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How to Recognize a Manipulative or Controlling Relationship

Two Methods:Revealing Manipulative PeoplePutting Yourself First

Are you losing yourself to an odd, and ultimately destructive, relationship? Do you find your old friends falling away, while family members remark on how you don't seem like yourself? Before you can regain your individuality and strength, you'll need to determine whether the relationship is taking something away, and, if so, you must put an end to the destructive cycle.

Method 1
Revealing Manipulative People

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    Check off the symptoms of abusive or manipulative partners. Read over the following bullets. Answer honestly and without justifying your partner's behavior (don't say "Well, she's not like that ALL the time," or "It's only happened once or twice--" if it happened at all it's an issue!). Simply answer yes or no. Even 3-4 yeses mean it is time to get out and get with someone who treats you with the respect you deserve. Does your partner:[1]:
    • Embarrass or make fun of you in front of your friends or family?
    • Put down your accomplishments or discourage your goals?
    • Make you feel like you are unable to make decisions?
    • Use intimidation, guilt, or threats to gain compliance?
    • Tell you what you can and cannot wear?
    • Tell you what you need to do with your hair?
    • Tell you that you are nothing without them, or they are nothing without you?
    • Treat you roughly without your consent - grab, push, pinch, shove or hit you?
    • Call you several times a night or show up to make sure you are where you said you would be?
    • Use drugs or alcohol as an excuse for saying hurtful things or abusing you?
    • Blame you for how they feel or act?
    • Pressure you sexually for things you aren’t ready for?
    • Make you feel like there "is no way out" of the relationship?
    • Prevent you from doing things you want - like spending time with your friends or family?
    • Try to keep you from leaving after a fight or leave you somewhere after a fight to "teach you a lesson"?
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    Keep your ear to the ground for troubling stories or rumors about your partner. Hearing multiple versions of the "same" story? Do their friends tell you things about your partner that you've never heard, or that your partner flat-out contradicted? Half-truths and selective memories often mean they're shaping the "truth" for you. This is a major red-flag for manipulation, and you best get to the bottom of it.
    • When you're being controlled or manipulated, it's usually through half-truths or omissions, not outright lies. There's just enough weirdness to make you stop and think, but not quite enough to get you to re-evaluate the entire relationship.
    • If this happens more than once, STOP and remind yourself that this isn't the first time you've had this reaction. Start analyzing discrepancies between what your spouse/significant other said and what his/her friends say. If there are a lot of them, call him/her out on them. If his/her reaction or answers don't satisfy, it is time to re-evaluate in a major way.
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    Keep your friends close -- especially if he/she is trying to cut them out of the picture. Cutting you off from the friends and family helps her/him gain dominance over you. Then, because they are so terrible, they make you think that it's your decision to leave them. If they're constantly talking behind your friends' backs, making jokes about your family, or making a big scene every time you leave to be with pals, then screw that relationship and move on.
    • Controlling people love to make tension and drama. They'll stir up the pot by pushing people, acting passive aggressive, and initiating conflict. Then, like "innocent" little children by a broken lamp, they'll put their hands up and blame it on your friends and family.
    • It's much easier for him/her to control you when you've decided there is too much tension between your loved ones and your mate, and soon, you have no one but her/him to turn to.
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    Show excessive jealousy or possessiveness the door. If your partner is protective of you, that's sweet. If they're bizarrely over-protective, it's scary and super annoying. Does she/he interrogate you if you aren't home exactly on time, or if you go out for any reason? Do they question you too intensely about why you were talking to another person? Does your partner tell you that you don't care about them if you spend time with a friend?
    • A little jealousy is normal, even cute. But it shouldn't affect your daily relationships. Jealousy means they don't trust you. And if they don't trust you, they aren't worth dating.
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    Walk out on double standards and can't-win situations. It's okay for your partner to be two hours late, but you get attacked if you're five minutes off schedule? It's "perfectly innocent" when they flirt but you're accused of infidelity for saying "Hey?" If you save money then you're being too stingy, if you spend it you're careless with money. No matter what you do, you are at fault -- and this kind of bullcrap can't stand. These are just games meant to screw with your head, and are common in controlling-manipulative relationships. You're not going to win, so don't play the game. Get out!
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    Ignore their fake attempts to make nice. He/she does something that is totally unacceptable then asks your forgiveness. Watch for the bad behavior to resume as soon as they believe they have you hooked and complacent again.
    • At this point he/she may even tearfully say she/he wants your help to change, particularly if you have let them know that you will not tolerate such things again. They may bring you lavish gifts and attempt to sweep you off your feet again. It's up to you whether to give them a second chance or not. If they betray your trust again, though, cut through the crap and cut them out of your life.

Method 2
Putting Yourself First

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    Be honest with yourself, even though it is going to hurt. This is not going to be fun -- manipulative relationships never are. But you have to wade deep into your crappy feelings and personal worries or you're never going to understand things. Is this relationship healthy, or is it unhealthy? Try to be objective as you analyze how things have changed since this relationship began.
    • Let's be honest: sex clouds your judgment. It should never be the only reason you're with someone. It doesn't matter how hot they are.
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    Think about how your partner makes you feel. You are the most important person in your own life, aren't you? Don't disregard your feelings as worthless, biased, or over reactionary. If you feel like crap in this relationship, then you're being treated like crap. End of story -- get out of there. This is especially true if you:
    • Feel scared of how your partner will act, or react.
    • Feel responsible for your partner's feelings.
    • Make excuses to other people for your partner’s behavior.
    • Believe it's all your fault.
    • Avoid anything that causes conflict or makes your partner angry.
    • Feel like your partner is never happy with you.
    • Always do what your partner wants you to do instead of what you want.
    • Stay with your partner because you are afraid of what your partner would do if you broke up.
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    Take a look at the rest of your relationships. Are your family relationships and friendships increasingly filled with tension every time your partner's name comes up, or with your partner when their names come up? Red flags should go up if everyone who cares about you is becoming worried or being pushed away by your partner.
    • Does this person bring out your best or worst traits? You want to love yourself at all times -- because you're awesome. If you don't feel great, it's likely because their negative energy is sucking you down to their manipulative level.
    • Be aware of the way he/she behaves with your family and friends, especially if she/he antagonizes them, argues with them, or talks crap about them constantly.
    • If you decided it is just "easier" to ignore your friends and family, you've let the manipulating monster win. It's time to break this toxic relationship off.
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    Ignore your own excuses for them -- you're just biased because you are in love. Falling head over heals isn't necessarily a bad thing, but you can't leave your head in the sand for too long. Your starry-eyed affection can make you willfully close your eyes to warning signals, even as friends and family tell you to wake up. You need to have some "you time" to find out what's what. Step aside from the relationship for a few days, however you can, and ask yourself:
    • Do you find yourself apologizing or defending your significant other's behavior toward you? You shouldn't have to defend a relationship with someone -- they should be good enough for you that it is obvious why you're together.
    • Are you hiding things from people? You should have privacy, of course, but you shouldn't be hiding a monster under the bed. The problem isn't keeping it a secret, its' that you are dating someone so terrible you have to keep a secret in the first place.
    • Do you always do what he or she wants, instead of you? You don't date someone because you want another boss in your life, do you? You have a right to your opinion, and you have a right to have your opinion respected -- forget about people who don't oblige.
    • Have you lost touch with your old friends and family? No matter how in love you are, you should never feel like you're cut off from old pals because of your new flame. They're trying to isolate you because you're easier to control -- especially if they're always throwing shade on your friends and family.
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    Stop hating yourself for loving someone; dump them ASAP. Realize that they're amazing — on the surface — and you shouldn't beat yourself up for being attracted to that. Manipulators are often an odd mix of intelligence and charm-- it's how they get so manipulative. The best thing to do is just drop them from your life. These people are shallow and unworthy of your time, and it is their fault, not yours. The only reason they are manipulating you is because you're better than them -- so rock it and get the heck out of their life.
    • You have to acknowledge that they are using your love for them against you to keep you trapped in the relationship. You are not at fault for loving them. They are at fault for using your love as leverage.


  • Don't be mean about it. You don't have to be like him/her to get away. Just say it's not a match and you don't intend to continue the relationship. Period. Don't try pointing out all of the above warning signs. This type of person won't recognize it himself/herself. It's like trying to teach a pig to sing - it wastes your time and makes the pig bitter.
  • If the controlling person has ever threatened you, take that seriously and have a safety plan. Do not underestimate the lengths some people will go to keep you under their power. If you need help, call a help line or a shelter.
  • Confess to your friends and family - apologize to them for marginalizing them and disregarding their bad opinion of this person. Tell them you wish you had listened to them. Get all the anger and hurt out of your system - they will be only too happy to share. They will rejoice when you tell them it's over.
  • Don't blow off the opinions of your friends and family; they do have your best interests in mind. One person can be ignored — many cannot. Do they tell you you're acting strange lately? Do they comment on how different you seem — and not in a good way? Has anyone you love and respect expressed actual dislike for your partner?
  • The establishment of control is subtle, and often occurs over time. The entire purpose of the article is to help you examine your relationship for the warning signs. Because these signs can be subtle, it can be helpful to see a collection of warning signs; one sign may not be a problem. Four or five — talk to friends and relatives. If they affirm the signs are there, it may be time to re-evaluate this relationship — and try to do it outside of the control of this person.
  • If they seem to say one thing yet do another, then turn your ears off and your eyes on, decide based on behavior and conduct rather than words. Often the apologies are not sincere and what they really mean is "Sorry you don't like it, but I will do it again."


  • Severely controlling and manipulative people are often produced by external factors such as abusive parents or clinical mental disorders. You cannot hope to change or rescue such a person, as much as you may care for them; the best help you can give them is to (A) refuse to be their victim, and (B) direct them to professional help.
  • Watch for stalking or menacing behaviors or threats, including threats to harm you or your supporters, or to commit suicide. Don't rely on your own judgment to determine whether threats are serious. Report them to the police immediately. This person is probably just difficult and not dangerous, but don't take any chances. If necessary, get a restraining order and call the cops each and every time it is violated.
  • Compassion is not easily understood or accepted by these folks, and it just hurts you both more in the end, as it is likely to be used as a weapon against you. Cutting them off may seem cruel, but it ends the confrontations and forces them to move on or get help.

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