Is Your Boyfriend An Emotional Manipulator?

At what point does his behavior become emotionally manipulative?

By Keelia Clarkson3 min read
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None of us are perfect. None of us are always mature, invariably kind, or perpetually selfless. In fact, each of us can, at times, behave thoughtlessly, childishly, and unfairly. Anyone who’s ever been in a romantic relationship (or had any other kind of relationship, for that matter) knows this to be true.

And while you love your boyfriend, lately, you’ve been feeling like he often exhibits these unsavory actions. You care about him, but there are times when you feel like he takes advantage of that – as if he uses your desire to be a good girlfriend against you. He has thrown what you can only call “tantrums” many times before, guilted you into apologizing on more than one occasion, and if you’re completely honest, you often feel manipulated by him.

You can’t tell if this is a passing phase, or if he’s an emotional manipulator – but you’ve begun to think he might have been manipulating you this whole time.

So is your boyfriend an emotional manipulator, or not?

What Is an Emotional Manipulator?

It would be a mistake to label every person who has ever behaved manipulatively an emotional manipulator – this would make every person alive one. It’s equally unhelpful to treat every manipulative behavior equally; while some actions aren’t deeply harmful and are easily addressed, others are far more destructive to the person on the receiving end and aren’t immediately solvable. So how do we differentiate a full-blown emotional manipulator from an immature yet normal human action?

Emotional manipulation, at its worst, is “the complete disregard of someone else’s feelings while strategically trying to persuade them to feel otherwise,” says licensed professional counselor Brandy Porche. So it might be safe to say that someone who engages in such behavior regularly, who clearly exhibits a disregard and disrespect for our thoughts or feelings and attempts to convince us to agree with them, is an emotional manipulator. 

Signs Someone Might Be an Emotional Manipulator

The most frustrating thing about emotional manipulation is how difficult it can be to spot it – and subsequently, how challenging it is to know when someone has made a habit of emotionally manipulating you, to the point where it’s damaging to you and the relationship. 

So what are some signs that indicate you might be dating an emotional manipulator? If he matches up with more than a couple of these, it's time to consider if this is a relationship you want to continue pursuing.

  • He’s very needy. At times, this has made you feel loved, but lately it has become more overwhelming and irritating than anything. He might constantly want to hold hands, get upset if you take more than 30 minutes to reply, or ask to see you every day.

  • He goes between being highly affectionate and loving, and putting you down or being distant – almost as if there’s more than one version of him.

  • His version of events is always correct and his feelings are always more valid; your perception is often questioned, and your feelings and experiences are invalidated.

  • He becomes incredibly moody and makes you guess what you did to cause this behavior (because it is seemingly always caused by you) instead of calmly approaching you like an adult.

  • He talks badly about himself to prompt you to pity him, praise him, and prop him up, or to get you to do something nice for him.

  • He pouts until he gets his way and punishes you for going against his desires. He’s emotionally effeminate (unable/unwilling to compromise, very controlling) and uses “If you really loved me, you’d…” arguments.

  • He isolates you from other relationships. He always has a reason you shouldn’t go have a girls’ night or visit your mom and is jealous of any other close relationship you have.

  • He criticizes you often – to the point where it feels like anything you do is subject to criticism. Conversely, he isn’t able to own up to any wrongdoings of his own. There’s always an excuse for him.

  • He claims he was “joking” when you get offended by something he said. Example: If you get upset after he says, “That’s a dumb thing to say,” he’ll respond by saying, “I didn’t say you were dumb, I was just kidding! You need to learn how to take a joke.”

  • He uses threats to get you to capitulate to his desires. Example: “If you don’t do this, I’ll leave you.”

  • You often feel devalued, unheard, disrespected, and even confused by his behavior. You don’t feel like he treats you as an equal partner and struggle to feel confident in yourself and in the relationship due to his actions.

Closing Thoughts

There’s a major difference between being a bit on the immature and selfish side, and being an emotional manipulator – and if your boyfriend falls into that category, it may be wise to reassess the relationship. 

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