“If you don’t do what I tell you to do, I’ll tell your parents we had sex.”
“If you break up with me, I’ll post those pics everywhere…”
If your partner makes threats like this, they’re putting you in a really tough spot. This type of threat is called blackmail, and you might feel like you have no option but to do what your partner says. Blackmailing is a form of emotional abuse and, like all abuse, is about power and control. A person who uses this tactic wants to make you afraid of some consequence in order to get you to do what they want.
In order for a relationship to be healthy, partners must trust that when they set boundaries and are intimate with each other, both people will uphold those boundaries and neither will attempt to hurt the other partner. Making threats like this is a violation of that trust. Threats are not a sign of love or care, but of manipulation and control. You never deserve to be threatened, no matter what, and you are never responsible for your partner’s choice to be abusive. Unfortunately that doesn’t make dealing with threats like this any easier. So what can you do if your partner is blackmailing you and trying to get you to do something you don’t want to do?
Stand By Your Boundaries
If you feel like it is safe for you to resist, your best option might be to stand your ground and not give in to the threats. This is often easier said than done, but giving in to the threats usually doesn’t make them stop forever. In fact, it can intensify your partner’s sense of control, and the threats might even become more extreme in the future. It’s possible your partner won’t follow through on their threats. However, you know the situation best, and if you fear your partner could become violent or harm you, it might be safest to give in for now. Remember, if you are giving in to protect yourself, it’s survival; it doesn’t mean you are giving up or that you deserve to be treated this way.
Turn to Your Support System
A support system can help you stay strong and feel supported during a difficult time. If you feel safe doing so, let someone in your network – for example, a friend, parent or counselor – know what’s going on. You can also always call, chat or text with a loveisrespect advocate!
Save All Proof
If your partner is sending you threats via text, email, social media or voice messages, save everything. Take screenshots and keep them in a safe place, like a password protected file or account, or you could send copies to a trusted friend or family member if your partner has access to your computer or phone. This is a way to document the threats and abuse should you choose to take legal action.
Neutralize the Threats
You may want to consider ways to neutralize the threats that your partner is making. For example, if they are threatening to tell your parents about something you did, you could go to your parents first and be upfront and honest about what happened. It might be an uncomfortable thing to do, but your partner would no longer be able to control you with that threat. Or, maybe your partner is threatening to spread a rumor about you. Check out our post on Rumors and Relationships to learn more about dealing with rumors.
If your partner is threatening to out you, you might consider telling your friends or family before your partner has a chance to. This can be a really difficult decision to make, because ideally you should be able to come out to people only when you’re ready. You might consider reaching out for support from a local support group or other resource like the GLBT National Help Center or The Northwest Network.
If your partner is threatening to share sexually explicit pictures or other media, there are some resources that might be able to help. Some states do have laws against “revenge porn,” or nonconsensual pornography, which you can learn more about at End Revenge Porn. Google is also taking steps to help fight revenge porn by honoring requests to remove these images from search results.
No matter the outcome of the situation, it’s important to realize that someone who would make threats like this is not someone you can trust or be in a healthy relationship with, and you should never have to compromise your safety, integrity or privacy to be in a relationship. If you need help, get in touch with one of our peer advocates to talk about your options and create a safety plan, if you need one. We’re here 24/7!