When does it become emotional blackmail? It’s not entirely uncommon to acquiesce to your partner’s requests. After all, you can compromise as well as the next person. But when does healthy compromise turn into something else–something more sinister and harmful?

If you often find yourself giving into demands of your partner and feel fear if you had the occasion to not give in, you might be in a relationship in which your partner goes overboard using emotional blackmail to control you.

6 Warning Signs of Emotional Blackmail

  • Manipulating your decisions and choices by reacting negatively to the choices he or she decides isn’t what they want you to do.
  • Intimidate you until you do what they want.
  • Blame you for something that you didn’t do so that you feel you have to work overtime to win back their affection.
  • Accuse you of doing something you didn’t do for the same reasons.
  • Suffer dramatically and publicly until you agree to do what they want to make them happy.
  • And the worst: Threaten to harm either you or themselves to get you to do (or not do) something.

People who use guilt and emotional blackmail to manipulate and control often work in cycles. There is a period of time in which things seem to be going well and often the victim might let their guard down because the manipulation and intimidation went away. Perhaps the victim will then feel “I must be doing things correctly now.”

Unfortunately, people who resort to emotional blackmail are often extremely insecure. When the person who uses emotional blackmail starts to feel out of control or uneasy about a situation, they may begin to increase the pressure of manipulation to their partner.

If you are a victim of emotional blackmail and you believe your partner is using guilt to control or manipulate you, you need to seek help right away. Depending on the situation, individual or couples counseling could be needed. Online counseling is an option for people in need of flexibility.


While you wait for help and work on counseling with a therapist, take these three vital steps:

  1. Establish clear boundaries and don’t allow the poor attitude of your partner to change your mind. Giving into emotional blackmail only makes things worse.
  2. If your partner threatens physical harm or alludes to hurting you, leave immediately and call the authorities. Don’t stay in a potentially dangerous situation simply because you’re afraid to lose personal belongings. They can all be replaced; you can’t.
  3. Reach out to your social support system for help while you are getting professional help. Your therapist or counselor provides valuable help and insight, but they can’t be there for you 24/7.

Many people have a certain level of insecurity; don’t assume that anyone who is insecure is going to turn into an emotional blackmailing monster. Sometimes it’s just a matter of simple reassurance and making your partner feel special. When the reassurances cease to be enough and you feel more and more manipulated by the emotions of your partner, those are the red flags that should alert you that something is wrong.

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Anthony Centore

Anthony Centore Ph.D. is Founder and CEO at Thriveworks--a counseling practice, focused on premium client care, with 240+ locations across the USA. He is Private Practice Consultant for the American Counseling Association, columnist for Counseling Today magazine, and Author of How to Thrive in Counseling Private Practice. Anthony is a multistate Licensed Professional Counselor and has been quoted in national media sources including The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and CBS Sunday Morning.

Check out “Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book” written by AJ Centore and Taylor Bennett."