It can be really tough to tell when you’re being used in a relationship. Not only are there multiple ways to be used — including financially, sexually, or emotionally, just to name a few — there also tends to be a lot of deceit and manipulation involved, all to varying degrees.
“On the less destructive — but still problematic — end of the spectrum, a partner might be using you to avoid loneliness,” says Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist, speaker, and author of the Date Smart. They might start a relationship with you in order to fill a gap in their life, to find sexual fulfillment, or to alleviate a financial burden, without realizing that they’re being toxic and unfair.Manly calls these “convenienceships” because your partner is using you to meet a need without the intention of investing further or giving back equally. If the scales are always tipping in your partner’s favor, chances are you have a user on your hands.
There’s also an extremely toxic end of the spectrum, Manly says, where a partner might use you for sheer financial gain or to have someone to bully and control. In any case, “using” typically leads to dishonesty and manipulation — and that can take an emotional toll. “The deceit factor causes significant mental and emotional harm,” Manly says. “When you realize that a partner has been using you, it’s normal to feel sad, upset, and angry. Using another person is absolutely disrespectful, and it never feels good to be disrespected — especially by someone who says they love you.” Here are 17 signs your partner may be using you. If anything sounds familiar, it may be best to move on.
1. They Always Seem Checked Out
If someone maintains a relationship with you, while also showing little to no interest in your everyday life, take it as a sign that something’s up. “Most often when someone is using another they will show signs of disinterest in conversations, in the other’s activities of choice, and in their likes and dislikes,” says Tina Sadri, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist. They won’t ask about your day, they won’t ask your opinion on something, and they definitely won’t listen with interest as you talk. While long-term couples will go through periods of distraction, experiencing this on a regular basis is not OK.
2. They Don’t Do One-On-One Dates
Your partner’s real intentions may show up in less obvious ways as well, including asking other people to join you on dates, Sadri says. This is often done as a way to disperse the attention across a group.
If you always go out with others (most likely their friends), it means your partner doesn’t have to invest much time or energy into chatting with you specifically. They will, however, get to say they “took you out” as a way of feigning interest so the relationship remains intact.
3. They’re Only Nice When They Want Something
While they may seem distant and disinterested most of the time, take note if this person comes on strong whenever they want something. They’ll switch from being checked out to super nice and affectionate — and then ask for a favor soon after.
Now, that’s not to say that a partner who does something nice is automatically a “user.” If they come over with your favorite takeout food, for instance, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have nefarious intentions. It’s only a problem if there’s a consistent pattern of not caring, followed by over-the-top kindness and requests.
One way to tell is if things feel unbalanced, says clinical psychologist Rachel Greenberg, LCP. You may also detect a feeling of uneasiness, almost as if you can tell that their kindness isn’t genuine. When that’s the case, “something is awry in the connection and should be addressed,” Greenberg says.
4. They Use You To Network
If your partner is using you, they might have extra high expectations when it comes to your achievements — but not because they’re cheering you on or rooting for you to achieve your goals. Rather, they’re invested because you success can do something for them, Sadri says.
It’s why your partner may not want to watch movies or go on dates, but suddenly becomes available for parties where they might get to rub elbows with some of your influential friends. The same is true for work events, where they might get to network if they attend as your plus-one. To them, your relationship is a means to an end.
5. They Encourage You To Take High-Paying Jobs
In the same vein, they might also encourage you to take higher-paying jobs and then guilt-trip you if you aren’t interested, Sadri says. It’ll feel like they’re being sweet and encouraging, but if you look close enough, you’ll see it’s mixed with light mentions of how your success would benefit them and/or your relationship.
6. You Feel Uncomfortable Around Them
According to Amalia Sirica, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker, your body can tell you a lot about someone’s intentions, so pay attention to how you feel whenever you talk to or hang out with your partner. Do you get jittery? Do you tense up? Do you feel angry for seemingly no reason? Physical and emotional reactions like these might be a sign your partner doesn’t have your best interests at heart, even if you can’t put a finger on why.
7. They Cross Your Boundaries
If your body is reacting negatively, it might be because your partner pushes past your boundaries to meet their own needs. Pay attention to moments where they cross the line, as well as how they respond when you call them out or say “no.”
“You can learn a lot about someone by the way they respond to your boundaries,” Sirica explains. “A person who is in a relationship with you because they like you will respond to boundaries with ease and understanding.” If your partner is being extractive or “using” you, the opposite will be true.
They’ll likely get really angry and push back against your boundaries or find a reason why the boundary is “dumb” or “unfair” instead of adjusting their behavior as they’ve been asked to. “In other words,” Sirica says, “they won’t be respectful.”
8. The Relationship Feels Unequal
“A partner who is using you will generally have a lopsided, inequitable approach in the relationship,” Manly says, which can manifest in financial, emotional, and physical ways. It might feel like you’re always the one paying for things, planning dates, buying gifts, and doing chores — and they never seem to expend the same amount of effort to meet you halfway. “If your partner seems unwilling to return the favor, or unexcited to give back, chances are they’re using you on some level,” Manly says.
9. They Always Want To Stay Home
While there’s nothing wrong with relaxing at home (especially right now), things might start to feel off if your partner only wants to Netflix and chill — especially if you’re always the one trekking to their place.
According to Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker, this type of laziness sends a strong message. Confining the relationship to their apartment, without any sort of friendship-building dates or trips outside, is a clear indicator of disinterest in taking the relationship to the next level.
Do they refuse to go for walks? Meet up with friends? Or even get a coffee? If you aren’t looking for anything more than a casual hookup, this set-up is totally fine. But if you want the relationship to grow, this type of treatment can be hurtful and esteem-deflating, Heller says, as well as a sign that they’re using you.
10. They Only Take You On Dates
On the flip side is someone who takes you on fancy dates all the time, says relationship coach Leah Carey. The thing is, they aren’t doing it because they want to spend time with you, specifically. Instead, it’s more about status or the idea of having a partner, perhaps to impress friends.
Whether they want to stay in, or only ever want to go out, you’ll obviously want to make sure it matches up with what you’re looking for. As Carey says, “If the other person is getting their needs filled and you’re not, it’s time to re-examine the relationship.”
11. They Feel Entitled To Your Time
What happens if you tell this person no? As Manly says, “People who are users often feel entitled to give nothing or ‘get’ more than they give.” It’s why they’ll get upset or angry if you can’t do something for them, if you want to spend time by yourself, or if you don’t rush to their side the moment they call. They’ll also likely find a way to make you feel guilty about it as a manipulation tactic.
At the same time, you might notice that they don’t come over or pick up the phone when you need something. “A partner who is using you will often have a sense of indifference,” Manly says. “A lack of investment in your thoughts, feelings, and needs is often a sign that you’re being used — and not being given the consideration and respect you deserve.”
12. The Relationship Never Grows
If your partner claims to want a “relationship,” but doesn’t seem interested in actually committing to one or moving things forward, take note. As Deborah J. Cohan, Ph.D., an associate professor of sociology at the University of South Carolina Beaufort says, a user won’t want to move the relationship past the early stages where they get everything they want — physical intimacy, attention, someone to hang out with — without any of the commitment or responsibility.
And there could be any number of reasons for this. “We are a culture that prioritizes being in a couple and sometimes people want that feeling more than they actually want to be with the actual person,” Cohan says. “For someone being used, this can really take a toll emotionally because a person might feel like they are not good enough, that they are not high enough priority for someone, that they can be easily taken advantage of — and then they’ll question their overall sense of worthiness.”
If you want more out of the relationship, don’t wait ages for someone to decide if they’re ready or not.
13. They Get Defensive
When a supportive, committed partner is accidentally selfish, you’ll notice that they’re willing to apologize and make changes once it’s brought to their attention. But if someone is using you on purpose, you’ll likely notice that they get defensive and argumentative instead, says Keischa Pruden, LCMHCS, LCAS, CCS, a therapist and owner of Pruden Counseling Concepts.
Instead of talking about how things are off-balance, they’ll shut the conversation down quickly and angrily because they got caught. “If a person in a relationship is not willing to listen to the other person's concerns and work towards a mutually satisfying solution,” Pruden says. If not, it may be time to move on.
14. There’s A Sense Of Resentment
With all the favors, guilt-tripping, and outlandish requests, you may notice that you feel a sense of resentment on top of everything else, says clinical psychologist Kim Chronister, Psy.D. If you’re genuinely being used, you’ll start to feel like a dried-up well with nothing left to give.
Manly echos this saying, “When a partner tends to engage only for superficial reasons,” like a desire for physical intimacy or to fill a loneliness void, or needing a companion for an event, “you’re being undervalued and under-appreciated.” And that can be draining in more ways than one.
15. They Don’t Want To Sort Out Problems
According to Carey, a healthy connection happens when both partners take the time to name their needs in a relationship, so that everything can run smoothly. This means addressing problems as they arise and coming up with solutions and compromises so that everyone is happy. Someone who is in a relationship for personal again, and not because they actually care about you as their partner, won’t take the time to have these types of tough conversations. Again, it’ll feel very one-sided.
16. You Feel Drained All The Time
Because a “user” demands a lot of time and energy, you’re likely to feel burnt out on a regular basis, Carey says. Maybe you can’t remember the last time you spent a weekend on your own, or the last time you saw friends. This is a huge red flag that your partner is taking more than they’re giving, and that your relationship is unbalanced.
17. They Act Different Behind Closed Doors
If you find yourself wondering, “Am I being used?” you should look at how your significant other acts in private. “Users can often be tremendously charismatic and their appealing qualities can make it hard to see what’s really going on,” Manly says. “However, partners who use others tend to give themselves away through serial red flags that share a common theme of being self-entitled.”
You might notice, for instance, that they drop the act behind closed doors or after they do one kind thing. They’re also likely to be argumentative and defensive, with an eye towards how the relationship benefits them.
But don’t blame yourself if you get swept up in this type of relationship. Often, due to their charisma, it’s easy to get sucked in and think things are a-OK — right up until you realize they aren’t. Take a step back and assess how you feel in the current dynamic. If something doesn’t feel right, it likely isn’t!
What To Do If A Partner Is Using You
OK, so let’s say some of these red flags stand out and it really does seem like your partner is using you. The first thing you should try to do, if it feels safe, is have a conversation where you explain the imbalances you’ve noticed in the relationship and how they affect you.
“Address the issue directly and respectfully,” Manly says. “For example, if you feel that your partner has been using you financially you might say, ‘I’ve realized that I’m paying all the rent and most of the expenses. It would feel fair and balanced to share expenses equally.’”
Then see how they respond. Do they apologize, step up, and make a change to the best of their ability? Or do they get defensive and claim that you’re being ridiculous? If it seems like you’ve caught them being manipulative, Manly says the wisest thing to do may be to cut your losses and move on.
Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist, speaker, author
Tina Sadri, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist
Dr. Kim Chronister, PsyD, clinical psychologist
Amalia Sirica, LCSW, licensed clinical social worker
Deborah J. Cohan, PhD, associate professor of Sociology at University of South Carolina Beaufort
Dr. Rachel Greenberg, clinical psychologist
Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW, licensed clinical social worker
Keischa Pruden, LCMHCS, LCAS, CCS, therapist
Leah Carey, relationship coach
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