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Emotional Blackmail in a Relationship

written by Dr. Carol Morgan September 22, 2020
Emotional Blackmail in a Relationship

Have you ever been in a relationship where your partner makes you feel crazy? Or where they wanted to control your every move? Or perhaps you have felt like you were being emotionally blackmailed?

If you have felt that way, you are not alone. Many people find themselves a victim of an emotional blackmailer.

But what exactly is emotional blackmail? Let’s take a look.

What is Emotional Blackmail?

Emotional blackmail is a very dysfunctional dynamic that happens in some relationships. It is a form of manipulation that a person uses to make demands on and threaten their victims to get what they want.

Just like “regular” blackmail, the message of emotional blackmail is this: “If you don’t do what I want and when I want it, you will be sorry. I will make you suffer.”

An example of “regular blackmail” might look like this: Perhaps you walked in on your married boss fooling around in his office with one of your co-workers (who is not his wife). Since he doesn’t want his wife to find out, he will likely do anything to keep you from telling his secret. So, it would be blackmail for you to say, “I won’t tell your wife if you double my salary.”

Emotional blackmail is not really that different from this. It just happens in close, intimate relationships.

Someone who is trying to emotionally blackmail you will create feelings of fear, guilt, and anger to get you to comply with what they want. While they are doing this, they try to blame you (the victim) for their own negative behavior.

Examples of Emotional Blackmail

A person who is an emotional blackmailer tends to be emotionally immature. They don’t have any other ways to communicate with someone, and they don’t know how to be in a healthy relationship. Instead, they rely on their negative behavior to bully their partner into compliance.

Emotional blackmail occurs in many romantic relationships. In fact, this is probably the most common type of relationship.

Let’s take the example of cheating. If a woman is caught cheating on her husband (and she is an emotional blackmailer), then instead of expressing remorse and apologizing for her actions, she will instead deflect the blame onto her husband.

In other words, she may say things like “If you were just more loving and attentive to me, then I wouldn’t have had to cheat on you!” In saying this, she is justifying her behavior and confusing her husband so much that he might actually start to believe that it is his fault that she cheated on him.

He may even start to internalize this and wonder if maybe he is not good enough for her or that he is somehow a bad husband.

Here are some other ways that someone can emotionally blackmail another person:
  • If you ever break up with me, I will commit suicide.
  • You say you love me, but you won’t stop talking to your friend because I want you to.
  • If I ever catch you looking at another woman, I’ll kill her!
  • I’ve talked to my friends and family, and they all agree that you are crazy!
  • You have ruined my life, and now you’re trying to tell me to stop drinking?

You see, an emotional blackmailer will always try to make the victim feel like they are to blame for everything. Here are a couple of more examples:

  • It’s your fault that I didn’t get that promotion at work.
  • If you would just buy healthy food, then I wouldn’t be fat.

They also use strategies that create confusion in their victims. The ways they do this is by making their demands seem reasonable, making their victim seem selfish or crazy, or partnering with someone else to help intimidate them.

How Do You Know if You are Being Emotionally Blackmailed?

Believe it or not, you might not know if you’re being blackmailed. It might seem like you should know, but sometimes people are too close to the situation and therefore, they don’t recognize the warning signs.

Let’s take a look at some of the things you should be on the lookout for:
  1. Do you apologize a lot? In other words, do you feel like your partner thinks everything you do is wrong and so, you have to constantly beg for forgiveness?
  2. Do you take responsibility for your partner’s actions? In other words, if they are having a temper tantrum, do you automatically think it’s because you did something wrong?
  3. Does it seem like you are the only one who gives in or makes sacrifices in the relationship?
  4. Do you often feel intimidated by your partner? Do you feel threatened into obeying what they say or forcibly comply?
  5. Do you make changes to your life just to make your partner happy?
  6. Do you find it difficult to stand up for yourself? Or do you feel like you are walking around on eggshells and that you can’t talk about things that are bothering you?
  7. Do you find it impossible to set up boundaries in your relationship or to say no to your partner?
  8. Do you find it extremely difficult to communicate with your partner? And that if you do, he/she will not hear what you are really saying?

If you said “yes” to any of these questions, then you are probably being emotionally blackmailed. And you need to do something about it.

Tips for Handling Emotional Blackmail

If you are a victim of emotional blackmail, there are some ways you can handle it.

1. Be Honest With Yourself

First, you need to be honest with yourself and really take a hard, objective look at your partner’s behavior. Try to recognize their controlling behavior – of all kinds.

2. Keep a Journal

Writing down your daily interactions with the other person will allow you to go back and review what was said and done by them. That way, you have a written record of the actual behavior that is happening. Because sometimes, our memory can play tricks on us, so it’s important to get it on paper.

3. Seek Help

Try to understand why you are allowing this behavior in your partner. Is there something in your past that makes you think you deserve this negative behavior? If you have the resources to do so, try to seek help from a therapist to help you uncover why you are allowing this in your life.

4. Determine If You Are in Danger

Many people have their occasional emotional outbursts, but if this has become something regular in your relationship, you need to protect yourself and your children (if you have them).

5. Take Action

Try to get your partner to seek help if he/she is an emotional blackmailer. And if they refuse, then you need to seriously consider ending the relationship if they will not change.

The Bottom Line

No one deserves to be emotionally blackmailed. It is a horrible, mean way to manipulate another human being. So, if you find that you are a victim of emotional blackmail in your relationship, you need to realize that you deserve better.

Save yourself and your happiness, because that is all that really matters.

Book Your Free Coaching Session Now!

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