Psychological manipulation in relationships

In this article I will explain what is psychological manipulation, how psychological manipulators act in relationships and I will show you the 5 signs that will help you determine if  you are in an emotionally manipulative relationship. I will also teach you how to deal with psychological manipulators and how to avoid being emotionally manipulated.

The psychological manipulator aims to change the behavioural attitude or perception of another through mental distortion and emotional exploitation. They utilise human psychology to their advantage.

They twist your thoughts, actions and desires into something that suits their needs. The manipulator deliberately creates a power balance situation and uses that to exploit the victim for their own benefit.

Unconsciously, most people use manipulation to some extent. However, chronic manipulators are aware of these techniques and they use them as a tool to be in control of the relationship.


Understanding psychological manipulation

“Emotional abuse is any type of abuse that is not physical in nature. It can include everything from verbal abuse to the silent treatment, domination to subtle manipulation.”- Beverly Engel

Manipulation is a learned behaviour and it usually starts in childhood when children observe one of their parents using manipulative techniques to control the other.

They learn early in life that they can obtain the outcome they want by playing these mind games. These individuals are usually very competitive and they take life as a game.

In their opinion, in a relationship, one partner has to be in control, while the other is there to please them.

They don’t compromise and are not willing to accept their own faults and mistakes. They don’t look in life for what is fair, but for who is right.

They exploit your wounds and your vulnerabilities in order to get what they want. They are self-entitled and they believe that they deserve to get what they want regardless of how you feel.

Manipulative people usually look for co-dependents and people pleasers as partners because they don’t have a strong self-identity or self-love.

Their victims are easy to be controlled and over-powered. Having no boundaries and standards in their life, they become easily manipulated into pleasing their partner.

Psychological manipulation in relationships

How psychological manipulators act in relationships

“There are many types of emotional abuse but most is done in an attempt to control or subjugate another person. Emotional abuse is like brainwashing in that it systematically wears away at the victim’s self-confidence, sense of self, trust in her perceptions and self-concept.”- Beverly Engel

  • They act as if they are the victim. They use personal or health issues to gain sympathy and favours. They never apologise for their mistakes as they are not willing to take responsibility for their own mistakes.
  • They blame you for their own personal problems. They target your emotional weaknesses and vulnerabilities and use them against you to coerce you into ceding into their unreasonable demands or requests.
  • They use physical pain in order to avoid doing certain things, but as soon as the activity is pleasurable, they suddenly feel better.
  • They make you feel insecure. They talk about your life style, work or personal habits in a way that makes you doubt yourself. They usually exploit things that you are already insecure about.
  • They dismiss, ridicule and marginalise you in order to maintain superiority over you. They make you feel that you can never be good enough. They focus on your negative traits and never provide any positive feedback
  • They constantly make you prove yourself. They are demanding and selfish and they expect you to leave everything behind to please them.
  • They use gaslighting (manipulative technique to make you doubt your own sanity). They will pretend they didn’t say something or didn’t act in a certain way and make you doubt your memory.
  • They joke in order to hurt you and if you get offended they accuse you of being too sensitive.
  • They treat you extremely nice when others are around to keep up appearances. However, when no one else is around, they reveal their true self. This technique is used to make it harder for you to get help from your loved ones and make you look like the crazy one.
  • They buy you nice gifts and give you compliments only to make you feel guilty if you don’t repay the favour.
  • They guilt trip you by doing a lot of nice things for you so they can use them against you in future when they need you to do something for them.
  • They will minimise your problems and talk about their problems instead as they want to always be in the centre of attention.
  • They display calm and collected behaviour when you get angry and frustrated so they can make you feel you are overreacting. They look superior over you as it makes you look like you are being dramatic. They sometimes refuse to talk with you until you ‘’sorted your emotions out’’.
  • They threaten to harm themselves if you are leaving them or they actually harm themselves after you broke up to make you return to them out of obligation.
  • They threaten that they would harm you or that they would take something away from you if you don’t do as they please.


5 Signs you are in a manipulative relationship

“Controllers, abusers, and manipulative people don’t question themselves. They don’t ask themselves if the problem is them. They always say the problem is someone else.”- Darlene Ouimet

  1. You feel responsible for your partner’s happiness
  2. You feel guilty for having your own desires, needs or hobbies
  3. You can’t speak freely about your relationship with your partner
  4. You are micro-managed
  5. Your partner decides everything for both of you, you opinion doesn’t matter for them


How to deal with manipulative people

”The first thing you need to learn is that the person who is angry at you for setting boundaries is the one with the problem.”- Drs. Cloud and Townsend

  • Stop the victimhood. Explain them that they need to take responsibility for their own actions and that you are not willing to play their game.
  • When they try to minimise your problems, take their power away by accepting their problems, but focus on talking about yours and explaining that you consider your problems as important as theirs.
  • Stand your grounds. Challenge and tell them you disagree with their opinion even if you are scared of the consequences.
  • If they play the perfection game, let them know that they have their own flaws too as no one is perfect. Accept your flaws and let you partner know they cannot use them against you.
  • Know what you want and don’t let flirtatious attitude or charm be used as a weapon to manipulate you (if their victimisation or blaming games fail they will try to seduce you in order to get their way).


How to avoid being emotionally manipulated

”Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”- Mahatma Gandhi

1. Get to know what you want and how you feel.

2. Stand your ground even if it feels uncomfortable or scary.

3. Be prepared for backlash and maintain your ground regardless of your partner’s reaction.

Psychological manipulation in relatioships

Final thoughts

I hope this article helped you understand and identify if you are in a relationship with a psychological manipulator and taught you how to deal with them and avoid being emotionally manipulated.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave them below and I will be more than happy to answer them.

All the best,


  (Accredited Counsellors, Coaches, Psychotherapists and Hypnotherapists)

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10 thoughts on “Psychological manipulation in relationships”

  1. Very well explained, included the solutions. This year we will celebrate our 45th anniversary and I consider my marriage a great and healthy one.
    But I think that in a way both my husband and I have tried to manipulate each other when we were young. Nowadays we don’t feel the need to try to change each other anymore. Makes us both a lot happier 🙂

    • Hi Hannie,

      Thank you for your comment. What you have said is normal for relationships. Each relationship goes through 3 stages: infatuation, transition and true love. When people are in transition phase, they try to change their partner as they see realities they have failed to see in the infatuation stage. The stages of love in relationships- Is he the one?. This article explains these stages.

      Wish you all the best,

  2. Hi Ioana,
    This really is a great article, and it’s good to see that you are shining a light on psychological abuse. This often gets ignored I think when the focus is on physical abuse, but it’s just as bad – if not worse.
    I completely agree with you about the need for the abused person to stand their ground. The problem often is that the person takes a long time in realizing that they are being abused. ´
    This is what makes articles like yours all the more important.
    Psychological abuse is so much easier for the abuser to hide, and so the victim really does need to know how to deal with this, or walk away.

    • Hi Judy,

      Thank you for your comment. Psychological abuse can be as harmful as physical abuse, sometimes even worse as the person abused fails to recognise that they are abused. As you have mentioned, it is important to bring awareness and educate people who are subjected to psychological abuse to make healthier life choices.

      Kind regards,

  3. This is really an amazing article full of awesome information for anyone in a psychological manipulation relationship, I am sure many people had no idea what this type of relationship even was before reading your article. Even more important you have provided us the answer to dealing with this relationship problem, and you are helping so many people through your website.

    Thank you

    • Hi Jeff,

      Thank you for your comment. I am happy to see that you have found my article very informative. As you mentioned, I hope many people will benefit from the advice here and they will find a way to either confront and stop the psychological manipulation or leave the relationship.

      Kind regards,

  4. It seems to me that there are many manipulators around. I see it in several relationships, and the woman (or man) just puts up with it, for fear of being alone again. Your article listed all the points of manipulative behavior very clearly, and I thought of my ex, but although he was not very nice to me, he was not manipulative either (except for one point you mentioned here), he displayed other types of antisocial behavior. He did, however, always blame me for everything. He even blamed me once because he dropped his cell phone in the shower, even though I was miles away. Why? Because I called him when he was taking a shower and he decided to pick up. I told him that he should not take his phone into the shower, but he was serious, he was not joking, “it was my fault”. It made me laugh, but that was just an innocent example of all the times he blamed me; the other times it was not funny at all.
    I like Ghandi’s quote, it is very true.

    • Hi Christine,

      Thank you for your comment. I am glad to see that you ended the relationship that was not making you happy. Displaying antisocial behaviour and blaming you for things that are out of your control can be very damaging to your self-image and relationship.

      Kind regards,

  5. Thank you so much for this desperately needed article, Ioana.

    Reading this article instantly made me think of my cousin’s ex-boyfriend-he was physically, emotionally, and psychologically abusive. She is extremely intelligent and works in IT, yet he would constantly tell her that she was stupid, that she was ugly, that she’d never amount to anything, that no one would ever love her but him (NOT TRUE AT ALL), etc. He even went as far as to lie and say that she was abusing her children to try to get her children taken away from her.

    By the grace of God and her loving family working relentlessly to get her away from him, she has left that toxic relationship (thank you, Jesus!), she’s doing much better (and is much happier), and the ex will be behind bars for a long time (for various crimes, including domestic violence). Thank you so much for bringing awareness to psychological manipulation in relationships-it’s very serious, often overlooked, and frequently misunderstood. God bless you!

    • Hi C.N,

      Thank you for your comment and for sharing with us this emotional story. I am glad to see that you cousin has left the abusive and manipulative relationship. Wish her all the best. The recovery process takes time, but she will soon be stronger and happier than ever before.

      Kind regards,


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