15 Subtle Signs Of A Manipulative Boyfriend

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Emotional manipulation is probably one of the worst things that can happen in a relationship. It can dent your self-esteem and leave you riddled with complex psychological trauma. But when you’re in love, it can be difficult to notice the red flags. The signs of a manipulative boyfriend can be right in front of you, yet you may not be able to see them.

In such situations, a neutral, third-party perspective can help you see things for what they are. Are you in a relationship with someone who resorts to a lot of emotional arm twisting? Have you ever wondered if your partner fits the definition of a manipulative man? Are you trying to figure out the signs of a manipulative man?

To bring you that much-needed impartial perspective, we spoke to premarital and dating coach Geetarsh Kaur, founder of The Skill School, to understand how emotional manipulation works and what are the red flags one must not ignore.

What Is Manipulation In Relationships

Manipulation in a relationship is a self-serving tactic meant to gain control over one’s partner. A manipulative partner behaves in this way to get what they want, both in situations of crisis and otherwise. Such a person may show signs of being controlling and manipulative. For instance, signs he’s manipulative can range from gaslighting to blackmailing, passive-aggression, lying, etc. Dating a manipulative man is a clear indication that your relationship is doomed and is going to have adverse effects on your mental health.

A healthy relationship revolves around mutual love, understanding, trust and respect. It is a two-way street. But, unfortunately, people tend to exploit and take advantage of these emotions for their benefit. Both men and women can be manipulative in a relationship. Our focus is on the former.

Geetarsh says, “A manipulative guy tries to seize control and power over his partner through mind games. The fact that you, at some point, look at him for validation gives him that feeling of power and control. He will make you feel important at one moment and then suddenly disappear when you need him the most. An emotionally manipulative partner will play the nice guy as long as it benefits him.”

There is nothing wrong with expecting and asking your partner to do things for you, but the approach of a manipulative partner would be different. While a healthy approach would include asking your partner directly for what you want, if your boyfriend does so without putting himself in a vulnerable spot, showing he needs your help, it is clear he is emotionally manipulative.

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Is Your Boyfriend Manipulating You? 15 Signs He Is

Emotional manipulation can be tough to identify, especially when you’re at the receiving end of it because manipulators use subtle tactics to influence you. They take advantage of your emotions, use them to fulfill their motives, and then blame you for encouraging such behavior.

Geetarsh says, “When someone enters a relationship, everything appears to be sweet and hunky-dory. When people fall in love, they tend to love the person more than their behavior, which is why they fail to notice the red flags initially.” But the signs are always there and people usually tend to realize it when the damage has already been done.

If you are at a point where you’re being forced to think, “Is my boyfriend manipulative?”, it’s time to open your eyes to the red flags staring at you in the face. Refer to these signs of a manipulative man that’ll help you decide whether or not you need to walk away from the relationship:

1. He gaslights you constantly

One of the signs of a controlling manipulative boyfriend is gaslighting. If you notice that your boyfriend is trying to alter facts to gain sympathy or get away with something wrong that he has done, know that he’s gaslighting you. He’s basically trying to make you doubt your version of reality so that he comes across as more vulnerable.

If you second-guess yourself and begin to believe that it’s all in your head, then you are dating a manipulative man, who doesn’t let go of any chance to control you, get away with his mistake and blame you for the conflict. It’s one of those manipulative guy signs that you must not ignore.

2. A manipulative boyfriend will not care about your problems

This is one of the most common signs of a manipulative man. Observe how much attention he pays to your problems and emotions. A manipulator tends to make everything about himself and does not really care about his partner’s woes. He will invalidate your troubles and, instead, start talking about his own.

If you’ve had a bad day, he will not bother having a conversation about it or make any effort to help you feel better. Instead, a manipulating guy will make excuses or bring up his own issues so you are forced to focus your mental and emotional energy on him rather than yourself. Narcissistic tendencies and self serving behavior displayed by the manipulative partner are clear signs of emotional manipulation in relationships.

3. He is a great charmer

A charming boyfriend is a good thing but if he is trying to work his charm on you only as part of damage control, you should probably reconsider if you want to stay in the relationship. It is one of the warning signs of a manipulative boyfriend, and unfortunately, also one that most people fail to notice.

Geetarsh says, “An emotionally manipulative boyfriend will be extra nice and caring when he wants something from you. There will be some amazing compliments coming your way, a few extra phone calls maybe as well as a promise to always be there for you. He will indulge in romantic manipulation to fulfill his needs. But, as soon as he gets what he wants, things go back to square one.”

If you find it difficult to recognize signs he is manipulative and is trying to charm you to get his way, observe how your boyfriend’s behavior makes you feel instinctively. If it feels odd in your gut, you feel your feelings were dismissed, or that you were distracted from your line of thought without your control, clearly, he is emotionally manipulative.

4. You are blamed for everything that goes wrong

One of the most common signs of a manipulative man is that he’ll blame you for everything that goes wrong in his life, whether it’s a random fight or a failed initiative. Manipulators never accept their mistakes. They have a way with words and they use them to make you feel guilty for no fault of yours. The result is you end up apologizing for mistakes you didn’t even make.

While narrating an incident, my friend, who recently got out of a toxic relationship with a manipulative guy, said, “My ex-boyfriend decided to start a project of his own and did all the prep for it. But when the trial of the project didn’t go as planned, he got depressed and dropped the idea. He, then, blamed me for all of it saying that the initiative failed because I fought with him that evening due to which he lost all motivation and passion to continue.”

It is easy to recognize such signs of emotional manipulation in relationships if you look back at all the times when you were made to believe something that you initially didn’t believe in and tracing back how you reached your current belief from your initial one. This is because this shift was not a conscious process but a result of manipulation.

Related Reading: 5 Signs Of Emotional Abuse You Should Watch Out For

5. Manipulators tend to over-dramatize everything

Another manipulative guy sign is making dramatic statements every time he sees himself losing an argument or if things don’t go his way. Signs of a manipulative man include trying distract you from the issue at hand by hitting at your weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

Ever noticed your boyfriend making statements like “I will not eat until you don’t talk to me” or “I expected you to understand”? Does he excuse himself from an argument by saying that he is sick or a major problem has come up and that he needs your support? Well, sorry to break it to you but that’s a manipulation tactic.

Manipulators also resort to this kind of emotional blackmail when you’re angry with them. If he doesn’t give you the space to be upset and put your point forward, if he overshadows your feelings by making his concern bigger than yours, these are signs he is manipulative. He will hit you exactly where it hurts, forcing you to talk to him and give him attention.

6. He forces his choices and decisions on you

One of the signs of a manipulative man is that he will force his choices on you for his convenience. Right from the choice of food and films to favorite date night and hangout spots, he will make decisions unilaterally, according to his preference. Your choices will not matter to him.

My friend and I recently attended a wedding. While we were getting ready for one of the functions, her boyfriend kept fighting with her and blaming her for not choosing to don the hairstyle that he had suggested for the occasion.

“He completely ignored the fact that it was my right to decide my look for the occasion. I appreciate the gesture and it wasn’t like I didn’t want to don the hairdo that he wanted me to. But the circumstances were such that I could not. I explained the whole situation to him and apologized also but got blamed for being selfish in the relationship, ruining everything and not being appreciative of his effort and emotions,” says my friend.

Think about the kind of places you go to, the restaurants or cafes you eat at, the kind of clothes you wear, or the people you meet. If you find them to be more in tandem with your partner’s choice rather than yours, know that you are being manipulated. If you feel shocked realizing that you don’t even know when or why you stopped wearing what you want to or do what you like and became someone else entirely, treat these as urgent signs of a manipulative man.

types of manipulative relationships

7. He seeks financial control too

Ever notice your partner asking for details of your expenses or wanting you to splurge on him every single time you guys go out? Take that as a sure-shot sign of a controlling, manipulative boyfriend. A manipulative partner will want to control every financial decision you make. He will want to know where and why you spend your money and also get angry if you happen to do it without his knowledge.

He may, himself, never pay the bills citing financial stress but will want to know where your money is going. Signs of even more intense toxic behavior include financially victimizing their partners by controlling their ability to earn money and use or retain it. Does your boyfriend dissuade you from working? Does he have an aggressive opinion of where, how, and how much you earn? These are signs he’s manipulative.

8. He always wants you to prove your love to him

Always watch out for men who make you do this. Is your boyfriend giving you frequent ultimatums to get his way? If your boyfriend is constantly making statements like “If you really love me, have sex with me” or “If you love me, you’ll give up that job” – or even beginning a sentence with “If you love me” – know that it’s a manipulation tactic.

He is probably using it to make you do something you don’t want to. If you refuse to do it, he can use it to send you on a guilt trip and accuse you of not loving him enough. The truth is if your partner loved you, he would happily allow you enough agency and independence to make your own decisions without frequently trying to show disappointment when you don’t. These are signs of a manipulative man and this behavior creates a lack of emotional safety and trust in your relationship.

9. They always play victim

Wondering how to find out if your boyfriend is manipulative? Observe if he always plays victim after a fight. It’s one of the most obvious signs of a manipulative boyfriend. It doesn’t matter whose fault it was. It’ll always be your boyfriend saying things like “I can’t believe you did this” or “how could you be so insensitive” or coming up with another sob story that portrays him as the victim and you as the culprit.

Citing another incident, my friend says, “I made plans to meet a male friend of mine whom my ex-boyfriend didn’t know. He got so paranoid and jealous that he taunted me for wearing a dress to meet my friend. He began to play the victim by saying how I knew about his trust issues and that he had been cheated on in his previous relationship but still went ahead and met a guy without informing him.”

Related Reading: Manipulation In Relationships – 11 Subtle Signs You Are A Victim

10. Signs of a manipulative boyfriend – He is always critical of you

Another sign of an emotionally manipulative partner is that he will always criticize you and make you feel small. He’ll make you feel like you were living your life the wrong way until he arrived. There are a few ways this works. One is the “just joking” attitude where manipulators say hurtful things but if you get upset, it’s obviously your fault because they were just kidding. You’ll be blamed for not being a sport even if they cracked the cruelest and most insensitive joke.

Or they could wrap up their criticism in sarcasm. Their statements will hit your confidence and self-respect but they’ll get away with it saying that it was “just a joke”. Another way is ridiculing you in public and then blaming you for playing spoilsport and making a scene if you defend yourself. A boyfriend who doesn’t respect you and is overly critical of everything you do is controlling and manipulative.

11. He’ll give you the dreaded silent treatment

Another sure-shot sign of a manipulative boyfriend is that he starts giving you the silent treatment after a fight or argument. This is the manipulator’s way of gaining control over your emotions and making you feel guilty and responsible for a mistake you didn’t make. He will stop responding to your calls or replying to your messages. He will basically snap all modes of communication.

Your boyfriend knows that this behavior will upset you and you will eventually try to get in touch with him and apologize just to end the fight even if you are not at fault. This way, he won’t have to take responsibility for his actions and can control you as per his wishes.

12. Your relationship with family and friends is getting affected

Another one of the major signs of a manipulative boyfriend is that he tries to control and dictate the terms of all the other important relationships you have in your life – family, friends, colleagues, etc. Geetarsh says, “An emotionally manipulative partner will try to control the reins of all your relationships. He will try to tweak your mindset and cut you off from your friends. He can also go to the extent of convincing you to sever ties with your immediate family.”

If you notice that your boyfriend is trying to keep you away from people you are close to or is always trying to dictate who you should hang out with, it’s a red flag. Try to speak to your partner about it and see if he can offer a satisfactory explanation for his behavior. If not, he is showing signs of a manipulative man and it would be better if you were to rethink your relationship with him.

Related Reading: 10 Effective Ways To Handle Silent Treatment

13. The passive-aggressive attitude

A manipulative partner tends to become passive-aggressive when he wants to avoid confrontation. He’ll do stuff that annoys you or make some rude and insensitive statement to hurt you or show his anger toward you. To sum it up, your boyfriend probably knows how and when to control his emotions so that he can seize power over yours.

Does your boyfriend try to communicate with you or find out where you are or what you’re doing through common friends or colleagues? Does he offer back-handed compliments? If the answer is yes, that should be seen as signs of a manipulative man and should be a cause for concern.

Signs of a manipulative man
A manipulative partner will get angry if you question him or voice your concerns

14. They make you feel guilty about questioning their behavior

“When a person falls in love, they become blind to the behavioral patterns of their partners, which is why they don’t recognize the need to address them either. It is only later in the relationship that these patterns come across as problematic,” says Geetarsh.

A manipulative partner will get angry if you question him or voice your concerns. He will get into an argument and then blame you for his outbursts. Geetarsh adds, “Communication is key but if the boyfriend is aggressive, the girl will be forced to think twice before raising questions or expressing her concerns fearing further negative treatment and neglect.”

15. He exercises control through fear

This is a red flag for sure. If your boyfriend manipulates you into doing something by threatening you, leave immediately. No one deserves to be threatened into silence or manipulated.

Instilling fear is a tactic manipulators use to control their partners. If they know a secret about you, they’ll threaten to tell the whole world if you don’t comply with their wishes. They’ll promise to fulfill your wishes only if you fulfill theirs. If you don’t, manipulators will threaten you and use fear to control your emotions. They can also go to the extent of threatening you with violence.

Key Pointers

  • Manipulation in a relationship is a self-serving tactic meant to gain control over the partner. A manipulative partner behaves in this way to get what they want, both in situations of crisis and otherwise
  • Some of these signs he’s manipulative include gaslighting, blackmailing, over-dramatizing everything, forcing their choices, financial victimization, passive-aggression, lying, etc
  • Emotional manipulation can be tough to identify, especially when you’re at the receiving end of it because manipulators use subtle tactics to influence you
  • When people fall in love, they tend to love the person more than their behavior, which is why they fail to notice the red flags initially but with the right support you can get out of a toxic relationship

To reiterate, it is not your fault. You don’t deserve to be manipulated. Know that it is possible to identify a manipulative partner and walk away from the relationship with your sanity and self-respect intact and head held high.

Geetarsh concludes, “It is important that you know what you want out of a relationship and how open your partner is to listening to and understanding you. Certain boundaries should not be crossed. If that happens, it’s your cue to walk away. Staying in a toxic relationship is never a healthy option.”

If you feel like you’re stuck in an emotionally manipulative relationship but aren’t able to get out of it, consider seeking help. Skilled counselors on Bonobology’s panel can offer you the right guidance and help to navigate this tumultuous situation and find a way out.


1. How do manipulators control their partners?

Manipulators control their partners through the deep connection they have forged with them. Manipulators also rely on the empathetic and kind nature of the victimized partner. If the victimized partner stopped caring about the manipulative partner it would become difficult for the manipulator to blackmail them and get their way.

2. Do emotional manipulators know what they are doing?

Some manipulators do while some don’t. There is a lot of scope for gray area in this matter. It is possible for a manipulator to indulge in manipulative behavior unconsciously, sometimes as a force of habit and sometimes as a result of their own mental and emotional issues.

3. Do manipulators feel love?

Manipulators may feel love but love is not a constant emotion anyway. They may believe and say they love their partner but they will resort to manipulative tactics whenever there is a need to. They may even convince themselves that whatever they want is best for their partner too to justify their behavior.

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