Emotional Blackmail in Relationships

January 3rd, 2024 by

Emotional blackmail is defined as the manipulation of someone using their own emotions and feelings. This happens when someone tries to use your emotions that you have for them against you.

Dr. Susan Forward, author of Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You, pioneered the term emotional blackmail back in 1997. She describes emotional blackmail as a “powerful form of manipulation where people are threatened directly or indirectly.”

Emotional blackmail is very common in romantic relationships. In a relationship, the emotional blackmailer is either making their partner feel guilty for not accepting their demands, shaming them if they do not comply, or subtly getting them to fear them so that they agree with their demands. 

There are six stages of emotional blackmail, according to Dr. Forward:

1. Demand. 

It begins with what seems like a normal request from the emotional manipulator. This request later on becomes a demand as the manipulator becomes adamant on what he or she wants and will not budge on his or her demand. 

2. Resistance 

The partner at this stage does not agree with the emotional manipulator and will not give in to the request.

3. Pressure 

The partner’s resistance is seen as a defiance by the emotional manipulator and will try their best to change the mind of their partner. They will make statements like the following:

  •  “I want what is best for us.” 
  • “Don’t you love me enough to do this much for me?”
  • “It is hurting me that you don’t see it the way I see it.” 

4. Threats 

At this point, the emotional manipulator will use threats to get what they want. They will tell their partner that there will be consequences if they do not get what they want. They will cause pain or unhappiness to their partner.  

5. Compliance 

After listening to the emotional manipulator’s reasoning and bombarding, the partner will give in to their partner’s demands. Their compliance makes them uncomfortable, but they feel it is best to just give in to the demands of their partner.

6. Repetition 

After the acceptance of the demands, there is a period of peace. But at this point, the emotional manipulator knows that he or she has an effective way of getting their partner to accept what they want. Thus, a pattern is created.

Being emotionally blackmailed is a traumatizing experience, and it is very difficult situation to deal with. When facing this kind of emotional abuse, here are some ways one can take in order to deal with the situation:  

1. Change your point of view.

Don’t allow yourself to be placed in a situation where you are being emotionally manipulated, and don’t expect the situation will somehow change as people who do not know your worth will not change.

2. Set boundaries. 

Having strict boundaries will make it clear to your partner that you are not easily manipulated. Being able to stand by your own decisions will a difference in how a partner will treat you. 

3. Confront the blackmailer. 

Be honest and tell your partner you are not going to tolerate his or her demands or subtle manipulations.

4. Get mental health support for them.

If the emotional blackmailer is open to change, a mental health professional can help.

5. Love is without blackmail. 

In a relationship, one is supposed to be valued and respected. If there is emotional manipulations and blackmail, then there is no love, only abuse of power and wanting to be in control.

6. Confide in someone. 

When your partner is an emotional manipulator, it is imperative that you confide to people you can trust and tell them of your situation.

7. Remove yourself from the situation.

When your partner is set in his or her ways and a compromise cannot be reached, you need to remove yourself from the situation. This may be difficult to do but not impossible.Just take the necessary action to get out of the relationship. 

Tough as these steps are, they are the important in ensuring one’s emotional, psychological, and physical well-being and safety. 


Gonzalez, Sergio de Dios. “Blackmail and Coercion: Destroyers of Healthy Relationships.” Last modified July 29, 2023.

Lawrenz, Lori. “Emotional Manipulation: What It Is and How to Cope.” Last modified October 5, 2022.

Pleasant Mind. “Understanding Emotional Blackmail in the Modern World.” Last modified July 20, 2023.

What a Mess Blackmail by Mark Levy