A Note on Language
In this toolkit, we will sometimes use the word woman/women and feminine pronouns for simplicity and to recognize the significant impact technology-facilitated violence has on women and girls. We recognize that TFGBV also impacts trans, non-binary, and Two-Spirit people. We hope that all people impacted by TFGBV will find these documents useful.
Has someone you love ever said “I won’t be a problem for you much longer” during an argument or fight? This could be in person or online through text or social media. Whether these words are coming from a romantic partner, a friend, or a family member, they can be very scary to hear, as they could be a warning sign that they’re contemplating suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 34, meaning that each of us may know someone struggling with suicidal thoughts.
Knowing the warning signs can help you recognize when people close to you are contemplating suicide. If your partner, someone you know, or you yourself are contemplating suicide, please seek immediate help. Kids Help Phone and Talk Suicide Canada are available 24/7.
But what if your partner regularly threatens suicide, particularly whenever you’re not doing something they want you to do, or when you’re trying to leave the relationship? This is a form of emotional abuse. Your partner is trying to manipulate you by playing on your feelings of love and fear for them.
You might get angry when this happens, but you also might feel like you must give in to them to avoid a potential tragedy. Both feelings are natural, and there is no shame in reacting that way. It’s normal to be afraid for someone’s life, especially someone close to you. When your partner makes these threats repeatedly, they may be using them to control your actions. If you start to notice this, here are steps you can take to protect yourself and possibly help your partner.
Tell Your Partner You Care About Them, But Stick to Your Boundaries
Giving in to threats over and over does not make a relationship healthy, and it only creates anger and resentment on your end.
Knowing the difference between the warning signs of suicide and a pattern of threats as a method of manipulation or abuse can help you feel more secure in setting your boundaries. If your partner is threatening suicide or even joking about it, you could say something like, “You know I care about you very much, and I understand you’re upset right now, but I don’t think it is fair to be pressured this way.” This helps show your partner that you care about them while standing firm in your boundaries.
Recognize that You Cannot Control Your Partner’s Actions
Even when we are going through a challenging time, we all get to choose how we handle those emotions. Ultimately, we are not responsible for another person’s actions – and this includes if your partner chooses to be abusive or is contemplating suicide.
You could say to your partner, “I really care about you, and I don’t want anything to happen to you. I can try to find resources that can help you, but it is ultimately your choice. I won’t force you to do anything you don’t want to.” If your partner is struggling with suicidal thoughts, that is sadly something that’s outside of your control. You can share resources or programs, such as Kids Help Phone and Talk Suicide Canada that can help them. But remember, getting help is ultimately up to them.
Remember that No Matter What Your Partner Says, You Don’t Have Anything to Prove
Sometimes an abusive partner will try to manipulate your emotions by saying something like, “If you really loved me, you’d stop me from killing myself.”
Your partner should not make you “prove” your love or how much you care for them, especially by coercing you to do things that make you uncomfortable. Remember, a relationship is about trust and your partner should trust that you love and care for them. And, as we said above, you can provide them with resources but you can’t stop them from doing something they choose to do.
When you hear someone you care about saying they want to take their own life, it is upsetting and traumatic. Whether it is a manipulative threat, a genuine feeling, or a joke, suicide is a challenging thing to talk about. It is not something that you have to navigate on your own.
Organizations such as Kids Help Phone and Talk Suicide Canada can help you determine how to best support someone who is actively contemplating suicide. Talking about the situation with a friend or family member can help you better identify if it is a pattern of emotional manipulation.
It can also be helpful to connect with a support worker in your area who can help you process what is going on with the threats and emotional abuse. If your partner often says they’re going to kill themselves when things aren’t going their way, that’s manipulation and not love – and they’re likely trying to control your actions.
Remember, you are not alone. You can’t force your partner to get help if they don’t want to. They have to make that choice for themselves. If you have questions, please connect with one of these confidential safe support services available:
Digital Dating Violence is part of a continuum of violence that can be both online and in-person. If you or someone you know is experiencing digital dating violence, you are not alone. Encourage them to chat with a trusted adult, connect with the Kids Help Phone to create a safety plan, or you can use sheltersafe.ca to find a shelter/transition house near you to discuss options and create a safety plan. You don’t need to stay in a shelter to access free, confidential services and support.
Adapted from the National Domestic Violence Hotline in the United States.