Signs Being Exploited in a Romantic Relationship (And What To Do)

Being exploited in a romantic relationship

Being in an exploitative romantic relationship can take a severe toll on your self-esteem, happiness, and overall well-being.

Unfortunately, exploitation in relationships is quite common, with nearly 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men reporting having experienced some form of intimate partner violence.

If you feel your romantic partner is taking advantage of you, it’s important to recognize the signs so you can address the issue or safely exit the relationship if needed.

In this blog article, we will cover how to spot if you’re being exploited in a relationship, why it happens, and actionable tips on what you can do about it.

What Does Being Exploited in a Relationship Mean?

Exploitation in romantic relationships refers to situations where one partner takes advantage of the other partner for their own personal gain or benefit, often through manipulation, coercion, or abuse.

This can include financial exploitation, using a partner for sex, isolating them from friends and family, restricting their personal freedoms, or exerting control through verbal/emotional abuse. Essentially, an exploitative partner prioritizes their own desires and needs above their partner’s health, safety, and wellbeing.

Some common signs you may be exploited in your relationship include:

  • Your partner makes important decisions without your input or consideration of your needs
  • They control your access to finances and monitor how you spend money
  • Your partner isolates you from close friends and family members
  • They check your phone, emails, and social media, or track your location to monitor where you go
  • You feel forced or coerced to perform sexual acts you’re not comfortable with
  • Demeaning insults, gaslighting, and emotional manipulation are used to lower your confidence and self-worth

unhappy couple in bed

Why Does Relationship Exploitation Happen?

There are a few reasons why exploitation occurs in romantic partnerships:

  • Sense of entitlement – Exploitative partners often feel entitled to having their needs and desires met, regardless of their partner’s feelings. They view their partner as someone who should cater to their demands.
  • Learned abusive behaviors – Studies show abusive habits are often intergenerational and learned from observing poor relationship dynamics in childhood.
  • Personality disorders – Certain personality disorders like narcissism, antisocial personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder can compel people to act manipulatively and exploitatively.
  • Unequal power dynamics – Significant gaps in income, age, maturity levels, or personal circumstances can create unbalanced power dynamics that are more susceptible to exploitation.

Regardless of the reasons, being exploited by a romantic partner is unacceptable behavior and steps should be taken to stop it.

Types of exploitation:

  • Financial exploitation: This can include using your partner for money, refusing to contribute financially to the household, or taking out loans in your partner’s name without their consent.
  • Emotional exploitation: This can include making you feel guilty or ashamed for not doing what your partner wants, putting you down or criticizing you, or isolating you from your friends and family.
  • Sexual exploitation: This can include pressuring you into having sex when you don’t want to, or using sex as a way to control you.
  • Power and control: This can involve using their power and influence over you to get what they want, even if it’s not what you want.

couple fight

9 Signs You May Be Exploited in Your Relationship

How do you know if your relationship has crossed into exploitative territory? Here are 9 warning signs to look out for:

  1. They do not respect your boundaries

Partners who exploit you have little regard for your personal limits. They dismiss your boundaries and needs, regularly pressuring or coercing you into uncomfortable situations without care for your consent.

  1. You feel controlled or manipulated

Your choices, social life, finances, or other personal matters feel heavily regulated by your partner. They make you feel guilty or ashamed if you do not comply.

  1. They isolate you from loved ones

Because close relationships are a threat, exploitative partners will try to isolate you. They may prevent you from seeing friends and family to have more control.

  1. Unequal financial arrangements

You may notice one-sided financial expectations, like them spending very little on you while expecting you to cover their expenses.

  1. Everything is transactional

With exploitative partners, even intimacy feels like a transaction. They withhold affection or companionship unless they want something from you in return.

  1. Gaslighting and emotional abuse

Gaslighting, put-downs, insults, and emotional manipulation are common tactics used to make you doubt your own judgment and perceptions.

  1. They have excessive needs you cannot meet

No matter how much you give, it will never be enough for an exploitative partner. Their needs are bottomless pits that leave you drained.

  1. You walk on eggshells

Fearing volatile reactions, frequent criticism, or abandonment, you become hypervigilant about avoiding certain topics and monitoring your behavior.

  1. Intimacy feels coerced or forced

Often an exploitative partner will use pressure, guilt, or shaming to coerce you into physical or sexual acts that make you uncomfortable and that ultimately only fulfill their needs.

couple having fight at home

What Can You Do If You Are Being Exploited?

If you see signs your relationship has become exploitative, here are some important steps to take:

1. Seek help from loved ones – Confide in someone you trust about what is happening. Loved ones can provide critical emotional support and perspective during this time.

2. Set firm boundaries – Clearly communicate behaviors that are unacceptable to you moving forward and stick to those boundaries.

3. Get counseling support – Seek guidance from a professional therapist or counselor who can help you process the situation in a healthy way.

4. Contact domestic violence resources – If you ever feel unsafe, call emergency services or a domestic violence hotline for assistance with making a safety plan.

5. Gather important documents – Have access to crucial documents and belongings in case you need to urgently leave the situation.

6. Consult with a lawyer – Understand your legal options regarding divorce, child custody, restraining orders, or reporting abuse.

7. Prepare your support system – Let close friends or family members know about your situation and lean on them for strength as you take steps to exit the relationship.

8. Leave safely – When deciding to leave an exploitative relationship, be strategic in safely retrieving belongings and finding secure housing to avoid further abuse.

9. Begin healing – Seek therapy and join support groups to help you process trauma, build back your self-worth, and develop healthier relationship habits.

If you see multiple signs your romantic partner is exploiting you, trust your instincts. No one deserves to be manipulated or controlled in a relationship. Prioritize your safety and well-being above all else.

With adequate support and preparation, you can regain your self-confidence, freedom, and hope for healthy love in the future by escaping an exploitative relationship.


Being exploited by a romantic partner can make you feel powerless, trapped, and worn down over time. But establishing clear boundaries, reaching out for support, and safely exiting the relationship can help you reclaim your autonomy.

While challenging, leaving an exploitative relationship presents opportunities for profound healing, growth, and loving relationships where you are cherished as an equal. You deserve nothing less. Learn here more about marriage problems guide and tips.