Emotional manipulation is difficult to spot and overcome in relationships. It can range from subtle and unconscious to overt and calculating, but whatever end of the spectrum it's on, manipulation in relationships can hurt a couple's bond and definitely affect your personal happiness.
"For a relationship to work, you must find a way to stay on the same team, explains intimacy coach Londin Angel Winters. "Manipulation turns you into enemies" because it stems from deceit, she adds.
Meet the Expert
We asked Winters to break down how to recognize emotional manipulation in yourself or a partner. Read on to learn how to spot the warning signs of manipulation in relationships.
Not Saying What You Mean
"Subtle manipulation involves seemingly 'well-meaning' or 'harmless' gestures that actually create a lot of problems. In other words, the person doing them intends no harm, but does damage without realizing it," says Winters. The intention isn't usually to hurt someone else. In fact, they could even be motivated by a desire to be polite, harmonious, or non-confrontational. Over time, however, these things tend to close off lines of communication and lead to deeper issues because "they are usually veiled attempts to get what we want, whether that is love, approval, connection or avoidance of conflict," she explains.
Not Showing What You Really Feel
Though a subtle form of manipulation, not showing what you really feel does damage because it's a form of deceit. And the thing is, this behavior is pretty common, much more so than intentionally harmful manipulations, partly because "we do not realize how damaging these behaviors are to a true, passionate connection," Winters says.
Though this type of behavior may seem innocent and harmless, it can actually create distance between partners because "there is a lack of honesty in the dynamic, a pretending of sorts, which leads to a false sense of connection," says Winters. "Over time, such subtle behaviors can truly sabotage a long-term relationship."
Love-bombing is marked by inconsistent romance. Your partner may intermittently shower you with attention and flattery—whether it's in the form of texts, phone calls, or gifts—and then abruptly disappear or become moody and rude without an explanation before the next round of romantic gestures. This all functions to speed up the pace of a relationship so you become dependent on their affection.
If you notice your partner persistently and blatantly lying to you and then making you question your own perception of how things are going down, you're probably being gaslit. It's all about making you feel insecure in the relationship while also trusting them over yourself. This may manifest in a conversation wherein you confront them about wrongdoing or a blatant lie they told, and then somehow the conversation ends with you apologizing to them.
Essentially the silent treatment, stonewalling is when someone refuses to engage with you and openly ignores you, despite your clearly communicated feelings. This is problematic because it is sending you the message that you don't matter. On the opposite end of the spectrum, someone can be more aggressively manipulative by raising their voice and not letting you get a word in to intimidate you into compliance or apologizing.