!”
- Playing blame games – “You made me go pick up the kids and so I got late for the party”
- Being the victim – “I’ve always been there for you, running errands, managing things, lending you support, everything. And now, when I need you, you are nowhere to be seen!”
- Threatening behavior – “If you don’t stop hanging out with your friends and make time for me, I will leave you.” or “If you leave me, I will kill myself”
- Gaslighting– “Why are you upset with me for no reason at all? I was drunk and it was just a kiss; there is nothing to be jealous or possessive about it. You are blowing up the issue out of proportion”
4 Things You Can Do If You Are Emotionally Manipulated
Emotional manipulation tactics are typically used by some people as a way to control their significant others in relationships. Signs of an emotionally manipulative partner are sundry. Some may choose to play the ‘victim’ card, while others might throw tantrums in order to get what they want. Emotional manipulation in romantic relationships can be debilitating, leading to an altered state of consciousness. It isn’t good for you and it isn’t good for your loved ones. It can lead to stress and anxiety. In some cases, depression and even suicide.
Sometimes it may seem like there is nothing you can do when someone is emotionally manipulating you, but this is not true. You can take steps to deal with such a person. Here are four things that you can do if you are being emotionally manipulated by someone in your life:
1. Identify the behavior
Some people who manipulate their partners do so without realizing it, while for others it’s a deliberate attempt of gaining control. In the case of the former, the person may think they are only giving their opinions when in reality they are being critical and insulting. For example, if your partner says, “You’re always late”, they may be trying to guilt you into leaving earlier next time. If you believe the act to be unintentional, just explain that you would like to talk about the issue rationally.
However, if you see a regular pattern of emotionally manipulative behavior, it could be deliberate. This manipulative tactic can be identified by recognizing that the other person is using mental manipulation to change your behavior without your permission. You need to stand up to them and let them know that you don’t appreciate being manipulated.
Related Reading: 6 Types Of Emotional Manipulation And Expert Tips To Recognize Them
2. Understanding why it is happening
Once you realize that someone is manipulating you, comes the next step of understanding why they are doing it. Dr. Sharma believes, “Emotional manipulation is about power. Your partner wants power over you, your emotions, and your life. The reason they do it is that they feel inadequate and insecure about themselves.”
Remember that manipulation is always a means of covering up for some unresolved feelings or dealing with issues that your partner thinks cannot be dealt with directly. Try to get them to open up about their insecurities and unresolved emotions.
3. Bring objectivity into the play
Emotional manipulation can be difficult to deal with, especially if you or your partner has low self-esteem, because it often feels like personal criticism. However, it is important not to let these words hurt you too much. If you find that your partner is being manipulative or critical, the first thing you need to do is remain calm and avoid reacting emotionally.
Be it an explicit female manipulation in relationships or a covert mental manipulation, try to stay calm and composed. Taking a step back from the situation will help you understand it better with a detached and objective viewpoint. It’s important not to get defensive because this will make it even more difficult for you to resolve the issue objectively. Introspect both of your behavior as calmly as possible so you can determine when things started going wrong.
4. Take responsibility for your own feelings
No one can make you feel anything unless you allow it. If someone manipulates you into feeling anxious or guilty about something, remember that it’s not your fault – and neither is it your responsibility. Dr. Sharma says, “Once you have recognized the signs of emotional manipulation in a relationship, you need to take a step back. The thumb rule here is to see if you are happy in the relationship and do you feel any kind of joy in spending time with your partner. If the answer is no, then it’s time to give precedence to your feelings and focus on your well-being.”
Emotional manipulation is one of the most common and pernicious tactics of abusers. And luckily, we’re starting to recognize emotional manipulation in romantic relationships as a serious issue. That’s the purpose behind creating this guide: to outline the manipulative techniques of emotionally abusive people and help you identify them when they are happening in real life.
- Emotional manipulation is essentially about gaining and remaining in control
- Get your partner to talk about their insecurities that trigger emotionally manipulative behavior
- Pin down and call out the emotionally manipulative relationship
- Emotional manipulation in romantic relationships can be too subtle to notice unless you know which red flags to pay attention to
- An emotionally manipulative partner tries to hold power over you by pushing you to behave and react in a certain way
The next time you encounter this behavior in someone you know, or you employ it yourself, keep these tips in mind so that no one gets hurt. The manipulation may be subtle but just as a slight nudge can send an entire row of dominoes toppling over, an emotional manipulator can cause your sense of self-worth to crumble. Once that happens, they can get what they want by pushing the “right” buttons at the right times.
No one deserves to be in an emotionally manipulative relationship, and dating is stressful enough without people trying to take advantage of you. So do yourself a favor and recognize when someone is trying to emotionally manipulate you. If they continue to do it — especially if they do it after you tell them that you don’t like it — dump ‘em already.