Manipulation can be defined as an attempt to influence a person’s emotions or thought process with a motive to get them to act in a specific way or elicit a desired reaction from them. In the context of relationships, romantic manipulation is when one partner uses these tactics to establish a stronghold over the other.
It can be argued that everyone manipulates others in some form or the other, from time to time. Even socially acceptable niceties such as smiling or making eye contact during conversation can be dubbed as a form of manipulation. True as that may be, not all forms of manipulation are created equal.
Besides harming healthy dynamics in an intimate relationship, manipulation leaves the victim feeling confused, frustrated and powerless. It takes a toll on your happiness and makes forming a healthy relationship impossible because the couple’s entire dynamic is centered on deceit.
Those who resort to romantic manipulation perceive their partners to be less dependable and report having less faith in them. This results in controlling behavior and emotional abuse.
People who are deliberately manipulative also display high levels of cynicism and struggle with trust issues in relationships. Machiavellian individuals not only perceive their partners in a negative light but also seek symbiotic closeness to be able to exploit them to serve their own needs.
Here are ten things to look out for;
1. Your partner gives you guilt trips
Your partner finds a way of making you feel guilty about the smallest of things. Let’s say you spent the entire Saturday morning preparing your favorite meal. Then, they respond with, “The food is nice but it could have been better if you had followed my mother’s recipe to the T. Anyway, it doesn’t matter because I love you.”
Your partner has put in you a spot and immediately absolved themselves of any culpability for it by cushioning that criticism with an ‘I love you. However, that doesn’t change the impact of their reaction on you. You feel guilty for not living up to their expectations and are filled with a sense of inadequacy.
2. Isolating you from friends and family
You made plans to hang out with your friends but they pull a face, saying they were hoping to spend the evening with you. Your mother has invited you over for dinner and your partner conveniently forgets about it and makes a dinner reservation that clashes with your plans with the family. If you are on the phone with a friend, they gesture to you to hang up quickly because they want to hang out with you.
A manipulator may pass these troubling behaviors as their desire to have you all to themselves all because they love you so much when in fact their ulterior motive is to slowly but surely isolate you from the people in your life.
3. They decide what you should or shouldn’t do
A manipulator may have a dominating personality that drives in them a strong desire to make you do things the way they want them done. Sasha’s boyfriend had a habit of always picking out her clothes whenever they had plans to go out together.
He’d browse through her wardrobe and neatly lay out the dress, shoes and even the accessories he wanted her to wear. At first, Sasha found it endearing. It was only when she began voicing her opinion in case she wanted to wear something different than the element of romantic manipulation became apparent.
Her boyfriend would either sulk or throw a hissy fit if she failed to comply. He’d invariably cancel the plan, and a fight would ensue, which made Sasha feel more and more suffocated in the relationship.
4. Playing the victim
Emotional manipulation in marriage or long-term relationships can be confusing because the manipulator often displays contradictory behavior. On the one hand, they could be dominating and controlling, and on the other, they might play the victim to perfection.
If you say no or refuse to indulge their whims and fancies, a manipulative partner may instantly switch to the victim mode. “Why can’t I ever do anything right?” “I’m such a failure, I always disappoint you.” “I can never be good enough for you. I’m sorry.”
Chances are, this display of self-pity melts your heart and you give in to whatever it was that they wanted you to do in the first place. That’s why playing the victim is also a form of romantic manipulation.
5. Exploit your weaknesses
We all have our share of weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and when we share an intimate connection with someone, we share these not-so-pleasant sides of personality with them. This is an organic process of letting that special someone into your life, wholeheartedly, and allowing them to see you for who you are. In a healthy relationship, partners don’t use these weaknesses and vulnerabilities against each other. On other hand, emotional manipulation in romantic relationships thrives on exploiting these weak points.
For instance, if you get emotional and break down during a fight, they may wash their hands off getting you to that point by saying something like, “Oh, there comes the waterworks. Isn’t this what you always do? Cry like a baby the minute things don’t go your way.”
6. Constant blame is a sign of romantic manipulation
No matter what the situation, somehow you’re the one who gets blamed for it. You plan a nice date for you and your significant other. They sit there with a long face, eating their meal in silence or constantly complaining about everything until it leads to a full-blown argument.
When you point it out to them, they turn it around on you by saying that the date turned out to be such a disaster because you picked the one restaurant that they absolutely abhor.
This constant blame-shitting, even on the most trivial matters, may seem inconsequential at first but it can cause serious damage to your psyche and sense of self when this pattern is repeated relentlessly.
7. The silent treatment is a form of emotional manipulation
If you’re wondering whether you’re dealing with emotional manipulation in marriage or a relationship, pay attention to how your partner reacts to fights, arguments or a mere difference of opinion. Do they stop talking to you and give you the silent treatment for prolonged periods whenever you resist doing things their way?
Does this spell of silent treatment end only when you reach out to break the ice and invariably give in to their demands? Make no mistake that silent treatment is a form of emotional abuse and amounts to a toxic relationship dynamic.
8. You experience constant emotional hurt
Do emotional manipulators have feelings for you? This question can weigh on your mind a lot if you see classic signs of romantic manipulation in your relationship. The answer is no, here’s why: romantic manipulation can leave you emotionally hurting.
Many people don’t see it as being as problematic as physical hurt caused due to domestic abuse or violence, but it’s no different really. The intention behind causing emotional hurt is the same as inflicting physical harm on someone – to exercise control and seek submission. How can someone who willfully hurts you possibly love you? They – and you – may confuse their emotions for love, but they’re far from it.
9. Your needs are unmet
Romantic manipulation requires you to be okay with your needs – emotional, physical or practical – not being met in the relationship. Of course, your partner won’t say it in as many words but the entire relationship dynamic sends out that message loud and clear.
Different rules apply to you and your partner. While they can do whatever they please, you are expected to do only what they allow you to. For instance, their weekly ritual of hanging out with their friends may be sacrosanct but you’re expected to run your plans by them every single time.
More often than not, they may ask you – either directly or subtly – to cancel, expecting you to comply. When you do, you’re sending out a message, not just to them but also yourself, that your needs come second and it’s okay if they’re not met.
10. Physical intimacy is volatile
The importance and dynamics of sex in a relationship cannot be stressed enough. However, these don’t thrive or operate in isolation and are often dependent on other forms of intimacy in the partnership. That’s why physical intimacy in your relationship may be volatile and erratic at best.
When you’re in the phase of being love-bombed, for instance, the sex may be great too. Then, when your partner withdraws, the physical intimacy may nosedive. They may also withhold intimacy as a form of punishment. Or engage with you sexually only when they desire it. All of this can add to your sense of confusion and frustration about the relationship.
If you identify with a majority of these signs of romantic manipulation, it’s imperative to set boundaries in your relationship and enforce them inflexibly. When your manipulative partner sees you push back, it might make them exhibit their insecurities or bring out their worst side. Either way, you will be able to see their true colors. That will enable you to decide your course of action for dealing with romantic manipulation more effectively.
You can try to get through to your partner, make them see the problem and work toward a solution for breaking these unhealthy patterns. If they’re not forthcoming, walk away and save yourself from emotional damage.