Navigate / search

Five Signs of a Manipulative Relationship: Studio 5

Most of us understand that a relationship in which an individual tries to control or manipulate the other person is not a healthy one. And while no relationship is perfect, some have chronic patterns of manipulation that can be damaging to an individual’s emotional wellbeing and can likewise hurt the connection itself. But how can we spot such a relationship? We tend to think of obvious big indications of manipulation, but others are more subtle. Here are 5 signs to watch out for that may be evidence of a manipulative relationship:


1) You Feel Responsible for Your Partner’s Happiness

At the root of all of this is the quest for satisfaction and contentment in relationships. But if you feel personally responsible for your partner’s happiness, you may be experiencing some level of manipulation. There is a difference between being sensitive toward and aware of the needs of your significant other and feeling like it is your job to make that person happy.  Do you feel like you have to do things perfectly, look a certain way, and complete certain tasks to please the other person? These are unreasonable expectations and may signify that the other person is (subtly) manipulating you.

2) You Feel Guilty For Your Own Needs

We all want reassurance that we are important to the other person, but in emotionally manipulative relationships, this is taken to an extreme. The manipulator is overly suspicious and feels a need to control the partner, which can cause him/her to feel guilty about needs, desires, or decisions concerning things outside the actual relationship. An individual constantly hounding the other about whereabouts or small details and making him/her feel guilty is a tell-tale sign of an unhealthy relationship.

3) You Can’t Speak Freely

While it’s not necessarily a good idea for romantic partners to share absolutely everything they are thinking with one another (otherwise, they probably wouldn’t be together!), feeling like you can’t be yourself or have to hide your feelings is an indication of emotional manipulation. It’s very problematic if you cannot clearly express dissatisfaction and everything you say is taken as criticism. Pay attention to whether or not you can speak freely in your relationship.

4) You Are Micromanaged

In a manipulative relationship, one person often controls the other person’s choices down to the small details. He/she may try to dictate your appearance, how you dress, what you weigh, how exactly you spend money, etc. Treating the other person like a child is common in this kind of connection. Take notice of if you are constantly criticized and controlled by your partner, as this may be an indication that you are being manipulated.

5) You Feel the Need to Defend your Partner to Others

Sometimes it’s hard to see a manipulative relationship when you are actually in that kind of relationship. But others sometimes have an outside view that you may not. If you have parents, friends, and family members telling you that they are concerned about your partner or that you don’t seem like yourself, listen to their feedback. While we must be careful to accept criticism or advice from one or two outsiders, hearing this type of response from multiple people is a sign that you may need to step by and evaluate things.

If you find that some of these signs apply to you or may be a mirror to your own relationship, continue to be aware and pay attention. Consider seeking individual counseling to gain some skills to shift (or even end) the relationship. Click here for more details about getting therapy to help you.


About Dr. Julie Hanks, LCSW:
Dynamic self & relationship expert Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW loves to make a difference for women. She owns Wasatch Family Therapy and regularly contributes to TV Shows and her advice has been featured nationally including Wall Street Journal, Parenting, Fox News, and others. Connect on Instagram, Facebook & Twitter. Her books The Burnout Cure and The Assertiveness Guide are now available. Dr. Hanks is currently accepting coaching clients.



Hi Julie,

I was fascinated when I saw this list. I have a serious observation to make that may make some readers uncomfortable, and I’d like to hear your thoughts on it.

I believe this article accurately describes an LDS Church member’s relationship with Christ. More so for a Mormon woman.

I know how this post could get some hackles up, but considering item #5, that’s exactly what you’d expect.

Consider the other items:
1) Responsible for His happiness
Given that He died for our sins and created the universe, sin creates feelings of unworthiness for having let Him down. Doesn’t that make me responsible for His happiness/sadness? Jesus wept (and bled) for our sins. Our weakness causing Him pain.

2) Guilt for your own needs.
“For the natural man is an enemy to God.” And who doesn’t feel guilt for wanting a break from scripture reading, lesson prep, Fhe, meetings? Or feels guilt for needing to go to the store on Sunday? Or a husband wanting sex, or a wife NOT wanting sex – when there are so many expectation around what’s appropriate?

3) You can’t speak freely.
Two words: Kate Kelley.
Two more: September Six.

4) You are micro managed.
Given the rules on food, drink, sex, worship, finances, food storage, footwear, daily prayer and scripture reading, worthiness interviews, number of earrings, etc, all the way down to what underwear you wear to bed and what sexual expression is appropriate even between a husband and a wife – I think any outside observer would consider the Mormon lifestyle heavily micromanaged.

5) You feel the need to defend Him.
If you’re a believer and you read this, check your emotions to see if that rings true.

I don’t mean this as an attack but a critique. I believe these observations have merit and hope this is an appropriate forum for this conversation.

Thank you,
Brian Jolley


Is it possible to be in a manipulative relationship with like a parent? Most of thsee describe my relationship with my mother in law, except #5 (because I don’t defend her, I just tell people that we don’t have a good relationship) but my husband defends her all the time. He also would probably say that he agrees with 1-4, but we can’t really discuss his mom or her behavior because it usually ends in a fight between us.


Can you do a post about signs of manipulative parents? For adult children…

Leave a comment


email* (not published)