There are several behaviors that can lead to problems within a relationship, and manipulation is one of them. In some cases, being in a relationship with a highly manipulative person can damage your mental health.
Given the problems associated with manipulation tactics in relationships, it’s important to be aware of them. Below, learn about the signs of a master manipulator so you’re prepared to protect yourself from such behavior.
What is a master manipulator?
To identify the warning signs of a master manipulator, you must understand who this person is.
A master manipulator is quite skilled at coercing or persuading others to behave in a way that aligns with the manipulator’s needs and desires. For instance, a manipulator may use certain words or gestures to convince someone to do something for them.
Romantic manipulation may involve showering a significant other with compliments and attention to make them fall in love. Once they’re in love, the master manipulator will ask the significant other for generous favors, such as money or a place to live.
Highly manipulative people are often called “Machiavellian” or “Mach” for short. The mach personality is part of what is known as the “dark triad” personality traits, alongside narcissism and psychopathy. People with the Mach personality lack empathy and are willing to exploit others for their gain.
A master manipulator with Mach traits will use cunning, carefully calculated methods to get what they want from their partner, and over time, this can be quite damaging.
5 signs you’re in love with a master manipulator
If you’re worried that your significant other may have Mach personality traits, it’s helpful to understand the signs of this personality. Below are some signs of a master manipulator, complete with examples of manipulation in relationships, so you can learn how to spot a manipulator in your love life.
1. They never take accountability
One of the prime signs of a master manipulator is leading you to believe that you are to blame for everything that goes wrong.
When this sort of master manipulator hurts you, abuses you, or does something damaging, they will convince you that you deserve this treatment because of some flaw or shortcomings of your own. This is one of the truly revealing signs of a master manipulator.
When you’re in a relationship with a master manipulator, they will repeatedly make you feel taken advantage of or insulted, but when you bring up how their behavior affects you, they will deflect the blame rather than take responsibility for their actions.
Over time, this blame deflection makes you feel you deserve all the poor treatment they throw your way. This prevents you from seeing them for who they are and walking away from the relationship, ultimately allowing them to continue manipulating you.
2. You apologize for everything
When your partner is a master manipulator, you will find yourself apologizing for everything because they can spin any situation and make it your fault. It may even seem like you’re the one apologizing when they do something wrong.
One of the signs of a master manipulator is that instead of taking responsibility, the manipulator will convince you that you’re the one who did wrong, so you never begin to feel like they’re no good for you.
3. They came on very strong at the beginning of the relationship
One of the telltale signs of romantic manipulation is someone who comes on incredibly strong at the start of the relationship. They will pressure you to become serious and committed quickly, promising a blissful future together.
A master manipulator will also engage in a behavior called love bombing at the start of the relationship, showering you with attention, affection, and compliments. They will talk about how you are the perfect love of their life.
This behavior makes you fall fast and hard, and then when they start exploiting you to get what they want, you are willing to partake because this person has told you how wonderful you are.
4. You catch them in lies
A key one of the master manipulator signs is someone who lies frequently. This is because the master manipulator isn’t interested in telling you the truth but in getting what they want from you.
This means they may flatter you and promise you to obtain your loyalty while secretly seeing other people or otherwise disrespecting you behind your back.
When you catch them in lies, they will never own up to what they have done. This is one of the revealing signs of a master manipulator.
5. They distort reality
One of the most common manipulation tactics is gaslighting, which leads victims to question their view of reality. A gaslighter distorts reality, which causes confusion and ultimately results in you feeling as if you cannot trust your interpretation of events.
A gaslighter may distort reality by denying or doing things they said and did. Or, they might twist reality to make you feel as if you remember things incorrectly or misunderstand what happened.
A gaslighter may accuse you of being too sensitive when you bring up something that hurt you, or when you catch them in a lie, they may say that you aren’t intelligent enough to remember correctly.
How to deal with a master manipulator lover: 5 ways
Once you recognize signs that your partner is a master manipulator, you may feel shocked, hurt, or distressed. Now you’re left to wonder what you can do to cope.
Should you leave the relationship? Should you try to remedy the situation by asking the person to change some of their behavior?
When you find yourself amid a master manipulator relationship, there are things you can do to cope. Consider the strategies below if you notice signs of a master manipulator in your partner.
1. Set strong boundaries
A master manipulator relies on you to continue to put up with their behavior; otherwise, their tactics would not work. If you tolerate their lies, insults, and inability to take accountability for their actions, they will continue to behave this way.
If you want to stop being manipulated, you must put your foot down. Stand firm when the person lies to you or insists that something they have done wrong is your fault. Calmly and kindly tell them that you know they are being dishonest and refuse to discuss the issue further.
If your manipulative lover can change, setting these boundaries can motivate that change. If they don’t plan on changing, your boundary setting will likely lead to the end of the relationship because they no longer have any use for you if you won’t play their games with them.
Coping with a master manipulator is challenging and can take a toll on your mental health. Having friends and family in your corner is essential for your mental and emotional well-being.
Talking with people who care about you can validate your experience and provide the love and support you need to endure difficult times.
Having a sounding board can also remind you that you are not crazy and you’re not imagining the manipulation you’re experiencing in your relationship.
3. Care for yourself
Master manipulator relationships can leave you feeling distressed, traumatized, and depressed. If you’re in a relationship like this, self-care is essential. You must relax, rejuvenate, and participate in activities you enjoy. Set aside time to spend with friends or pursue your own hobbies.
If you notice signs of a master manipulator in your partner, boost your self-esteem by exercising, following a healthy diet, and treating yourself to luxuries like spa days, a haircut,or a new makeup routine.
The chances of a master manipulator changing their behavior and becoming a healthy partner are slim. Ultimately, you will likely need to respect yourself and walk away from the relationship.
Remember, master manipulators are willing to take advantage of you for their own gain and lack empathy.
This probably isn’t a person who will be able to reciprocate your love or genuineness, and a relationship with them will probably only lead to stress, low self-esteem, and symptoms of trauma. If you don’t want to deal with manipulation tactics for the rest of your life, you’ll probably have to end the relationship.
If you’re coping with being in a relationship with a master manipulator, or you’re leaving such a relationship, you may benefit from the support of a counselor or therapist.
Unhealthy relationships like those with a Mach personality type can erode your self-esteem and lead to mental health symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and trauma responses.
A therapist or counselor can help you to process the emotions surrounding your relationship and develop healthier ways of coping and thinking about yourself and the world. They can help you overcome any guilt or shame you have related to the relationship, so you can begin to feel better.
Some commonly asked questions
Master manipulators can make you doubt your opinions and question everything. However, here are answers to certain questions that can give you some clarity:
What does a manipulator do in a relationship?
In relationships, manipulators commonly engage in behaviors like blaming you for everything that goes wrong, refusing to accept accountability for what they have done wrong, lying about their intentions, being overly charming to win you over, and making you feel as if you are crazy or unintelligent for calling them out on bad behavior.
What personality type is a master manipulator?
The master manipulator personality is usually referred to as being a Machiavellian or a “Mach.” This personality type belongs to the dark triad, and people who fall into this category lack empathy and will manipulate others for their own personal gain.
Learn more about the Machiavellian personality type in the following video:
How does a manipulator act in a relationship?
A manipulator will likely come on very strong at the beginning of the relationship, showering their partner with affection, attention, and compliments.
As time goes on, they will take advantage of their partner’s trust and love, using the partner to get what they want, whether it is money, sex, a place to live, or some sort of special treatment.
Can manipulators fall in love?
Someone with a manipulative or Machiavellian personality type may claim to love you, and at times, their charisma and affection will seem to indicate true love. However, true master manipulators lack empathy, which is an essential ingredient for healthy love.
A Machiavellian type also tends to behave in a planned way, using manipulation tactics in every interaction with their partner. This means that they don’t react spontaneously to the interaction at hand, and their behavior is somewhat of a show.
Do emotional manipulators have feelings for you?
Mach’s ultimate goal is self-interest, and they aren’t particularly motivated to be emotionally attuned to others or to formulate reciprocal relationships. This means that master manipulators typically aren’t capable of, or interested in, love as most of us understand it.
Relationships with master manipulators often end in heartache and distress because your partner is willing to take advantage of you for their own gain, and they see you as nothing more than a means to an end. Without empathy, emotional intimacy, and commitment, it’s difficult to have a loving, healthy relationship.
If you find yourself in a relationship with a manipulative type, the best choice is often to end the relationship.
Being in a long-term relationship with a master manipulator requires strong boundaries and an understanding that their behavior is not your fault. Even so, you may find that the benefits of the relationship do not make up for the drawbacks.
In some cases, a master manipulator may be willing and able to change to save their relationship. If this is the case, you and your partner may benefit from undergoing relationship counseling to work on some of the issues that arise in master manipulator relationships.
Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker with a master's degree in social work from The Ohio State University, and she is in the process of completing her dissertation for a Doctorate of Philosophy in Psychology. She has worked Read more in the social work field for 8 years and is currently a professor at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. She writes website content about mental health, addiction, and fitness.
Licensed as both a social worker through Ohio Board of Counselors, Social Workers, and Marriage/Family Therapists and school social worker through Ohio Department of Education as well as a personal trainer through American Council on Exercise.
(Jenni Jacobsen is also listed in Best Marriage Therapists in Ashland)
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