Navigating Emotional Blackmail in Relationships

Navigating Emotional Blackmail in Relationships

Does it seem like you partner is constantly driving you crazy?  Maybe it seems like they are trying to control your actions.  These can be signs of emotional blackmail and you are not alone.  Emotional blackmail is a toxic pattern that can occur in certain relationships.  Manipulation is used to place demands or threats on a victim to achieve a goal.  The message conveyed is “If you don’t act the way I want, you will be sorry.  I will cause you agony.”

With emotional blackmail manipulations occur between people in extremely close relationships.  Much like other forms of blackmail, feelings of fear, guilt, and anger will be created so you can fulfill their exact intentions.  While this is occurring, the perpetrator will blame the victim for any negativity they are experiencing.

Types of Emotional Blackmail

Emotional blackmailers are often wound beings or emotionally repressed.  They lack the proper communication skills and don’t understand how to sustain healthy dynamics.  Instead, they force their partner to bend to their wishes.  Often, emotional blackmail while occur in romantic relationships.  For example, with infidelity the cheater won’t convey remorse or try to atone for their actions.  Instead, they will shift blame to their partner with statements like “If you were home more then I wouldn’t have had to have sex with the butler.”  This statement serves to validate harmful behavior and muddle the partner’s thinking to the point they begin to believe it was actually their fault.  They may internalize this struggle and question their value in the romance and as a person.  Other types of emotional blackmail include:

  • “If you move out, I will kill myself.”
  • “If you truly loved me you would stop being friends with him.”
  • “If you so much as glance at another person, I’ll kill them!”
  • “Because I had to drive you to the hospital I missed out on my promotion!”
  • “I wouldn’t be fat if you would have bought that treadmill.”

Notice how the emotional blackmailer will always try to blame the victim for all the problems.  They act in way to instill confusion for their victim by making seemingly logical points, paint their victim as selfish or paranoid, or enlisting others to aid in intimidation.

Signs you are being emotionally blackmailed

Typically, people don’t recognize they are being blackmailed.  This is often because people are so close to the situation it clouds their judgement.  They ignore the warning signs because they love their partner and want to give them the benefit of the doubt.  Here are some key red flags.

  • Frequently saying you’re sorry or begging for forgiveness for no clear reason.
  • Do you assume blame for your partner’s actions (think you are wrong because they had a violent outburst)?
  • Constantly being the one that bends in the relationship.
  • Feeling threatened or intimidated until you comply with their wishes.
  • Have you altered multiple aspects of your life to appease them?
  • Inability to stand up for yourself or constantly feeling like you are walking on eggshells.
  • Inability to establish healthy boundaries in your relationship
  • Extreme difficulties in communication or feeling like they never listen to you.

Helpful coping strategies

  1. Take an objective look: Be honest about what you are seeing, no matter how hard and try to recognize all the ways they are acting in a controlling manner.
  2. Journal: Record your experiences and what they are saying or how they were acting.  Since our memory can cloud over time or we might try to make excuses/ignore bad behavior it is important to get things down on paper.  This can allow for you to review and process in greater detail at a later date.
  3. Seek help: A therapist can help you process what your partner is doing and why you might have previously permitted this pattern.  Perhaps there is a part of you that thinks you deserve this pain.  Working with a professional can help you heal.
  4. Assess threat level:  Everyone can react poorly from time to time.  But if this is a well-established pattern you need to understand how to best protect yourself and any children.
  5. Act: Begin by trying to get your partner the professional help they need.  Should they refuse consider what you need to do in order to stay health.  This include whether or not you should end the relationship.


Emotional blackmail is a harmful pattern that no one deserves.  It’s cruel and manipulative that wreaks havoc on the lives of many people.  If you suspect you or someone you love is being emotional blackmailed seek help immediately.  Everyone deserves to feel safe, happy and respected.

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