Ending a romantic relationship is never easy, for either of the people involved. Emotions usually run high, at least on the part of one of the partners. Occasionally one partner has already checked out of the relationship, which may also be the precipitating cause of the breakup, so the intense emotions may be mostly on one side.
There is another complicating factor that can make a difficult situation vastly worse: one partner may threaten to harm themselves if the other leaves. More than likely, if you’re the one whose partner is making the threat, you do not have experience with this type of situation. And there’s nothing worse than trying to figure out a difficult, emotional problem on the fly.
So what’s going on here? There are two probable scenarios: your partner is trying to manipulate you into staying, or they’re serious. In an article for HuffPost.com, Lindsay Holmes elaborates on the many complexities that could accompany such a volatile situation and what you can do to help.
“First and foremost, prioritize your own safety if you are in an abusive relationship.” Holmes cites experts who say that the threat of self-harm frequently occurs in an abusive relationship. “If this is true for you,” writes Holmes, “it’s critical that you take care of yourself first before even thinking about your partner. This means putting physical distance between yourself and the abuser or reaching out to someone to let them know what’s going on. Call the dating abuse hotline at 866-331-9474, or you can text ‘loveis’ to 22522.”
The next step is to let your partner’s family or friends know about the danger. You are not the best one to intervene, but someone among those you contact will know who is best to step in. She also adds that “Ensuring your own safety is your only job in this situation. And remember that this situation ― and whatever happens as a result of prioritizing your health and safety ― is not your fault.”
Every year, May is publicized as Mental Health Awareness Month, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness — NAMI.org — does an excellent job of promoting awareness of the issue. They stress that one in five adults lives with a mental health condition, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. One resource that many people are not aware of is the option to text 988 to get immediate support — similar to calling 911 for emergency help.
“Be aware of more subtle threats of self-harm, too.” There’s a fine line between a maudlin and probably exaggerated statement — “I can’t live without you” — and subtle manipulation. Keep that resource we mentioned in mind — texting 988 — and tell your partner about it. That’s a positive step you can take without succumbing to any kind of threat.
“Be very judicious about choosing to stay in touch after you end the relationship.” We recently looked at the tendency for people to want to stay friends with an ex after a relationship ends — Moving On After A breakup — and suggested it may not be a good idea at all. That’s doubly true if you’re trying to get out of an abusive relationship. On the other hand, “Staying in touch in a non-abusive situation is completely up to your comfort level,” Holmes writes. “If you’re unsure about how you feel, there’s no harm in setting some boundaries and taking some space.”
“You can take care of yourself and still take self-harm and suicide seriously.” Keep two things in mind: You are the best one to ensure the safety you deserve; and you can help your partner by taking the steps above. You can do both.