When you’re with someone you genuinely love, it can be really difficult to admit it if things have gone south. It’s even harder to acknowledge if your S.O. is a manipulative person who is mistreating you, especially if you’ve been together for a long while and everything was all puppies and rainbows at first. As difficult as it may be, recognizing manipulation in a relationship as soon as possible is crucial because, if it goes unnoticed, it often leads to abuse, whether emotional or physical.
Here’s how Psychology Today defines manipulation: “the exercise of undue influence through mental distortion and emotional exploitation, with the intention to seize power, control, benefits, and privileges at the victim’s expense.” Sounds too frightening to be true, but it happens in relationships a lot more often than you think, and in ways that are subtle and thus tough to pinpoint. Manipulative partners manage to disguise their need to control you in shades of deep love and affection. It can be very confusing, but once you take a step back and have an honest look at what’s happening, it’s not hard to see their true colors.
I was stuck in a toxic relationship when I was 19, with a guy who was a couple years older than me. He treated me like a queen half the time, but the other half I was no better than a speck of dirt. All the jerking around and being pulled back and forth really threw my head for a spin. It was a time in my life that I still, to this day, look back with a pain in my chest. It was terrible at the time, but I truly did learn a lot about my self-worth and how a boyfriend should treat me. And I’m here to tell you: Don’t ever waste your time with a partner who tries to exert power over you and your life. No matter how much you love them.
Here are eight signs you’re with someone who is manipulative.
1. They always want to know what you’re doing and who you’re seeing.
It may be sweet at first if your partner texts you to check in to see how you’re doing or what you’re doing, but that can cross the line pretty easily. The second it starts to feel like they’re controlling you is when you have a problem. Each person in the relationship deserves a good deal of independence, free of their partner’s watching eye hovering over them. If your S.O. is too nosy, they may be trying to control everything you do, which is a shade of trying to manipulate you. In my past relationship, when I didn’t answer his incessant calls and text, he would actually come looking for me. No, no, no.
2. You find yourself apologizing a lot to them for things you didn’t really think you did wrong.
Say you’ve done something to upset your partner, yet you didn’t think it was anything harmful at all, such as forgetting to call them after you got off work before you went out to meet your friends. But they get upset and you have a fight. Things get heated, you exchange a few words, and at the end of it you realize that you’re the one who has apologized and asked for forgiveness — and you have no idea how it even ended up that way. They do this because they want everything to be focused on them and their feelings. That’s not okay — in a relationship, feelings on BOTH sides needs to be respected.
3. You feel like they’re constantly judging you.
A manipulative individual is a champion at cutting down a person’s self-esteem, in whatever way they can manage. It could be with snide comments here and there about your day-to-day habits. It could be with dirty looks when you act goofy with your friends in public. No matter what it is, if you’re being judged all the time by the very person who should be encouraging you to be yourself, don’t put up with it.
4. They say they forgive you but they don’t ever let you forget what you’ve done.
Every couple fights. Everyone does things to upset their partner every now and again that warrant an apology. However, it’s not a healthy thing if your partner accepts your apology and then holds the situation over your head like blackmail. Manipulative folks tend to forgive people for their wrongdoings, which paints them as this very accepting, understanding figure, only to bring up the transgression over and over again in the future as a way to have power over the other person. Not cool. If you genuinely apologize for something, your partner should take it and move on.
5. You feel like you have to change parts of your personality to fit their moods.
Ah, the mood swings of a manipulative person. I know them all too well. My ex-boyfriend was so unpredictable that it drove me mad. Every time he changed his attitude I felt like I had to adapt, and it was exhausting. Manipulative people want everything done on their time. Plus, they manage to make people close to them feel like they can’t be themselves. Take it as a serious red flag if your partner is sweet and affectionate to you the next, but cold the next, leaving you feeling like you have to tone down parts of your personality when they’re not in high spirits.
6. They know your weaknesses and use them against you.
This is textbook manipulative S.O. behavior. They’ll get close to you and claim they want to know everything about you. But when they learn both your strengths and weaknesses, they choose to use the latter against you. My ex knew how much I hated a public scene, so when he was mad at me he would talk at me really loudly in front of friends or acquaintances, which would immediately embarrass me, and make me want to leave and go home. He would then follow me and proceed to pick a fight when we were alone. It was just a ploy to get exactly what he wanted.
7. You’ve given up on things in your life (things that you love) because they want you to.
You and your S.O. should be each other’s biggest support system, which means they should encourage you to do whatever you want to do with your life. Passive aggressive, manipulative partners rarely nurture their significant others to flourish, though. My ex used to make me feel silly for wanting to take dance classes. He thought I didn’t have the right body type for the dance I wanted to do, and I eventually stopped going to classes because he convinced me over time that I just wasn’t good enough. It was just another way for him to try to control what I do with my life.
8. They say you’re a “good girlfriend/boyfriend” if you do a list of certain things.
Let’s get something straight. You are a “good girlfriend/boyfriend” already just being who you are. There shouldn’t be any requirements for you to meet in order for your partner to love you. You’ll never be perfect, so if there is something you’re doing that is hurting or bothering your partner, they should talk about it with you maturely, rather than make you feel guilty for not being a certain kind of GF/BF. In fact, if you find yourself feeling guilty more often than you think is normal, take it as a serious warning sign.