Suicide as Manipulation: Bad Relationship Tactics

Last night I was listening to Harmontown (a most ridiculous podcast composed of Dan Harmon venting with his friends about random things), and part of the podcast included Dan and his girlfriend Erin talking through a fight they had just had. At the end of it, Dan jokingly said “well of course we’re staying together because I’ll never leave her and if she leaves me I’ll kill myself.”

Now I realize that this is a joke and I realize that as a feminist (TM) I am not allowed to have a sense of humor, so here goes, I’m going to get offended about this: don’t make this joke. Please. Even in a light-hearted manner. More often than not, this kind of joke has something at the heart of it, which is the message “If you leave me, I won’t be ok. I’m so much more dependent on you than you are on me that you have to stay with me or what I do will be your fault,”

Something that is never, ever, in a million years, ok is to threaten suicide/self harm if your significant other doesn’t behave in a particular fashion (having sex with you, staying with you, saying “I love you”, etc). I understand that it might be true that you will hurt yourself in the event of a breakup. I understand that you might feel that your significant other is the only thing that’s keeping you sane and alive in a given moment. But these things are not appropriate to share with that person because whether or not you intend them to be they are manipulative. This is 100% not to say that you can never disclose that you are having urges for these behaviors, but if it’s framed in the “if you do x I will do y” kind of context, you are suddenly putting the responsibility for your safety on someone else’s shoulders and that is inappropriate. Particularly if your response to someone else bringing up issues is to threaten self-harm, your relationship is based on manipulative premises and that is emotionally abusive.

This is going to be a short post because most of what I’m saying is (hopefully) self-evident, but rarely have I heard people address this particular abusive behavior head on, or even reference the joke-version that actually comes up surprisingly often. In this case, I understand that it’s a joke, but even bringing up this possibility to your SO is a dangerous tactic to use if you want to continue to have a healthy relationship. It tells them that somewhere in your brain that’s a thought. It tells them that maybe, just maybe, it could happen. So while it’s not the same as actually making the threat, it’s definitely not something I’d suggest if you want to be a decent human being.

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