9 signs your partner is more manipulative than you realize

by Isabel Cabrera | June 18, 2024, 10:21 pm

Have you ever experienced that unsettling feeling of walking on eggshells around your significant other, uncertain whether your actions might trigger an unexpected outburst or an emotional storm? 

This experience can be profoundly distressing, and it often points to a deeper issue within the relationship — manipulation.

Manipulation can be a subtle and insidious presence in relationships, silently eroding your self-esteem and chipping away at your autonomy. 

It’s super important to recognize the signs of manipulation to protect your emotional well-being and maintain a healthy, balanced partnership.

In this article, we will delve into nine prevalent signs that may indicate your significant other is employing manipulative tactics. 

By shedding light on these everyday behaviors and actions, we aim to empower you to identify manipulation early and take steps to protect your emotional health. 

Understanding these signs is the first step toward fostering a more respectful and equitable connection with your partner.

1) Their love is conditional

Unconditional love is the cornerstone of a healthy relationship. 

It’s the warm embrace that assures you that you’re cherished for who you are, flaws and all. 

However, manipulative partners often offer a twisted version of love, one that’s tightly bound to conditions and expectations.

I had a friend who realized this when their partner started using his affection as a reward mechanism. 

He’d be loving and attentive when she met his demands, but if she didn’t conform to his expectations, his affection waned. 

This made her feel like she was on a never-ending quest for his love and approval.

When love comes with strings attached, it can be a red flag. A manipulative partner may employ this tactic to keep you under their thumb, making you feel that you must constantly strive to earn their affection.

2) They create ways to ensure you’re dependent on them

Independence is a crucial aspect of a balanced relationship. 

Healthy couples support each other’s personal growth and individual goals. 

However, manipulative partners often undermine your independence in subtle ways.

I once had a partner that frequently discouraged me from pursuing my career goals and urged me to rely on him for financial support. 

This financial control was part of his plan to make me more dependent on him, leaving me with fewer options and diminishing my self-esteem.

Manipulative individuals may use various strategies to keep you close, from isolating you from friends and family to pressuring you into quitting your job. 

This dependency makes it easier for them to exert control over your life.

3) They control your access to money

This brings me to my next point. Financial autonomy is vital for personal freedom and self-esteem. 

Manipulative partners, however, may attempt to control your access to money as a means of maintaining power in the relationship.

In my own case, my ex insisted on managing all our finances, claiming he was better with money. 

This left me with little insight or control over our joint assets. It wasn’t about fiscal responsibility — it was about domination.

When someone takes control of your finances, it can be a subtle way of asserting dominance

It leaves you financially vulnerable and reliant on your partner, making it challenging to make choices for yourself or leave an unhealthy relationship.

4) They often dish out backhanded compliments

Compliments are a way to express appreciation and admiration for your partner.

However, manipulative individuals can distort this act of kindness by frequently delivering backhanded compliments.

This might sound like: “You’re so pretty, but you’d be even more attractive if you lost some weight.” 

Backhanded compliments can be a manipulative tactic aimed at keeping you in a perpetual state of self-doubt.

They may seem like compliments on the surface, but they contain subtle digs that undermine your self-worth.

5) They withhold affection

In a healthy relationship, affection flows freely. It’s a way to express love, care, and emotional connection.

However, manipulative partners may use affection as a tool to reward or punish you.

Withholding affection can be a subtle form of emotional manipulation. 

It keeps you yearning for their love and approval, making it easier for them to influence your decisions and behavior.

6) They tend to play the victim

Playing the victim is a classic manipulative tactic that can make you feel guilty and responsible for your partner’s emotional state.

My ex was a master at this. Whenever I confronted him about his controlling behavior, he’d flip the script and make himself the injured party. 

He’d say things like, “You’re making me feel like a terrible person,” deflecting blame onto me.

Manipulative individuals often use this tactic to escape accountability for their actions and manipulate your emotions.

They paint themselves as the victim, leaving you questioning your own judgment and feeling guilty for addressing the issues in the relationship.

7) They constantly criticize you

Constructive criticism can be beneficial in a relationship, helping both partners grow and improve. 

However, manipulative individuals take criticism to a whole new level by offering relentless and often unjustified critiques.

Constant criticism is a manipulative tactic aimed at chipping away at your self-esteem.

It can make you doubt your abilities and value, ultimately giving your partner more control over your self-worth.

8) They aren’t cool with you spending time with family or friends

A healthy relationship should accommodate the need for personal space and maintaining connections with family and friends.

Manipulative partners, however, often attempt to isolate you by discouraging or forbidding you from spending time with loved ones.

Isolating you from your support system is a classic manipulation technique.

It makes you more reliant on your partner and less likely to seek outside perspectives on your relationship, thereby ensuring their control remains unchallenged.

9) They often gaslight you

Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic that can leave you doubting your own reality.

It involves the deliberate distortion of facts and events, making you question your perception and memory.

With my ex, I experienced gaslighting more times than I could count. When I confronted him about his controlling behavior, he would deny it vehemently, insisting that I was overly sensitive or imagining things. 

He even went as far as to tell me that I was losing my grip on reality.

Gaslighting can be a particularly insidious form of manipulation because it messes with your sense of self and your ability to trust your instincts. 

Over time, it can erode your self-confidence and make you question your own judgment.

If your partner employs gaslighting as a means of control, it’s essential to recognize this tactic and seek support to regain clarity and confidence in your own perspective.

Trusting your instincts and having the freedom to express your concerns without fear of being manipulated is crucial for a healthy, balanced relationship.


To sum things up, recognizing manipulation in a relationship can be seriously tricky, especially when it often wears a mask of love and affection.

It’s vital to be aware of the signs and behaviors that might indicate your significant other is more manipulative than you think.

If your partner’s love is conditional, they create dependency, control your finances, give backhanded compliments, withhold affection, play the victim, constantly criticize you, or restrict your time with friends and family, it’s time to take a closer look at it.

Remember, a healthy relationship is one that is built on trust, respect, and unconditional love — these are non-negotiables. 

If you happen to suspect that manipulation is a factor in your relationship, don’t be afraid to seek guidance and support to help you make informed decisions about your future.

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