Morning friends,

I love you all. I love your heart. I love how you spend so much of your precious time helping one another, sharing your stories, resources and heart with one another. I love that you are humble and confess when you have reacted emotionally or harshly and want to learn to walk in CORE strength.

This is what fellowship, connection, and community is about. This is having healthy relationships, not that we are perfect, but that we can listen to each other’s various points of view in a humble respectful way and when we don't agree, we respectfully disagree without attacking one another.

We all need to practice not being defensive and reactive. Me too. Just this week I found myself getting a little bristly with someone who was opposing me and that’s not who I want to be or how I want to behave. It is a constant challenge to press pause when I get triggered or my ego is being threatened. Instead of opening my mouth, I have learned to close it and ask God for wisdom and strength before I respond.

I think this blog gives you the perfect opportunity to practice these skills. If we want to get healthier, we have to learn to handle challenges in a godly way. We have to learn how to speak the truth in love and recognize our limitations so when we get triggered we don’t react in ways we later regret.

We also have to learn to stand for something sometimes, even if we are standing alone or it costs us. This helps us shed some of our people pleasing, accommodating tendencies, which is a good thing. Jesus always pleased God, but at times he disappointed people, including his own followers.

That’s why I allow those who disagree, those who criticize, and even sometimes those who act arrogantly and bully their point of view to make comments on the blog. These are people we will encounter in real life. We need to learn to respond to them in a godly way if we want to walk in CORE strength. Why not practice learning how to do that on my blog so when you encounter this kind of person in your day-to-day life, you will be better prepared.

Also, I will be hosting a free webinar on 2/2/17 about The Link Between Depression And Marriage. This free webinar will uncover the reasons why unhappily married women are more vulnerable to depression. I hope you will join me. You can register by clicking here.

Question: I have read your book, along with many other books, to work on myself within my marriage and am learning to set boundaries with my spouse instead of falling into reactive abuse like I had been doing. However, when I do set boundaries my husband becomes despondent and threatens suicide.

These threats seem like the ultimate manipulation ploy yet I am concerned that if he does commit suicide, then I will somehow be responsible for his death.

Answer: I’m glad that you’ve recognized that you were slipping into reactive abuse and excusing it because of your husband’s treatment of you. God’s word is clear that we are not to repay evil for evil or insult for insult. We are not to be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good (Click To Tweet).

So you are on the right track by learning how to walk in CORE strength and not be reactive when triggered or threatened.

Now that you are trying to do some things differently, including setting some boundaries, this change does not sit well with your spouse. You say he becomes despondent and threatens suicide and your fear is that if he actually kills himself, you will feel responsible for his death.

First, threatening to kill one’s self is a serious matter that you don’t want to take lightly or ever ignore. When someone has lost hope and not thinking clearly and foolish decisions are sometimes made, including deciding to end one’s life.

It’s very scary when someone makes that threat. And even though you feel he is probably being manipulative, try to have compassion for your husband’s emotional state when he gets to that place. However, the next time he threatens to kill himself, I want you to compassionately say something like this to him.

“Threatening to kill yourself is very serious and I’m scared. I’m going to call 911 because I don’t want you to do something in a moment of despair and end your life. They will be able to help you.”

Then call 911 and tell them that your husband has threatened to commit suicide and you are frightened for him. The police will come and take him to the emergency room for a psychiatric evaluation. If he is suicidal they will admit him for his safety.

This accomplishes two goals.

1) If he was close to the edge of suicide, then you have done what you can do to create a safety net for him. You are not responsible for his feelings or his choices, but as his wife, you are responsible to him to help him get help if he needs it.

2) If he was being manipulative, knowing you will call 911 if he threatens suicide may stop him from manipulating you in this particular way. (Please note it won’t stop his attempts to manipulate you in another way).

When someone manipulates you by threatening suicide, it is an attempt to control you. The person may say, “Don’t separate or I will kill myself.” Don’t have those boundaries or I will kill myself.” And it’s very effective. Who wants to live with that on your conscious the rest of your life?

And that is what you fear. If your husband does commit suicide, is it your fault? Are you to blame? Are you responsible? The answer is no.

Picture it this way. Let’s say your child says, “If you don’t buy me that toy, I’m going to scream my head off in this store.” Now a child doesn’t actually say that but that’s what they threaten you with. The message is “If you don't do what I want, I’m going to make you pay.” And if your child started screaming his head off, would you think that’s your fault because you didn’t buy him the toy? Of course not. You know it’s not your fault nor are you to blame for his outburst, even if you do end up giving in just to keep him quiet.

But is giving in to your child’s tantrum the solution for your and his distress? Nope. Giving in only sets you both up for more of the same. Every time your child wants something, if you say no, all he has to do is throw the biggest, scariest, embarrassing fit and you cave in. That pattern is not good for you as the mom, nor is it good for your child. It teaches your child that manipulation works and you end up as a victim of your child’s emotional tantrums.

So I agree with you. It’s scary when a manipulative person threatens suicide if you don’t do what he or she wants you to do. But what’s the alternative? Do you want to be held hostage to his control by your fear of what might happen? That’s why you can do something constructive to get him help if he does threaten suicide by immediately calling 911. If he ends up killing himself, it is tragic and sad, but it is not your fault. It was his choice.

Friend, how have you dealt with manipulators or confused being responsible for someone with being responsible to someone?

25 Comments

  1. Survivor on February 1, 2017 at 7:28 am

    I went through a lot of this with my husband. At first it scared the socks off of me and was a very effective threat. Then it began to annoy me that he was able to yank my chain this way. Then a wide person told me that when a person really wants to commit suicide, they don’t tell anyone. They don’t do anything where anyone will find them and stop them. They find a place where they can go through with it without being interrupted. When I looked at what was happening, I realized that it was true…..the only time H would make those threats was when he wasn’t getting what he wanted. After one of those events, when things had settled down, I asked him what he was hoping to accomplish. Eventually it came out that he was attempting to elicit an apology from me and force me to take the blame for what he was feeling so he would have no responsibility. I told him that I did not believe that he was suicidal but that he was having a tantrum to try to control me and that I would not be manipulated in this way again. He never tried it again. But he escalated in other ways. We have now been separated for 9 months……

    • Survivor on February 1, 2017 at 7:30 am

      *should say a “wise person”…..autocorrect got me!!!

  2. CORE husband on February 1, 2017 at 7:34 am

    My wife never threatened to kill herself… It was much more subtle. She would just start mentioning killing herself with comments like, “You would love for me to be dead,” or “it would be better off without me.” But it was clearly meant to pull my insides out. It was “victim talk” meant to get me to “rescue” her and condone or “permit” her other wrong behavior to have no consequences (which I had just been confronting). Eventually, I shared with her that I was concerned for her safety and that the next time she makes comments about ending her life, I would be calling 911 to get help. She stopped saying it. Later, as the relationship somewhat improved, she admitted that she was feeling despair, and was trying to control me to generate a sense of control for herself. She needed help, but was going about getting it in a very manipulative way. It was definitely confusing to try to sort out. Ultimately, I think I had to realize I was responsible for me, not her, and there would be no way to decipher her intentions at that moment…I had to make my own choice. Until I did, I was afraid of what it might lead to. I had my own control issues… I was trying to make everything better for everyone and trapped in that mode. It really felt impossible to work out.

  3. SaraJane on February 1, 2017 at 8:16 am

    I asked relevant questions and eventually learned that his doctors determined he was safe. They didn’t think he would act on his desire to swallow a bottle of Tylenol.

    It’s still a scary place to be, so I’m sorting out what is TRUTH as I walk in CORE strength.

    Thank you for this timely post, Leslie!

  4. Refocus-Reclaim on February 1, 2017 at 9:50 am

    So true! I had that same issue. It was really hard to learn that I wasn’t responsible for my spouse’s choices.

  5. Caroline Abbott on February 1, 2017 at 11:11 am

    Thanks for this. I have a child that is beginning this pattern of threatening suicide. I can’t tell if she is maniputative or not. I had already decided to call 911 the next time she did it. Thanks for confirming this for me.

  6. Sarah on February 1, 2017 at 11:24 am

    My ex used this as manipulation also. It was his way of shifting responsibility from himself to me. At the time it was tormenting to me. To feel that I was responsible for keeping him alive! It was more than I could take. Looking back, I doubt he would have ever followed through with those threats, but they were very really and very scary at the time.

  7. charlene on February 1, 2017 at 11:31 am

    I have done the calling of authorities and have also reaped the abuse that goes along with it. In years to come, the incident was brought up in the light that I exaggerated and over reacted because the hospital deemed him “sane” and left him go. I sometimes still question my choice but remind myself he made the choices which brought on the consequences of his shame and embarrassment. I did what any sane person would have done given an insane situation. Given the choice I would do the same thing again.

  8. Loren on February 1, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    I went through this with my ex. She got caught in adultery, lies and unethical behavior at work. After weeks of trying to resolve this, I put a lock on our bedroom door and removed her possessions to the garage, Her response was to throw a fit in front of our children, including kicking down the door and trashing the room. She then cycled between remorse and anger and sent me a note threatening to kill herself. My therapist suggested a restraining order and my Christian attorney crafted it to temporarily remove her child custody and instate child support. Lifting the retraining order was contingent on her get a psychiatric evaluation and continuing appointments with her therapist. Photos of the damage she did to the house and her note with a suicide threat were included in the restraining order request. The judge granted the restraining order and she behaved. My wise therapist and attorney turned her threats around and got her back into professional care. She did not appreciate having the light shone on her behavior. It became quite obvious that she was using her suicide threat an an attempt to manipulate me and make me the bad guy.

  9. Connie on February 1, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    My cousin was dating a man and decided he was not right for her. He cried and threatened to commit suicide, so she thought he must really love her. The marriage was not good. Turns out her mom had done the same thing with the same results. Also my daughter……he didn’t threaten suicide but he really guilted her with crocodile tears, and it wasn’t a selfless thing.

    This morning I was agonizing about a 40-year-old son who has been thoroughly brainwashed by his dad against me. I prayed and I felt God say, “L does not love you. Let him go.” It felt harsh, but then I got to thinking how the enemy tries so hard to get us to focus on those who don’t love us that we miss out on a lot of good from those who do. I’ve seen my h spending a lifetime trying to please his family and that gives them SO much power over him. Meanwhile, he could have love right in his own home. Sad, that. And obsessing over those who don’t love us actually binds them to stay that way. Let go, let go, let go.

  10. ~ Pam on February 1, 2017 at 8:15 pm

    I love this topic because Leslie’s support groups have been such an encouragement to me in this area.

    As Leslie says: “God’s word is clear that we are not to repay evil for evil or insult for insult. We are not to be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” When my daughter’s secret life of cutting and self-harm were exposed and she was eventually committed for weeks in a psychiatric hospital for following through with her suicidal ideology, I became desperate to understand how to overcome evil with good in this area and this quote brought a break through:

    “If he [she] can make you the lightening rod for his entire wellbeing, then he can blame you for everything, pressuring you to somehow make him feel better.” ~ Leslie Vernick 1/22/14 blog

    With my daughter I had to learn how to stop being her ‘lightning rod’. In order to do that I needed to step back enough to gain a healthy perspective. Turns out I couldn’t do that without the ‘O’ in CORE. When it came to self harm? I really needed others to help me ‘see straight’.

    “The truest reflection of your character, or your spiritual life, the truest expression of your walk with God isn’t phenomenal displays of spiritual gifting—anointed teaching, or prophetic words, the power to bring physical healing… Scripture says that the heart of the matter, the truest reflection of your character is the quality of the relationship you offer and the motives behind it.” ~ Craig McConnell quoting Dan Allender from ‘Bold Love’.

    In order to offer my daughter the quality of relationship she most needed at this time, I had to do what Connie writes about. I had to let go of my human love for my daughter and love her with the love of God, and for that I needed a community of ‘wise others’ to talk tough truth– both to her and to me. If I was going to have the strength & courage I needed, I needed community to experience the love of God. I needed to be overcome by the goodness of God myself.

    “Do not hope for the evil persons to change. It could happen and it does happen, but it does not happen by giving in to them, reasoning with them, or giving them another chance to hurt you. It happens when they finally are subject to limits that force them to change.” ~ Henry Cloud, Necessary Endings, p.144

    A supernatural gift to both my daughter and myself was a God-fearing interventionist at my daughter’s online school. In the months and years after her hospital discharge, he came alongside both of us, holding us accountable to step up into our respective responsibilities and ‘DO this’.

    When my daughter was truant, she was charged with truancy. When she needed intervention, he intervened. He basically 2 Timothy 4:2’d us for almost three years– “reproving, rebuking, exhorting, with great patience and instruction” until we both were walking through this in a healthier way. She didn’t just earn the equivalent of a high school diploma because of this man’s intervention, she experienced the love of God that would not let her go and I woke up to the covert abusive nature of my marriage.

    God promises to show up when we come together in His name. The darker the place, the more we need God to show up. Praise God for the Christ centered community that happens in places like this!

    • T.L. on February 2, 2017 at 4:56 am

      Pam, thank you for sharing. So good to hear of such examples of healthy support that led to healthy growth. The Allendar and Cloud quotes are gems.

  11. Sarah on February 2, 2017 at 2:57 am

    Thanks to Leslie for another excellent post.

    “Threatening to kill yourself is very serious and I’m scared. I’m going to call 911 because I don’t want you to do something in a moment of despair and end your life. They will be able to help you.” I thought that this was a wonderfully wise response. It protects the safety of everyone all around and is empowering to the abused spouse. If someone is in immediate danger of suicide, we are supposed to call 911 anyway, even if they are not threatening suicide. We have had to do that with family members, although once it did not go that well and the police were needlessly violent (by their own admission.) Often the police are not always trained much to deal with mental illness. Still, it perhaps would have ended worse had we not called. And it is still usually the best option in an imperfect world, certainly the best option in the case of abuse like in the post. (If the abusive spouse is also being violent, she should leave and call 911 without stopping to tell her husband ahead of time, I assume.)

    As an aside, and as far as I understand, it is not true that people who commit suicide do not talk about it first. Statistically, people often do talk about it to some extent. Not everyone, but it is one of the main warning signs listed in mental health literature. I have manic depression and have struggled with suicidal feelings since I was very young, and although I did not threaten suicide or even often talk about it, many people who die from suicide do.

    To me, there is a great deal of difference between:
    a)someone saying that will commit suicide as a manipulative threat (which I think is wrong)
    b)feeling/being suicidal (which I don’t think is itself wrong and is often a symptom of mental illness)
    c)telling someone when you fell/are suicidal without threats (which is to be encouraged if someone is b.)

    But a and b are are not mutually exclusive. A person could threaten to commit suicide in a manipulative way and still be genuinely suicidal. So that is another reason why Leslie’s advice is so wise.

    People can be so ill that they genuinely think their loved ones would be better off without them, but a person using suicide as a threat does not think this, or they would not think believe their threat had power. At least, that is my feeling. But they could still genuinely need help.

    And well said: “If your husband does commit suicide, is it your fault? Are you to blame? Are you responsible? The answer is no.”

  12. Starlight on February 2, 2017 at 4:45 pm

    I love this, thank you Leslie. If threatening suicide is manipulative, calling 911 exposes the bluff and is a behaviour they will not want to repeat.
    If not, it’s serious and a call is warranted!

  13. Belle on February 3, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    My husband does not threaten suicide. He does tell me that he struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts. I have asked him to get counseling. He didn’t disagree, but has not gotten counseling. What do you recommend doing in this scenario?

    • Ann L on February 11, 2017 at 4:08 pm

      Personally — I recommend encouraging support. You don’t mention other dynamics, so my recommendation is based on the assumption that there aren’t manipulative behaviors going on.

      It can take a person years of wrestling with depression before they seek help. Individual counseling for yourself might be valuable as you seek to maintain healthy coping skills in a difficult environment.

  14. Sharon on February 3, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    We are not responsible for another person’s sin.

  15. Aleea on February 3, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    re: If My Spouse Kills Himself, Will It Be My Fault?
    “Friend, how have you dealt with manipulators or confused being responsible for someone with being responsible to someone?” . . . .So that is almost like a hostage situation where you have compassion but stay with your boundaries. I have never, thankfully, had that situation repeatedly. Once, I had an employee tell me: “If you send me home, I’ll kill myself. I’d be better off dead. I have plans to slit my wrists.” That was a nightmare. I expressed support and concern but still sent them home with a counselor, the government has procedures for just everything i.e. people on call qualified to give the professional help that is necessary in such extreme situations. They talked to them and they didn’t do themselves harm but they were required to go to counseling before they returned to work. At the time, all I could think was “I hope this is like when children threaten to kill themselves by holding their breath.” . . . .But it is deeply troubling and and you really worry, —believe me. The problem is that caring and conscientious people cannot stand to see anyone suffering and the manipulator often finds it easy to play on sympathy to get cooperation. There is a book “Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back when Someone You Care About. . .” by Paul T. Mason, Randi Kreger. Lots of good ideas in there. If you are an approval addict, your behavior is as easy to control as that of any other junkie. All a manipulator need do is a simple two-step process: Give you what you crave, and then threaten to take it away. Every drug dealer in the world plays that game. The people who would like to manipulate and use you won’t tell you your blind spots. They may plan to continue using them to their advantage. When you love yourself you won’t need to ask God if someone is manipulating you. I mean you can and that’s good but you will know already because you wouldn’t have asked Him if you had the self confidence to know how people should treat you. I think the first step away from being manipulated, and towards a more autonomous outlook, is probably to stand back from a set of responses and deeply critically think: Belief can be manipulated too, that’s why we have to critically evaluate and think. . . . .Actually, the manipulator is not getting what they want, like all of us, they don’t even really know what is best for them. —Only God knows that. All we can do is tell the truth as best we know how and as carefully as we can and let God decide the outcomes. i.e.“Don’t use your language instrumentally” . . . Don’t use language to try to get what you want, ever. —But Why? —Because it destroys God’s path for us and we don’t know what is best for us anyway. —Again, only God knows what is best for us and the only way to be on that path is to be careful to as clearly, and as best we know how tell people the facts without in any way trying to use our language instrumentally (—to get our way). We let God decide the outcomes. . . . .Obviously, control and manipulation are not love; the outcome of that is a life of imprisonment ultimately leading to deep-rooted feelings of resentment. . . .You can’t manipulate people who know how to think for themselves. Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use our own smarts and instincts; hence, grappling with the hard work of critical thinking (—as far as possible using objective analysis and evaluation).

  16. Sophia on February 8, 2017 at 9:37 am

    My parents used suicidal threats on a regular basis in their arguing while we were growing up. Calling in outside help was rarely done. In the cases when outside help was called, the crisis was always minimized then dismissed. Often the situation was lied about to the authorities by the adults! Two of my adult siblings have taken their lives by suicide. Three have made deliberate attempts to do so. Threats in this direction should be taken seriously, documented and call for help! I cannot keep another person alive, but I can turn the lights on and make a report.

  17. lisa on February 14, 2017 at 9:32 am

    great recommendation calling 911

  18. Patti on February 14, 2017 at 10:49 am

    Thank you! I needed the reminder. My husband killed himself, without warning. After 22 years of verbally and emotionally abusive marriage, I still struggle sometimes with thoughts of guilt. Your books and emails have helped tremendously for my growth.

    • Leslie Vernick on February 19, 2017 at 11:43 pm

      I’m so sorry Patti. I’m glad you found my work helpful, but it is always hard to lose someone in that way.

  19. Broken Hearted on February 15, 2017 at 1:25 am

    I took Leslie’s course in 2015, discovered my core and set up boundaries. My divorced grown daughter, mother of 4, hated that her dad and I were getting divorced, she blamed me for all of it. She threatened suicide many times over the years. I made many treks across several hundred miles to get to her place and help how I could. She didn’t like that I set up boundaries where I would not allow her to speak badly to me any longer, but told her I loved her and wanted her in my life. She withdrew herself from me for her last month of her life.
    My beautiful daughter took her life, and I cannot shake the guilt. Her poor children. Her poor self; feeling like no hope was left.
    Her kids are living with her ex now and his new wife. Further to that they moved into my daughters home now (long story) and her kids have to deal with being in the home where they found their mom and tried to resuscitate her. Cruelty beyond words.
    I ache!

    • Leslie Vernick on February 19, 2017 at 11:42 pm

      I”m so sorry broken hearted. You sound like you have done all you could to help her get herself help. But the guilt you feel for not being able to do more is normal but unfounded. She was an adult and she could have made other choices. Her mind was not working properly that she would do this to her children. No mom who is thinking right would not do that. Depression has a way of totally clouding one’s thinking.

  20. Carrie on February 15, 2017 at 6:21 am

    Leslie’s advice is spot on. Many of your loved ones who threaten suicide may be struggling with Borderline Personality Disorder. By calling 911 you have an opportunity for it to be diagnosed. Otherwise it is extremely difficult to get a BPD diagnosis because they refuse to see that they have any problem at all and blame thier distress on you.

    My ex-husband began threatening suicide 3 years into our abusive marraige. This tactic kept me in the marraige 6 more years. Only when he got his BPD diagnosis was I finally able to understand the level of his disturbance and that he would never change. With the help of Leslie’s book and blog I was able to get myself and my children out. It has been one year of separation and my only regret was that I didn’t have the strength to do it sooner.

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