September 1, 2021 |Gideon

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Emotional manipulation in a relationship is common and happens often. When somebody emotionally manipulates someone else they usually try and change your behaviour, thoughts, and feelings through devious tactics. These tactics then oftentimes end up being harmful to everyone involved and can destroy relationships.

Denial of the Truth

One of the most common ways a family member can use emotional manipulation in a relationship is to deny the truth.

This is a key sign.

The person who is manipulating you will often make a promise or a statement but deny it later.

They will pretend that the truth doesn’t exist, and conveniently blame your bad memory for it.

And if you do have evidence, in some cases, the manipulator will even try to fight that evidence by saying it’s fabricated.

An emotional manipulator will make you feel as if it’s your fault you’re not remembering the previous conversation the same way.

In a more extreme version, emotional manipulation in a relationship can become emotional abuse in the form of “gaslighting”.

What is “gaslighting” and why is it dangerous? defines it as:

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that’s seen in abusive relationships. It’s the act of manipulating a person by forcing them to question their thoughts, memories, and the events occurring around them. A victim of gaslighting can be pushed so far that they question their own sanity.

Gaslighting is a kind of emotional manipulation and can occur in lots of kinds of relationships, with moms and dads, good friends, or employers.

One of the most harmful kinds of gaslighting, however, is when it happens in a relationship involving a couple.

According to Robin Stern, PhD, author of the book “The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life,” indications that you are possibly a victim of “gaslighting” consist of:

  • no longer feeling like the individual you used to be
  • being more nervous and less positive than you used to be
  • if you’re being too emotional, frequently questioning yourself
  • seeming like whatever you do is not right
  • when things go amiss, constantly believing it’s your fault
  • saying sorry a lot (frequent apologising)
  • having a sense that something’s amiss, however not being able to determine what it is
  • frequently questioning whether your reaction to your partner is suitable (e.g., questioning if you were not supportive enough or too unreasonable).
  • making excuses for your partner’s behaviour.
  • preventing giving info to close friends or relatives to prevent conflict about your partner.
  • feeling separated from loved ones.
  • finding it significantly difficult to make choices.
  • feeling helpless and taking little or no enjoyment in activities you used to delight in.

As you can see, emotional manipulation in a relationship in the form of emotional abuse (like “gaslighting”), is not only destructive to a relationship but also potentially to your mental health.

It is therefore important that if you recognise that you have become the victim of this type of emotional manipulation in a relationship, that you seek help from someone qualified.

Reaching out to someone like a counsellor or psychologist can help you start making sense of it all and assist you in dealing with your current doubts, fears, and reality.

Going through that process can help you learn the necessary skills to deal with emotional manipulation in marriage because dealing with emotional manipulation on your own can be quite difficult.

Family Quarrel. Aggressive Husband Shouting At Unhappy Crying Wife Sitting In Bedroom At Home. Conflicts In Marriage. Domestic Abuse And Violence. Problems In Relationship. Selective Focus. Emotional manipulation in marriage.

But, firstly you must start to recognise what is happening in your relationship right now in order to challenge the current situation.

Using Guilt

Another tactic that emotional manipulators frequently use to emotionally manipulate and control other people is through using guilt.

That can often take on the form of various passive-aggressive tactics to manipulate you.

For example, emotional manipulators can find other people’s weak spots and turn that against them, so it’s easier to make them feel guilty for things.

One way they do that is emotional manipulators will pretend to be victims so that other people will feel sorry for them.

And when you refuse to play the game or go along with the charade, they will accuse you of being insensitive, or even mean, and in doing so elicit feelings of guilt in order to get sympathy.

It’s a very clever and sneaky tactic but is highly effective.

More than that, dealing with emotional manipulation of this kind can be very tricky because emotional manipulators ensure there are enough feelings of guilt to get what they want in the end.

It is therefore important to look out for important this sign of emotional manipulation in marriage because it tends to insert a lot of toxicity into a couple’s relationship with devastating consequences.

Using Others

Exploiting your friends and other family members to hurt you – it’s a very sneaky tactic but serves their agenda well while not only hurting you but also other relationships you have with other people.

For example, they can use other people as messages or mediators to “control” you in some way.

Emotional manipulators will use these people to send you potentially hurtful messages or to blame you for specific issues (usually theirs).

By involving other people, emotional manipulators are then able to blame someone else should anything go wrong.

They can, for example, say that someone else got a message wrong when things go pear-shaped.

In that way, they don’t have to take responsibility for their own actions but use the intermediary as a scapegoat when things don’t go their way.

However, should this tactic of using someone else to get to you have the desired effect, they don’t run the risk of it coming back to them.

Portrait of two angry friends having a serious conversation and discussing while sitting at coffee shop. Friendship concept. Emotional manipulators.

So using other people as a form of emotional manipulation in the relationship is not only potentially harmful to the relationship between you and the emotional manipulator but also very likely harmful for another relationship that might be important to you.

Therefore, if you notice that this devious strategy is being used against you, it’s important that you do something about it sooner rather than later.

One powerful way of dealing with this type of emotional manipulation in a relationship is to go to the very person or people that the emotional manipulator is trying to use against you.

Be a mature person and have an open and honest conversation with them and tell them what might be going on.

Devious plans and trickery love the shadows.

As long as things remain in the dark, uncertain, under wraps, and there is an overall lack of transparency, these tactics will work.

However, when you shine the light on it and use truth as your ally, without shying away from difficult conversations, you will most likely find that you leave the emotional manipulator with very few options.

Anger and Threats

Emotional manipulators can also use anger and threats to emotionally manipulate you in a relationship.

They often use anger as a way to frighten and coerce people into doing things their way or getting the result they want.

Firstly, it’s important to understand that these threats and angry outbursts are often used to make the other person feel uncomfortable and upset.

What is devious and dangerous about that strategy is that most people don’t deal very well with conflict, and consequently, will try and avoid or escape it as quickly as possible.

Some emotional manipulators know that and will use it as a strategy to get you to give in to their ways quickly.

couple having argument and angry husband yelling at wife

For example, emotional manipulators will often use anger to interrupt or stop a conversation they don’t like.

Since they refuse to discuss certain affairs or events, they may use an angry outburst and threats to end the conversation or storm out of the room.

In extreme cases, anger can also escalate into physical violence which of course can result in fear, which is the ultimate form of emotional manipulation relationship.

So the question becomes how can you diffuse these anger outbursts when they occur?

Well, firstly, it’s important to understand what the agenda and goal of an emotional manipulator are when they deploy anger and threats as a tactic.

It is essentially a form of bullying by forcing you to give in to their demands, wants, or objections.

Consequently, there is a benefit for the emotional manipulator to use anger and threats as a tactic, which most likely means they will be less inclined to want to manage their anger.

So what can you do?

In short, there are five strategies you can use to defeat use anger in someone else, especially in this context where the person is looking to emotionally manipulate you.

Remain in control of yourself.

Remaining in control of yourself when trying to defuse someone else’s anger, is the first and most important step.

When you lose yourself in the heat of the moment, everything else will turn to custard.

More than that, however, chances are the other person or end up succeeding in emotionally manipulating you.

So, when you find yourself on the receiving end of someone’s anger, understand that they’re either trying to control you in some way or make you feel small so they can feel big, or you’ve done them some kind of wrong.

Now, normally you were trying to understand which of these three adverse, but in this instance it is highly likely that the emotional manipulator is trying to achieve the first two.

Therefore, in order to control yourself, you must tell yourself that anger is their strategy and has nothing to do with you at all unless of course you really have committed an injustice against them, in which case you should make amends.

Help them discharge their anger in some way without causing harm.

In a situation where the person is using anger to emotionally manipulate you, apart from controlling yourself, you must find a way to allow the person to express their anger without causing you harm.

As I said earlier, emotional manipulation in a relationship can escalate to physical manipulation and abuse, and we want to prevent that.

So when this person is using anger and threats, it’s important to find ways to deal with the issues that triggered the anger in the first place, by staying in control of yourself, and without allowing it to escalate even further.

Be quiet. Violent aggressive young man threatening his girlfriend at home. Dealing with emotional manipulation.

One way to reduce the chances of escalation is through controlling your own emotions at that moment, hard as it may be.

For anger met with anger or only lead to escalation.

Validate their anger.

When we resist someone’s anger, or worse, respond back in anger, we’re simply inflaming the situation even more.

What that results in, is that we are essentially justifying the emotional manipulator’s behaviour and give them a reason to continue in that manner.

We are essentially throwing petrol on a fire.

However, to diffuse this person’s anger or threats, apart from staying in control of yourself, you must keep reminding yourself that this person’s anger is a tactic to manipulate you, even when it’s not justified.

One way to do that is through validation.

When I validate the feelings of someone, they know that I am paying attention and I am listening to what they have to say.

More than that, however, validation aims to make the person feel they are heard and understood.

Now, since anger in this instance isn’t used as a mere emotional reaction but rather a tactic to manipulate you, validation might not be that effective.

But, the goal here is to de-escalate the situation rather than inflame it further.

Emotional manipulation in a relationship and dealing with emotional manipulation has no rational motivation or basis.

Therefore, it ultimately comes down to managing the moment and the person in front of us.


Apologising is another powerful tactic you can use to diffuse the situation because when we tell someone how sorry we are, it serves like water on a fire.

Again, I understand that in this instance none of this might be justified nor your fault, but that is not the main point here.

We are dealing with someone who is trying to emotionally manipulate you through using anger or threats and you must find a way to defuse that when it occurs.

Once you’ve bought yourself some time, you can then rethink your strategy and approach moving forward.

Apologising and taking responsibility for your part in whatever triggered the situation, can give you that time.

Sometimes one has to lose the battle to win the war.

Help them use words rather than actions

Finally, another tactic you can use to diffuse their anger is to help them express themselves in words rather than resort to harmful actions.

As I said earlier, this is about safety and preventing things from escalating.

Allowing that emotional manipulation to express themselves with words fully can provide them enough of an outlet to not feel they need to resort to other means to discharge their anger in order to feel satisfied.

Belittling Tactics

Apart from the other strategies already discussed, emotional manipulators also sometimes use belittling tactics to get their way.

When somebody belittles you, they do that because they feel they can manipulate you easier that way.

Consequently, some people will criticise you and constantly point out your flaws as a way to break you down emotionally and mentally.

If someone else can get you to question yourself about everything, manipulating you on the back end of that becomes vastly easier.

The main goal of belittling tactics is to make a person feel inferior so that they are easier to control.

Young woman standing leaning on window crying depressed face close-up

A powerful way to deal with belittling tactics is to set healthy boundaries in place right out of the gate.

Emotional manipulators don’t usually reveal their tactics and all the cards all at once.

They tend to gradually build things up.

So if you can prevent a person from gaining momentum by calling them out on it the moment they belittle you (for example through criticism), one of two things might happen:

  1. The person may learn quickly where you’re boundaries are and not go there again, or
  2. the person may discover they won’t get their way with you and naturally remove themselves from your life (if you’re lucky).

Either way, it’s a good thing never to stand for belittling tactics in any of your relationships… ever.

Focusing on Vulnerable Targets

A final point to remember about emotional manipulation in a relationship or emotional manipulation in a marriage, or whenever you’re dealing with emotional manipulation and emotional manipulators, is that they tend to seek out sensitive people and vulnerable targets because it’s easier to influence them.

They deliberately look for people who are vulnerable and insecure and are very good at spotting your insecurities and use them.

In the beginning, emotional manipulators may seem kind and concerned as they gather information about you, however, this quickly changes to control.

The reason sensitive people typically make for vulnerable targets is that they tend to be less likely to stand up for themselves or speak out against those who are manipulating them.

That makes for easy prey.

If therefore, you know that you are a more “sensitive” person (nothing wrong with that) it is important that you are aware that you could be a target.

In order to deal with those looking to exploit your sensitivity and, most likely, tenderheartedness, you must develop a healthy sense of assertiveness.

It is important that you can speak up for yourself when things don’t feel right or when you feel you are dealing with emotional manipulation.

Take Away from Emotional Manipulation in Relationships

Ultimately, it is crucial that you learn to spot the insidious dangers of dealing with emotional manipulation in a relationship, because when you allow someone else to take control of you or your actions that usually results in unhealthy and toxic relationships with unhappy endings.

If you feel you are already a victim of emotional manipulation and marriage, perhaps it’s time to seek out professional help (if you needed it) or time to start making positive changes, or walk away from the relationship.

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About the author


Gideon is the creator of, a popular relationship blog that ranks among the top 50 relationship blogs in 2024. The website helps couples to create happier, healthier, and more intimate relationships. Gideon is a trained professional counsellor and holds post-graduate degrees in Theology and Psychology. His articles have also been featured on respected platforms such as and The Good Men Project.

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