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Threats of suicide can range from overt—I’ll kill myself if you ever leave me—to subtle—You won’t have to worry about me much longer. No matter the context, they can be scary and confusing. The last thing you want is for your partner to die by suicide. So what should you do if an abuser threatens suicide?
Domestic Abusers Use Threats to Control A Victim
Why do abusers threaten suicide? Because abusers often use threats of suicide as a form of power and control. They’ll convince you that if they commit suicide, it’ll be your fault and how can you live with that? They’ll tell you that if you leave, report the abuse or otherwise don’t follow their wishes, they’ll kill themselves, and you’ll be to blame.
Threats like this are a form of emotional abuse called coercive control. Such statements aren’t cries for help. These suicidal threats are being made to manipulate you into doing what the abuser wants.
“Abusers know that by threatening suicide, they are putting their victims in a position where they have no choice but to respond with care, concern and emotional support,” says clinical psychologist Carolina Estevez. “This type of behavior can be incredibly effective in controlling a victim’s emotions and keeping them locked into an unhealthy relationship. Abusers may use this tactic to avoid any consequences for their abusive behavior since the threat of suicide makes it harder for victims to leave or seek help.”
Suicide and Domestic Violence Homicide Are Often Linked
Statistics show that suicide and homicide are often correlated when it comes to domestic violence. Research from the Kentucky Firearm Injury Statistics Program showed that in two-thirds of cases where a woman was shot by an abuser, the perpetrator then killed himself. Abusers don’t think of killing themselves as severe enough retribution. They’ll consider taking someone else’s life, like a partner, child or other family member(s). Nearly 60 percent of mass shooters have a history of domestic violence, so an abuser may even consider killing complete strangers.
Know that if an abusive partner is threatening suicide, your life could also be at risk.
What Do You Do When An Abuser Claims to be Suicidal?
If ever you feel like your partner is in imminent danger of suicide—i.e. they’ve said they’re planning to die by suicide and they have the means to do so—call 911 immediately.
If the threat is less immediate but you’re still concerned for their safety, you can call the police non-emergency line and request a welfare check. This will cause officers to go and speak with your partner. They'll assess whether or not he or she is a threat to themselves. Another option is to get advice from a crisis counselor from the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988. You can also suggest your partner seek help by talking to their primary care provider or a counselor.
If you suspect that disclosing your partner’s threats will put you in danger, consider first calling your local domestic violence shelter and speaking to a trained advocate. They can help you create a safety plan or get you into an emergency shelter. Even if you’re worried about your partner, your safety needs to come first.
Suicide Is a Serious Threat No Matter What
If your partner uses threats of violence—including suicide—to control you, that’s a huge red flag, even if they never intend to follow through with the threat. Suicidal threats still might be a sign of increasing violence within a relationship. Don’t ignore it. It’s in your best interest to work with a domestic violence advocate to create a safety plan and prepare an escape as soon as possible before things escalate.
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As for your partner? Ultimately, their actions are not your responsibility.
“Although all suicide threats should be considered serious, it is not the survivor’s responsibility to save their abuser. If someone threatens suicide, it means they need a greater level of care than a partner can provide,” says licensed psychologist Kimber Shelton.
Even if your partner does decide to harm themself, know it’s not your fault.
“It is painful and confusing when someone ends their life,” Shelton says. “But ultimately, the decision to die by suicide is theirs. It’s natural and understandable to feel grief when this happens, but there’s no reason a survivor should feel guilt.”
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