Are you being emotionally manipulated in your relationship?

Jul 02, 2021

Here is an article that I wrote for the Sun.

Are you being emotionally manipulated in your relationship?

Many people are trapped in an unhappy relationship and are unaware of why.  They often only take action when it is almost too late.  It is like the story of the frog, slowly heated up in a pan of water. By the time they realise there is a problem, they no longer have the energy to jump out.  In contrast, (please don’t try this at home!) if you drop a frog into a pan of boiling water they will jump straight out.

There are people we meet who are energy vampires; they drain positive energy out of you and leave you feeling worse.  And then there are those who are the sunshine in our lives and give out positivity and make us feel glad to know them.

 What are 3 subtle signs you're living with a manipulator (ideally unexpected signs) 

They are trapped in the ‘drama triangle’

Here there are three roles;

  • The Persecutor. Where there is frequent blame ‘she’s useless, ‘it’s his fault’ ‘ you are doing this wrong’
  • The Victim. This is all about ‘poor me’ ‘I can’t’ ‘nothing ever changes’
  • The Rescuer. The one who sorts it all out ‘I’m the one who always has to’

The emotional manipulator will often switch between these roles and will expect their partner to be their rescuer as well as being the one they can persecute.

There is a mismatch between what they say and what they do.

 They are telling you what they think you want to hear but their actions are very different. They may offer to help but don’t and leave you feeling that it was you that was being unreasonable.

They make you feel guilty.

Guilt is the most useless and toxic emotion because it is always about the past. You will be feeling that what you do is wrong.  If you bring up something that is worrying you, they make you feel guilty for mentioning it.  If you don’t bring it up, they will make you feel guilty for not mentioning it.

Why they're doing that

Some people do this because they are pathologically narcissistic and only focus on themselves and are not aware or interested in the impact on others. 

Most people do it because this was a pattern that was set up in childhood or previous relationships.  They may have modelled their parents behaviour, believing this was the way they should be or, it was their way, in an unhappy childhood or relationship of getting the sort of love and attention they needed.

And how you should deal with it

  • The first stage is to start feeling good about yourself. Unless you love the wonderful you, you won’t believe anyone else could.
    • Look at yourself in the mirror every morning and look for the good things you can see and know about you.
    • Tell yourself those positive affirmations every day.
    • Take time to look after yourself and do things that will nurture you
  • Create a safe physical and emotional place
    • If there is violence, this has to stop and you may need to leave.
    • Find a friend or family member who will love and support you and talk to them.
    • Discover a place that you can sit or walk and just be, allow your thoughts and feelings to flow
  • Think about the relationship that you really want; what will this look like and feel like.
    • Close your eyes and imagine yourself a few years into the future in your ideal relationship. What are you doing, where are you living and working, who are you with and how are you feeling?
    • Where does your current partner fit; are they there or not?
  • Establish boundaries

Now you are clear about what you want in the future, how will you get there?   What behaviours will be acceptable and what are not.  Be very clear when a boundary has been crossed and what the consequences of this is.  Emotional manipulators will just keep pushing the boundaries, you have to make sure they are built of brick rather than clouds.

  • Express your feelings to them

Talk about ‘I am feeling’ rather than ‘you did’ They can deny ‘they did’, but not how you are feeling. Ask them how they are feeling about the relationship too.

If they don’t want talk openly or listen to your feelings, then this is a clear sign that change is needed

  • Ask, specifically, for what you need

Many couples expect their partners to mind read. This doesn’t work!! Be very clear about what you want and ask for this

  • Explain the consequences if the relationship doesn’t improve 

If you are unhappy in the relationship and with their behaviour, are you happy to continue to put up with it?  Many couples stay trapped in unhappy relationships ‘because of the children.’  Do you want them to grow up believing that unhappy relationships are all they deserve too?

  • Make sure your lifeboat is ready 

There are always alternatives to being trapped on a slowly sinking ship


We all deserve to have a loving and fulfilling relationship, so, please look carefully at your relationship and see what could be better. Talk to your partner about this, if they disagree and refuse to engage, then you have a problem.  If they also want a better relationship, then work on this as a couple. Couples therapy may help rescue both of you.