15 Examples Of Manipulation In Relationships

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examples of manipulation in relationships
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Remember the movie Gone Girl where Amy manipulates all the characters around her and even the audience watching the film? That skill of hers to cleverly deceive, control and emotionally blackmail people into doing things they wouldn’t generally do? Yes, that’s one of the examples of manipulation in relationships and how one can emotionally torment someone else.

Like Amy, an emotional manipulator pulls off the act of being a weak and powerless person. But they may necessarily not feel that from the inside. This pretense of helplessness is just a tool that helps them dominate and gain control. Manipulative people who pretend to be nice and needy are actually far more capable than you think.

But, why would someone fall for a con artist like that who plays with emotions? Because that’s how good they are at the art of manipulation – you don’t even realize you’re being manipulated or falling for their tricks. So, then, how do you recognize when it’s happening? And what to do in such cases? 

Let’s get the answers to these questions, with the help of counselor Manjari Saboo (Masters in Applied Psychology and Post-Graduate Diploma in Family Therapy and Child Care Counseling), who is the founder of Maitree Counselling, an initiative dedicated to the emotional well-being of families and children. With her guidance, let us set onward on the journey of understanding how to identify and deal with people who manipulate others.

What Is Manipulation In Relationships?

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According to Manjari Saboo, “Emotional manipulation is a trick used by an individual to gain sympathy, control, attention, care, concern, and superiority. When a person knows his/her partner’s strengths (like knowledge, position, understanding) and is aware that other people might get attracted to these qualities, they use emotional manipulation to establish control.”

An emotional manipulator plays with your psychology and demands intense loyalty and secrecy from you. A manipulative person in a relationship will isolate you so that you come to depend on them completely. If there is too much chaos and intensity in your relationship and your partner always speaks in absolutes or extremes, it might be that you are being emotionally manipulated by them. Manipulation tactics in relationships can range from refusing to compromise to crafting situations in such a way that only one side enjoys the benefits. 

Related Reading: 6 Types Of Emotional Manipulation And Expert Tips To Recognize Them

15 Common Examples Of Manipulation In Relationships

If you want to understand better how a manipulative person operates and what kind of forms of manipulation in relationships they might use, you have come to the right place. We are going to give you a rundown of the 15 most common examples of manipulation in relationships.

A manipulative relationship is unbalanced, wherein your partner expects a lot of attention from you and things move so fast that you are unable to process what’s going on. How do you recognize if you are in such a relationship or not? Here are some examples that can help you gain a clearer perspective:

1. Terms and conditions change, depending on who’s at fault

An emotional manipulator finds a way to justify whatever he/she does but when the exact same situation applies to you, terms and conditions change. This kind of hypocrisy is among the examples of psychological manipulation in relationships and one of the characteristics of a manipulative person.

Take this example for instance. When they get possessive, it’s considered legitimate and natural. But, when you feel jealous, they dismiss your feelings with statements like, “Babe, it’s all in your mind. You are just being insecure and paranoid.” You will begin to feel as if they are gaslighting you.

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2. You end up doing what they want, every single time

And we mean, all the time, every time. If your relationship is such that your needs are always pushed aside, you are being emotionally manipulated and there is no doubt about it. If there is a lack of mutual understanding, then maybe, there is a power imbalance in your relationship. Healthy power dynamics in relationships are extremely important, and this element is clearly lacking when one half of a romantic equation is manipulative.

You want to go out and party but you always end up being convinced to stay in. You end up eating Chinese night after night even though you love Indian food. If you are always the one who ends up making a compromise, you are being emotionally manipulated in your relationship.

3. Crying can be among the examples of manipulation in relationships

If she ends up crying whenever she messes up or during any argument, she is using a classic tactic of female manipulation in relationships. Or if he constantly cries and says things like, “How will I live, if you leave me?”, it’s a sign you are being emotionally blackmailed to overstay.

While crying may seem like a natural expression or a cathartic release, it is also one of the forms of manipulation in relationships. Also, planting the fear of abandonment in the other person’s mind is among one of the many manipulation tactics in relationships. If you often have thoughts like, “They will leave me if I do this”, it means they are playing with your mind.

4. You end up apologizing even when it’s their fault

If they never own up to their mistakes and always shy away from taking accountability, then you’re dealing with one of the most common manipulation tactics in relationships. If they act infallible all the time and you constantly feel like you are the one with all the flaws, know that they are playing with your psyche. Shifting the blame is among the more prominent examples of manipulation.

You might find yourself on a guilt trip all the time, even over the things that you enjoy, like dancing or spending time with your friends. These examples of manipulation in real life are noteworthy here. They might say things like, “How could you go to that dance performance, when you were supposed to spend time with me?” or, “Am I not enough? Why do you hang out with your friends so much?”

5. Manipulative people who pretend to be nice end up playing the victim

Examples of manipulation in relationships include self-pity and self-loathing aimed at gaining your sympathy and exploiting your kindness. If they often go on a loop like, “Why am I like this? Why are you even dating a bad person like me? I hate myself. You deserve better”, it’s one of the prime examples of psychological manipulation in relationships. 

Manipulation tactics in relationships can include downplaying your distress and making their problems seem bigger and more important. If they make everything about themselves when you are trying to open up and be vulnerable with them, it is one of the examples of manipulation in relationships. Their problems are problems, while yours, not so much.

In this type of a relationship, manipulation examples can be many; one such example is dismissive statements like, “Hey, I am sorry you weren’t selected for that job. But, that’s not such a big deal. People like me have bigger problems to deal with, like my parents’ separation. Now, that’s a real problem.”

Related Reading: 20 Signs You Are In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

6. Exploiting your weaknesses and being insecure of your strengths

Taking advantage of your emotional vulnerability and using your insecurities against you are examples of manipulation in relationships. If you become vulnerable with someone, you trust them enough to not take advantage of it. If they do so, it’s probably not love. 

For example, if you are really sensitive about something traumatic that happened during your childhood, and they pinch that one wrong nerve, you’re dealing with one of the harshest manipulation tactics in relationships. According to Manjari, an individual may get insecure about his/her partner’s strengths and use emotional manipulation in such a case.

She says, “For example, if a husband knows that his wife has good communication skills, he may try to cut her off and hijack conversations when the couple is surrounded by friends or family, just to prove his superiority. He might try to bring up an old, unrelated incident, and pitch in without letting his wife complete.”

manipulation tactics in relationships
Taking advantage of someone’s emotional vulnerability is a form of manipulation

7. When you are with a manipulative person in a relationship, you end up losing your moral compass

If you feel that the values that you held so dear have been compromised in this relationship, and you end up questioning your sanity every now and then, you are being emotionally manipulated. Statements like “Hey, I know you don’t want to have sex, but how will you ever know whether you like it or not if you never try?” or, “Why don’t you just take one drag of this cigarette, maybe, you will love it” are some examples of psychological manipulation in relationships.

8. In the name of love

Manjari points out that emotional manipulation can only happen if two people are emotionally connected. She says, “Other people may use you but only those you love can emotionally manipulate you. Emotional manipulation is pretty common. We do it a lot, unknowingly. Two people in love know each other well enough to understand each other’s weaknesses. So, they know exactly what they should say or do to get their way.

“A wife makes pizza for her husband, and he buys jewels/flowers for her. A child emotionally convinces his/her mother to let him/her go out. All these are subtle, harmless forms of emotional manipulation. It’s pretty natural since emotions are getting exchanged.”

And then there is manipulation masked as love. If your girlfriend or wife says, “You love me right? Prove it, unfollow this girl”, it is a classic example of female manipulation in relationships. Or if your boyfriend or husband says, “I know I get extremely jealous often but it’s only because I love you so much”, a man is trying to emotionally manipulate you. Both these are prime examples of manipulation disguised as love. Do their actions and words match? That’s for you to recognize.

9. They make you feel bad about yourself

Examples of manipulation in relationships can include constant criticism and nastiness to diminish your self-esteem. You may start internalizing the subtext that they are better and they know more, but it’s just their way of gaining power over you so that they feel superior. “Listen, isn’t that skirt a little too short?” or, “Damn, you’d look better if you were taller!” are some emotional manipulation examples.

10. Bullying: An example of manipulation in relationships

Shouting and using dehumanizing words or behaviors are also examples of manipulation in relationships. Their outbursts and tendency to create a scene to embarrass you are tools to make you feel so scared that you stop speaking up for yourself, out of fear. This is emotional or social bullying. It is also one of the signs your partner has anger issues.

Another form of bullying is intellectual bullying, where a person makes you feel like they know more about a subject than you do. For example, “Are you dumb or what? How difficult is it for your brains to grasp this?”

11. They twist your words

Ever felt like whatever you say gets misinterpreted, turned around, loses its original meaning, and ends up becoming something else altogether? Well, this is also one of the examples of manipulation in relationships. Your partner might also downplay their mistakes or behavior so that they get the benefit of your kindness. Emotional manipulation examples? If they say something along the lines of, “I misbehaved. But you know me, right? I don’t do things without reason.”

Related Reading: The 7 Fundamentals Of Support In A Relationship

12. Grand gestures: One of the more common examples of manipulation in relationships

Remember how Nate (from the show Euphoria) would shower Maddy with expensive coats and lingerie to make up for the emotionally and physically abusive boyfriend that he was? That’s one of the types of manipulative relationships. Expensive trips, dinners, and public displays of praise are right up there as examples of manipulation in relationships with an abusive or toxic undercurrent.

These are often signs of unhealthy attachment, guilt, and narcissistic traits since an emotional manipulator expects their “generosity” to be recognized. They just want to gain all your trust just so that they can control you later. It’s like they are ‘buying’ you but in a more sophisticated manner. In their head, it’s okay to treat you in inhumane ways as long as they make up for it materially.

13. They use you for their needs

Unmet emotional needs fall under emotional manipulation examples. They expect you to show up all the time, but when you need them, they are emotionally unavailable. Manjari points out that there can be emotional manipulation among friends too. She says, “Imagine A and B are close girlfriends, and a guy, C, comes along and gets close to A. Now, if B tries to get close to the guy, it’s emotional manipulation and cheating on her friend.”

14. Examples of manipulation in relationships: Stonewalling and silent treatment

When it comes to manipulation tactics in relationships, ‘stonewalling’, wherein one partner refuses to communicate with the other and basically withdraws from the conversation, is a common feature. He or she uses silence to gain control over you and make you feel responsible for your behavior. 

Ghosting, selective memory, and lies by omission are some other emotional manipulation examples. Another technique of manipulation is passive aggression – they don’t necessarily express that they are angry but their body movements and actions convey it louder than any words possibly could. 

15. Always playing hot and cold

As Katy Perry’s song goes, “You change your mind like a girl changes clothes…cuz you’re hot, then you’re cold, you’re yes, then you’re no…”. One of the most obvious characteristics of a manipulative person is that they have intense mood swings and you never know what’s coming.

Types of manipulative relationships include ones where a partner’s mood swings are so extreme that the highs are very emotionally charged and the lows are depressive. If your relationship constantly swings between the absolutes of pleasure and pain, you’re in an emotionally manipulative one.

8 Signs You Have A Manipulative Partner

Now that we’ve looked at a few forms of manipulation in relationships, we should move on and understand the signs you are with a manipulative person in a relationship. The thing with manipulative people is that you don’t instantly see how they might be deceiving you.

They will always act like they love you sincerely. Since they’re always so needy and standing alone in their own pity party, you can’t help but feel bad for them. They act so downtrodden and sad that you could never think that a person like this could be guilty of playing any mind tricks. And that’s where we all go wrong. That’s why you need to understand the signs you have a manipulative partner.

1. They often say very dramatic things

When you are dating someone who is manipulative, you’ll notice how they never say anything logical or analytical. Everything they say or do is driven by emotion and lots of it. This causes them to often say very dramatic things that are probably uncalled for at that moment.

It feels bizarre, but out of a need for caring for them, you may brush it aside and let it go. They will use every little mistake that they make to curse themselves or draw attention to themselves. In the worst scenarios, they might even threaten suicide if they are feeling upset or unheard by you.

2. A manipulative person in a relationship will make up stories

Manipulative people, who are desperate for your attention, can sometimes also be or resemble pathological liars. You’ll notice that over time, the narratives or stories that they tell you stop making sense. They might just make up scenarios in their head that serve their interests, and feed those to you.

Out of love, at first, you might just believe everything that they tell you. But soon enough, you’ll start noticing loopholes in their stories. They might say they were busy hanging out with a friend, but in reality, they were just at home. Or they might overplay themselves in front of you and tell you that they got a standing ovation at work when nothing like that ever actually happened.

3. They will act very needy

Perhaps the most exhausting thing about being in a relationship with a manipulative person is that they will need you all the time. Whenever you’re at work or get stuck in a meeting, you should expect a barrage of texts from them wondering where you are or why you are not texting them.

It gets even worse when you’re hanging out with your friends. They might call/text you non-stop asking you to drop everything and come home. Their reasons could be that they miss you or that they’re very sad and they need you around.

Related Reading: 8 Signs You Are Dating A Needy Man And 5 Things You Can Do About It

4. People who manipulate will always try to guilt-trip you

One of the characteristics of a manipulative person is that they are big on guilt-tripping others. Every time you two get into an argument or disagree over something, they try to pin the whole thing on you and how you are perhaps exploiting them. This might even make you constantly doubt yourself and what you might be doing wrong in the relationship.

One of the examples of manipulation in relationships is when you two have a little spat about something, your manipulative partner will always digress from the topic at hand and find other things to blame you for. Instead of admitting that s/he did something wrong, s/he will always divert the conversation to topics that make you feel worse about that until the actual point of the conversation is lost.

5. The silent treatment is their favorite weapon to use

Manipulative people who pretend to be nice are actually very easy to upset. They may seem very understanding and kind to you when they would like to be, but as soon as you cross them or something does not go in their way, all hell breaks loose. And more often than not, they will end up giving you the silent treatment waiting for you to always reach out to them and apologize.

6. The relationship begins to feel exhausting

Not just because you find it exhausting to deal with their emotions but also because they seem to wear you down with their constant demands and needs from you. They need you to always act, respond and be a certain way. And you must comply with their demands at all times. From the smallest things to the biggest — it is their way or the highway.

Over time, you will get so used to complying with their demands, that you may not even consider an alternative. Whether it’s deciding what you guys should eat for dinner or picking where you guys are going to go for Thanksgiving, everything starts to feel mundane and like a chore because you just never get your way anymore.

types of manipulative relationships

7. Being passive-aggressive

One of the examples of manipulation in relationships is behaving in a passive-aggressive manner to gain your attention or just unnecessarily get you riled up. Those who resort to manipulating tactics in the relationship, do this way too often. Every time you do something wrong (you might not even know it is wrong), instead of being mature and expressing themselves to you, your partner will resort to juvenile tantrums.

You might see them stomping around the house to show you that they’re upset or leaving you on read during text exchanges. Perhaps they leave the dishes dirty too or conveniently forget to fold your laundry even though they’ve folded their own. It might seem silly on the surface but this behavior runs deep and can be extremely damaging.

8. They will not let you voice your concerns

Especially not when it has to do something with them. People who manipulate like to stay in control of the narrative. So if you ever criticize them or so much as voice an opposing view, they will brush aside your concerns. On a good day, they will ignore it, but on a regular day, they will completely invalidate you.

This is when you might start feeling smaller in the relationship and as if your partner is not hearing you out. There’s a lot of effort that goes into maintaining relationships — listening to and understanding the other person is a big part of that. But when you are with a manipulative person in a relationship, you will never be allowed to express yourself properly.

What To Do If You’re Being Emotionally Manipulated?

Knowing the problem is only half the solution. As soon as you become conscious and aware of the examples of manipulation in relationships, here’s what you need to do.

1. Practice empathy, but be willing to walk away

Know that there is nothing wrong with you. They are just projecting their damage on you. So be empathetic toward them. Manjari advises us to look at emotional manipulators with compassion because the fact that they cry or burst out at every relationship argument may indicate that they are emotionally weak. She says that in such a case, it’s best to bring up sensitive matters at the right time and when they are in the proper frame of mind. 

She says, “A person like that needs support, understanding, and respect toward their emotions. Their partner has to work around their strengths and learn to manage the weaknesses. It is a red flag when emotional manipulation manifests as arrogance, jealousy and taking advantage of emotions. If you feel like your feelings are being hurt, then that needs checking.”

But empathy does not mean putting up with toxic behavior at the cost of your mental health and emotional well-being. Be willing to walk away if this relationship is not helping you become the best version of yourself. Trust me, you will thank yourself later. 

Related Reading: 8 Ways To Get Out Of An Unhealthy Relationship

2. Trust yourself and those around you

Is there a little voice in your mind that keeps telling you something is wrong? Does that keep reiterating that you deserve better? Do yourself a favor and trust it. Your instincts will never lead you astray. Also, seek advice from your truest friends and family to spot examples of manipulation in relationships. They know you and they know how well you deserve to be treated. Let them guide you. 

“Look for the hallmarks of a healthy relationship: intimacy, commitment, consistency, balance, progression, shared values, love, care, trust, and respect. Listen to any alarm bells that go off in your head and listen to friends and family members who are known to have your best interest at heart. Don’t ignore them, no matter how much you would like to,” Adelyn Birch writes in 30 Covert Emotional Manipulation Tactics: How Manipulators Take Control In Personal Relationships.

3. Set your boundaries

If you are a gullible person and people often take advantage of your naivety, start taking a stand in life and learn to set emotional boundaries in relationships. People can only take advantage if you let them. Start being firm about what you want. It can be as simple as ordering the dish of your choice at a restaurant. It can be as complex as choosing which city to live in or what job to take. 

Make your partner aware of what you can and cannot tolerate. And then, stick to those choices no matter what. They won’t dominate you if they see the conviction in your eyes and your voice. For example, if you don’t feel like making out, just say it. That’s what love is – telling the truth, no matter how difficult it is.

4. Don’t try to play the game

Once you become aware of the examples of manipulation in relationships, do not stoop down to their level and start playing mind games with them. Know that this can be an endless loop and you will end up losing your heart and your soul, trying to outplay them. You are better than that. Be the bigger person, don’t lose your ground. If you go down that road, your relationship will become more toxic than it already is.

5. Seek therapy

Your partner is not the only one who needs therapy. You, in order to say no to emotional manipulation, need to unlearn a lot of things that you have been conditioned into believing, from your childhood and upbringing. And only a licensed therapist can help you unlearn. They can point out the examples of manipulation in relationships, help you recognize if they exist in yours and what to do in extreme cases.

Therapy can, in fact, help you in becoming a steadier, firmer and more confident individual, with a good sense of self-esteem and conviction. They, as professionals, can recognize your patterns and break years-old habits. The counselors from Bonobology’s panel, including Manjari Saboo, can help you in your journey of healing.

Key Pointers

  • Do not let grand gestures or the excuse of love, let them get away with manipulating you. 
  • They might twist your words but you need to believe in yourself. 
  • Being passive-aggressive or using silent treatment is their favorite weapon. 
  • You need to set strong boundaries to deal with a manipulator. 
  • Understand your self worth and walk away if you need to. 

Emotional manipulation can kill your self-esteem and make you question your reality. You may lose your original self and end up riddled with insecurities and trust issues. Your defenses eventually get weakened and you become more vulnerable to further manipulation. But, remember, there is always a way out of this. Remember, that actions speak louder than words. Also don’t ever ignore your instincts. Don’t forget that you are worthy of love and respect, always. 

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