Master manipulators and gold-medal narcissists have ways of sneaking past your defenses without setting off any alarms. In fact, really clever abusers can drag you deep into unhealthy relationships willingly, making it seem like every bad decision was your idea and that everything that went wrong was your fault. It doesn’t matter how smart or educated or confident you are. There’s a pervasive myth that you have to be dumb or weak or some kind of doormat to be in an abusive relationship.
The truth is that anyone, and I mean anyone, can fall into something bad. As a culture, we don’t spend a lot of time talking about healthy relationships. We see them as Disney Princess deals with fairy tale weddings and happily ever after. And we see unhealthy relationships as mean drunks who beat the snot out of helpless women. The reality is that some abusive relationships have a lot of love in them and some really good moments. Good enough to trick you into thinking everything is fine.
Regardless of how much love you may have and how many good memories you may make, abusive and unhealthy relationships always have the potential to escalate into violence. Even if they don’t, the mental and emotional toll they take can ruin lives. It’s never worth it, and you deserve better.
1. Controlling You With Kindness
Not every controlling partner does so with violence or fear. Some sly manipulators seek out your weaknesses, whether they’re low self-esteem or loneliness, and use them to keep you under their thumbs. They build you up, but not to make you better. They build you up to make themselves the hero and the go-to person.
2. Blaming You For Your Feelings
Every time you’re upset, is it because you’re exaggerating or you expect too much or you’re too sensitive? When you need some of the support you’re always handing out, are you clingy or needy? When things go wrong in your life, is it something you need to “get over”? Loving partners let you have your own feelings.
3. Needing You … A Lot
You partner is just so wounded. They really need you to coddle them. If you ever left, what would they do? Kill themselves? This might feel like love, but it’s really control. Bad things in life happen, but you’re not responsible for someone else’s total emotional well-being. You’re also not a hostage.
4. Creating Different Standards
Is there an unspoken agreement that you’re always around or that you always come straight home after work or school? Is there also an unspoken agreement that your partner be there, or do you wait to hear from them, hoping they’ll be around? If she or he is gone, is it cool? If you’re gone, does it mean a million questions and maybe some thinly veiled accusations about how you let your partner down? Those are the kind of unequal expectations that unhealthy relationships are built upon.
5. Slowly Changing You
This one’s personal for me. One day, I was packing up my stuff after things ended badly, and I realized that all my pink and purses and nail polish were tucked away in a box. I had only been dressing the way my partner wanted me to. She never asked me to. Her manipulation was just that good. If you wake up one day and realize you’re not doing what you love or seeing your friends or wearing what you like, that’s a problem. A really skilled manipulator will make you think it’s what you want and it’s what’s best for you. Remember, it’s all about power and control.
6. Having Really, Really Bad relationships With All Their Exes And Former Friends
Some people don’t have good relationships with their exes, and some do. That’s all fine and normal. But when every single person in your partner’s past hates them or issues you a warning about them, there’s a chance they’re telling the truth. Look for patterns and listen carefully.
7. Disregarding Your Goals
This one’s pretty hard to spot sometimes, because it sounds like someone you care about giving you good advice. But … if every time you try to make strides toward your goals or take big chances, your partner says something like “I don’t know, I don’t see you doing that” or “Wouldn’t you be happier doing XYZ instead?” it could be more about control than advice. Sure, you want your person to give you honest opinions, but at the end of the day, people in healthy relationships support each other more than second guess each other. Strive for balance.
8. Tons Of Anger That’s Not Always Directed Toward You
If a person flies off the handle a lot and has a really short temper, even if they’re never mad at you, it should raise a red flag. In most cases, it’s only a matter of time before they are mad at you. Unchecked anger can have deadly consequences.
9. Holding Your Heart Hostage
Love doesn’t make a healthy relationship. Love is not all you need. Love will not always lift you up where you belong. Sometimes love will keep you in a place that’s not good for you. The wrong person will know how to play your heartstrings so that you don’t want to live without them or you think you can’t live without them. Remember that love is nothing without trust and respect.
Finally, whether your relationship has any of the signs of abuse or not, remember that you deserve to be happy more days than sad and it’s better to be single than to be hurt. Ask for help if you need it.