Emotionally Manipulative/Abusive Relationships

No relationship is perfect; often, our partners’ flaws are traits we learn to find endearing. Sometimes, a partner may be overprotective or have a cute habit of teasing you.

But where’s the line drawn between tough love and a toxic relationship?

To help you check yourself before you wreck yourself, 10 Singaporeans share their experiences with emotionally manipulative partners and the signs to look out for.

*Names were changed to protect identities

1. “Kindness always comes with an ulterior motive.”

My boyfriend never failed to be my shoulder to cry on during my depressive episodes, and I appreciated that.

But he made me think I was a burden for being depressed, and had to make up for it by doing anything he wanted—including having sex when I didn’t feel like it.

I felt like I lost control over my own life, because I was constantly guilt-tripped into conceding to his requests. For a long time, I thought I was the problem. But now I know a loved one should never demand favours in return for kindness.
Alana, 20

2. “They warn you against trusting anyone but them.”

My ex-boyfriend gave me serious trust issues. Every time I made a new friend, especially guys, he’d find some way to convince me they were dangerous, and planning to use me.

As he did this consistently and with a caring tone, I believed him and distanced myself from others. Only after I lost all my close friends, I realised he had successfully manipulated me into thinking he was the only person I could depend on.

Leaving him was scary because he was all I had left, but I had to. I eventually got my best friends back, whom I now count on more than any boyfriend.
Ingrid, 19

3. “They tear your self-esteem apart.”

Before my first time, I opened up to my then-boyfriend about being a virgin, and how I was insecure about sex. But he’d still criticise my sexual performance, teasing me for doing things wrong.

Whenever I told him I was hurt by his comments, he’d say I was too sensitive and needed a sense of humour. His mean jokes disempowered me and made me feel inadequate, and I began to believe this was the normal way couples spoke to each other.

I soon noticed how I felt inferior to him and had begun to act accordingly, and realised this wasn’t right. If your partner knows his words are hurting you and doesn’t change, drop him.
Lena, 25

4. “They gaslight you.”

My ex made me feel like I was crazy—not in the romantic way. Whenever I called her out for breaking promises, she claimed I was remembering things wrong.

I questioned my own sanity because of how firmly she insisted I was wrong. But I was certain I was right because her stories wouldn’t add up, and always conveniently excused her from responsibilities.

Now I understood she was a manipulative liar who was blatantly bluffing, and I only fell for it because I thought she was someone I could trust.
Nick, 20

5. “They bully you into doing things you don’t want to.”

I had a complicated relationship with sex because of religion and my history of sexual abuse.

Even though my ex-partner knew this, he’d manipulate me into sleeping with him by saying things like “If you really loved me you’d do this” or “You make me feel so unattractive and unlovable”.

I gave in because I wanted to make him happy, but made myself miserable in the process. I eventually left because being constantly pushed for sex made me physically sick. Now that I’m in a healthy relationship, I realise everyone deserves to have their boundaries respected.
Nina, 22

Also read:

I Dated A Man Twice My Age And It Was The Most Toxic Relationship I’ve Ever Been In

6. “You feel afraid of them for some reason.”

I had a fear of my boyfriend ruining my life if I ever upset him too much. Even though he never explicitly threatened me, I felt wary because he knew all my secrets and had saved my nudes.

My friends told me I was being paranoid, and that relationships required trust. But I couldn’t, despite trying, as I felt he was subtly manipulating me into doing what he wanted.

In the end, I followed my gut feeling and broke up with him. It wasn’t normal to feel so distrustful. Even if you can’t figure out the cause, it’s best not to stay in a relationship with an unhealthy power dynamic.
Rachel, 23

7. “They always need to have their way.”

As an ex-debater, my boyfriend had a knack for arguing. I enjoyed our intellectual spars, but this habit soon turned toxic.

He’d challenge me over every little thing, from where we should have dinner to whether I ought to ditch my friends for him. And he never once let me win. Instead, he developed a possessive streak and always argued until I gave in.

On the rare occasions I met up with friends, they told me how odd they found my situation—there was zero give-and-take. After their wake up call, I broke up with him.
Beth, 21

8. “You feel like a child in the relationship.”

My boyfriend had a caring nature which I loved. He looked out for me and worried about my safety. But his nurturing behaviour turned obsessive as he made all the decisions.

Whenever I suggested date ideas, he’d laugh, almost patronisingly, and continue with his own plans.

He treated me like I was unable to hold my own and needed him to guide me through life. I only snapped out of it when I realised I had lost my sense of independence, texting him my location wherever I went.
Laurel, 20

9. “They make excuses for bad behaviour.”

My ex-boyfriend’s father walked out on his family when he was young. He told me the experience damaged him, and I pitied him for it.

But he used this as an excuse to act like a terrible person. He ignored me for ages at a time, and shouted awful things about my insecurities when he was upset.

I found myself excusing his behaviour too, reminding myself of the trauma he’s faced. But then I realised he would never try to improve himself or go for therapy. He was content staying an asshole, and I decided I wasn’t content staying with one.
Megan, 24

10. “They make you feel like you can’t trust them.”

My ex always kept promises vague, so she could deny ever confirming it later on. A big red flag was how she liked having all our text convos on a Telegram secret chat.

It was clearly shady, but when I confronted her, she said she was hurt by my lack of faith in her. I felt guilty the first few times, but soon realised she was just shifting blame and victimising herself.

I didn’t want to believe it because I really liked her. But ultimately, you should always go with your gut. If you constantly live in distrust of your partner, something’s definitely wrong.
Brendan, 21

Being Emotionally Manipulated

Everyone may experience emotional manipulation differently. But these are some signs you could look out for if you’re concerned about your relationship.

If you think you’re experiencing emotional abuse, reach out to a friend or parent, or contact AWARE at 1800 777 5555 (Open from Monday to Friday, 3.00pm to 9.30pm).

Cover image: Source
This article was first published on 24 May 2018 and last updated on 15 April 2024. 

Also read:

The 9 Biggest Lessons Singaporean Girls Have Learnt From Dating Their First Boyfriend