The worst part of manipulation in relationships is that, quite often, you don’t even notice it's happening.
Manipulative people twist your thoughts, actions, wants, and desires into something that better suits how they see the world, and they mold you into someone that serves their own purposes. They seem to come with their own hidden terms of service and devastating agenda.
That may sound scary, but it doesn't have to be — if you know what to look for.
While both men and women can be manipulative, they tend to do so in somewhat different ways, and if you think your boyfriend or husband may be manipulating you, you'll want to know what those ways are.
10 signs of a manipulative man
1. He makes you feel guilty — for everything.
Manipulation always starts with guilt. If he can convince you to feel guilty for your actions (even when you've done nothing wrong), then he knows you'll be more willing to do what he says. It affects your mental health and wears you down.
Examples of guilt as emotional manipulation:
“I mean sure, I guess dinner was OK. It wasn't what I was hoping for, and I would have rather done something different, but I guess as long as you’re happy, that’s all that matters.”
See what he did there? How he turned that around you? On the surface, he makes it seem like he's a loving boyfriend, but spoiler alert: guilt trips aren't love.
Manipulators also try and make you believe that they're doing a better job of “loving you” so that you'll be more willing to set aside what you want — and even other people in your life, like family members — in order to feel like you “love him just as much.” It's a sick mind game that leaves you feeling depressed and isolated.
2. He forces his insecurities on you.
Manipulators will often force their own insecurities on you in an effort to control how you react toward them, all while pretending they're trying to have a healthy relationship.
Examples of using insecurities as emotional manipulation:
“I’ve been cheated on before and that’s why I don’t want you to have any male friends. You can understand that, right?”
Yes, of course, you can understand that (and you should be conscious of his insecurities), but his struggles should not define the functionality of your relationship.
"I'm sorry I acted that way, but I'm just so scared you'll leave me!" is an excuse that's often used by manipulators when you point out flaws in his actions. The sheer purpose of that excuse is to take the focus off of your worries and suck you back into this.
There's a fine line between showing consideration for his feelings and being manipulated into feeling what he wants you to feel. Consideration is shown with love while manipulation is ruled by guilt.
3. He makes you doubt yourself.
Want to know why it's so easy for him to be manipulated? Because he's gaslit you to the point where you no longer trust yourself. Manipulators take your insecurities and use them against you.
Examples of embedding self-doubt as emotional manipulation:
They consistently point out what you're doing “wrong” and how they could have done it better.
They point out your weaknesses, then show you that, with their help, you can do better, be better. They slowly convince you they have your best interests in mind, but they don’t. They have their best interests in mind.
And in order to keep their wants and needs at the forefront of your relationship, they gently twist your thinking until you look to him for guidance on everything. Once that happens, manipulators can make you basically do whatever they want you to because you now trust them more than you trust yourself.
4. He makes you responsible for his emotions.
Manipulators are ironic in the sense that they spend quite a bit of time making you feel as if you can’t think for yourself, but then turn around and make you responsible for all of their emotions.
Examples of making you responsible for your partner's feelings as emotional manipulation:
If they feel sad, it’s probably because you made them feel that way. If they're angry, well, you had better check yourself because you obviously did something wrong.
For as much as they take away from you and for as much as they make you believe that you're totally incapable of controlling your own life, they expect you to be responsible for how they feel.
5. He makes you believe you want what he wants.
We all start out relationships with requirements and deal-breakers — it’s natural. As you start to blend two lives, compromises are made.
What's not normal is when you have to completely set aside what you want and need in an effort to appease your partner.
Example of making you believe you want what they want as emotional manipulation:
You have always wanted to get married and raise children. You still want that in fact, more than ever. But your partner talks about how wonderful it is that you both agree marriage is outdated and that children only sap and energy so often, convincingly and publicly you start to wonder what it is you have and haven't said you wanted.
6. He shares deep, personal issues when it's not appropriate.
You've only known this person for a few weeks or months, and you don't know their favorite color yet, but they've told you an alarming amount of personal information. This will probably include moments in their lives when they felt emotionally vulnerable, so they can play the victim and make you feel bad for them.
While this seems that someone is being honest with you, this is just one of their manipulative tactics to make you feel like you need to share your secrets and vulnerabilities as well. They'll end up using this information against you later on.
Example of inappropriate sharing as emotional manipulation:
Your partner reveals an emotional issue in his childhood, prompting you to reveal that you understand because you had a verbally abusive parent. Then one day, you reply to something he says, and it suddenly turns into you being verbally abusive, just like your parent.
You end up apologizing and wondering what happened, or if there's any merit to his accusations.
7. He minimizes his role in conflicts.
A common way to play with people's emotions is to never fully give the facts, but to manipulate them to fit the scenario for the abuser.
Example of minimizing responsibility as emotional manipulation:
Your partner may tell you he complimented a woman at work, but she blew up at him "for no reason." He will neglect to add that the co-worker has been revealing how self-conscious she is about recent weight gain, and he told her she "still looks nice despite how much weight she's put on." He will blame women for not being able to "take a compliment" in the workplace anymore.
Without the facts, it will sound like your partner tried to do a nice thing and was rewarded with a screaming feminist rant.
8. He uses the silent treatment when you don't do what he wants.
One of the biggest signs of emotional manipulation is when your partner, an adult human being, chooses to shut you out instead of resolving a conflict. This kind of passive aggression may not appear to be abusive behavior, but it is.
Example of the silent treatment as emotional manipulation:
You had a rough day, traffic was awful, and you get home only to realize you forgot to pick up your spouse's dry cleaning on your way back. When you reveal this to him, he accuses you of not caring about his needs, and goes into a rant about how you "always do this."
Then, when you're trying to explain and offering to pick it up tomorrow, he walks away, leaving you to chase after him. He doesn't talk to you for hours, days, or even weeks.
Apart from the fact that "stonewalling," e.g. shutting someone out, is considered one of the four signs of a doomed relationship, studies show that the silent treatment can be emotionally and mentally scarring and is considered a form of psychological abuse.
9. If you voice concerns, he makes you the 'bad guy.'
You ask your husband to investigate a strange noise in your car, and when he doesn't seem to have an answer, you suggest taking it into a shop, or asking his mechanic friend to look at it instead. An emotionally abusive person will try and turn it around on you.
Example of making you the bad guy as emotional manipulation:
He accuses you of not trusting him, or thinking he's stupid, or even having feelings for his mechanic friend. All you want to do is make sure your car doesn't break down, but his aggressive response is designed to throw you off guard so he can make you feel guilty for having voiced your concern in the first place.
Manipulative people are never content to let you think you're as smart or capable as they are.
10. He never apologizes because he was "just playing."
A manipulative person will not spend the time acknowledging your needs and wants are important, or feel responsible when they've upset you. They'll never apologize because, in their mind, it's not their "fault."
Example of not apologizing as emotional manipulation:
You're laughing with a group of friends when your partner suddenly brings up a situation involving you, putting you on the spot and embarrassing you. You're immediately upset and offended, but you laugh it off as though it didn't really bother you.
Maybe you end up staying up late working on a huge project for work. The next day, he exclaims over the dark circles under your eyes, and keeps saying how he's glad he got his beauty sleep... You should really think about doing the same, because you look horrible!
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When you ask your partner why he said those things and let him know it hurt your feelings, he tells you to relax because he was "just joking." He's not being rude! You're being too sensitive!
If you start to realize your partner’s needs are being met far more often than yours are, or that you're constantly feeling guilty and bad about everything you do, you might be in an abusive relationship.
Are you giving into what he wants out of feelings of guilt, or because he has made you feel responsible for the way he feels? Have you given up what you want because he's made you believe that you should want something else?
If you have answered “yes” to any of those questions, you might want to reconsider your role with this person.
Emotional manipulation is a major abuse that many people don't realize they're caught in until it's too late, and may argue that they're not "really" being abused because their partner never physically hurt them. But this is not the case. If you find yourself in this type of relationship, you need to leave.
If you’re experiencing domestic abuse, you’re not alone.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) reports that approximately 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the U.S. More than 12 million women and men over the course of the year suffer from instances of domestic violence and physical and emotional abuse.
Experiencing domestic abuse can happen to anyone and is not a reflection of who you are.
The NDVH defines domestic violence, domestic abuse, or relationship abuse as a “pattern of behaviors use by one partner to maintain power and control over another person in an intimate relationship.” Anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender can suffer from domestic abuse.
Also according to the NDVH, close to 3 in 10 women and 1 in 10 men in the U.S. have experienced rape, physical violence, and or stalking by a partner.
If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic abuse or violence, there are resources to get help.
There are ways to go about asking for help as safely as possible. For more information, resources, legal advice, and relevant links visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline. For anyone struggling from domestic abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). If you’re unable to speak safely, text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474 or log onto thehotline.org.
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Eden Strong is a regular contributor to a variety of digital outlets, including Lifetime Moms, XOJane, Scary Mommy, Catster, and Dogster.