What To Do If Someone Actually Threatens To Harm Themselves If You Break Up

There’s a moment in the recent Season 10 finale of “Vanderpump Rules” that has really stuck with me over the last few weeks ― and not because it was juicy.

In the final scene, Tom Sandoval sits down with his friend and castmate Scheana Shay. He explains his rationale for cheating on Shay’s best friend Ariana Madix ― Sandoval’s partner of nine years ― with their close friend Raquel Leviss. Shay pushes back on Sandoval when he says he didn’t know how he was supposed to end his relationship with Madix.

“You be a fucking adult and you have a conversation with her,” she retorts through tears.

“I tried to,” Sandoval spits back. “She threatened to fucking kill herself.”

Shay wastes no time shutting down his excuse. She tells him he should have reached out to her friends and family if her mental health was really that bad. “You literally say, ‘I’m leaving, I’m not happy,’ and we pick up the pieces you fucking left.”

Madix has denied Sandoval’s statements that she was at risk for suicide when the breakup conversation occurred. (Instead, she said she told Sandoval her life on the show would be over if they ended their relationship.)

It would be infuriating if someone would use something as serious as self-harm as a justification for despicable behavior. While this ended up not being the case on the show, the threat of self-harm over the end of a relationship does happen in real life.

This can be really challenging to navigate, especially when emotional or physical abuse is involved. There are many people who tend to use self-harm as a tool for manipulation in order to keep their partner from leaving. Others are genuinely at risk. These different scenarios need to be addressed in their own ways.

I spoke with experts on how to get help if you actually find yourself in a place where your partner is threatening to hurt themselves over a breakup (shockingly, cheating on them with their friend was not on the experts’ list of suggestions). Here’s what you can do:

First and foremost, prioritize your own safety if you are in an abusive relationship.

There are many cases where someone will use the threat of self-harm as a way to prevent their partner from leaving. This is particularly true in abusive relationships, said Dr. Yalda Safai, a psychiatrist in New York City.

“Remember that if you give in to threats of self-harm that are made for manipulative purposes, you will not be helping your loved one; in fact, you’ll increase the chance that they will use threats in the future whenever things don’t go their way. This is a form of enabling and it makes the situation worse in the long term,” she explained.

If this is true for you, it’s critical that you take care of yourself first before even thinking about your partner. This means putting physical distance between yourself and the abuser or reaching out to someone to let them know what’s going on. Call the dating abuse hotline at 1-866-331-9474, or you can text “loveis” to 22522.

“You need and deserve to be free of anyone who tries to manipulate you through threats of all kinds.”

– Dan Reidenberg

“In any abusive relationship, the survivor needs to prioritize their own safety. Once you are out of harm’s way, you can inform other people who may be able to keep the abuser safe,” said Racine Henry, a licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Sankofa Therapy. “I would not suggest that the survivor attempt to prevent their abusive partner from hurting themselves as it may cause them harm as well.”

Ensuring your own safety is your only job in this situation. And remember that this situation ― and whatever happens as a result of prioritizing your health and safety ― is not your fault.

“Emotional abuse, psychological abuse or coercive control is unfair, and you do not deserve it,” said Dan Reidenberg, executive director of the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education. “You need and deserve to be free of anyone who tries to manipulate you through threats of all kinds, including self-harm. By finding a trusted person in your life, or a professional, or by calling a domestic abuse hotline, you can be supported and validated in no longer being held hostage by these threats.”

If your safety is not at risk, you still shouldn’t stay in the relationship ― but you can be more direct about getting them help.

“If you are thinking about ending a relationship, there are probably solid reasons for this decision. Remind yourself of those reasons when things get difficult. Giving in to the threat is never a good idea for either one of you,” Safai said.

The best you can do for someone who is struggling with their mental health is to direct them to the right resources. Let them know they can call or text 988 for immediate support, or you can share some contact information for local professionals in your area.

“It can be very tricky to try getting someone the help they need because we can only control ourselves,” Henry said. “You can make suggestions by compiling a list of providers in the area or offer to attend therapy with your partner, but with any mental health professional you seek services from, the person who needs the help has to consent to treatment and make contact. You are not able to make a therapy appointment for another adult person unless you are their legal guardian or caretaker.”

If you do show them their options, know that it is not your responsibility to make sure that they’re taking action; you can aid them, but you can’t fix the situation entirely.

“This doesn’t mean they’re lying about wanting to or planning to self-harm, but it is not your job to keep them safe,” she said. “You can try to link them with mental health resources, but you cannot control whether they attend or whether therapy will help. You can best support them by involving other people so that you aren’t dealing with this alone.”

Be aware of more subtle threats of self-harm, too.

Sometimes thoughts of self-harm or suicide aren’t always so obvious, but they can feel just as intense (or manipulative, in certain situations).

“If you let them know that you are ending the relationship and they make any statements about self-harm or even a veiled threat such as ‘I don’t know if I can go on…’ or ‘I can’t live without you…’ or even ‘I don’t know what I might do to myself if you leave…’ let them know that is really hard to hear, feels unfair, and because you care, you want to make sure they know that they can call a hotline and that you really want them to talk to someone about what they said and how they are feeling,” Reidenberg said.

“You want to make sure that you do not fall into their trap to hold you in the relationship, while at the same time expressing your concern for them and giving them a resource that they can use to get the help that they need, because threatening self-harm is serious and should not ever be done in a manipulative way,” Reidenberg added.

Be very judicious about choosing to stay in touch after you end the relationship.

In cases where you’re not in an abusive relationship, it’s OK to check in on their emotional well-being shortly following the breakup if you think it will help.

“If you are able to support them and remain in contact without putting yourself in any emotional or mental harm, it could help you to deal with transitioning out of the relationship,” Henry said.

Contact may even be necessary if you share kids or other assets like a business.

“In these cases, it will be critically important for you to get the help and guidance you need to remain separate from their issues and to be able to navigate maintaining a new type of relationship with your ex after you leave,” Reidenberg said. “Finding a neutral, trusted person or a mediator can help in these situations.”

“You can best support them by involving other people so that you aren’t dealing with this alone.”

– Racine Henry

Staying in touch in a non-abusive situation is completely up to your comfort level. If you’re unsure about how you feel, there’s no harm in setting some boundaries and taking some space.

“If you do not have anything that would require you to remain connected to them, talk to a professional about if and when you might want to reconnect with them,” Reidenberg said. “It is often good to have a break when some time, distance and perspective can be gained by both of you before trying to reconnect. Do not feel obligated to do this just because they threatened self-harm.”

You can take care of yourself and still take self-harm and suicide seriously.

Putting your needs first doesn’t make you selfish, even if someone else is struggling. You can prioritize your own safety and satisfaction while still understanding that self-harm and suicide deserve attention; they’re not mutually exclusive.

“These situations are very difficult for everyone involved, and the thought of someone you care about harming themselves can be overwhelming, stressful and terrifying,” Henry said. “It’s OK to feel that you don’t know what to do or say. Before you can help others, you have to ensure your own safety and well-being. Don’t take on this burden alone, even if your partner is asking you to keep it a secret.”

This is especially true if abuse is occurring. “Everyone has the right to live free from all types of abuse, including abuse through a threat of self-harm,” Reidenberg said. “They need to be taken seriously and addressed, as does your right to health and safety.”

Ultimately, everyone deserves to be in relationships that enhance their life. If that means ending a situation where you’re unhappy, you should do it.

“Life is short,” Reidenberg said. “Seek people and places where life brings you joy, hope and positivity.”

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-866-331-9474 or text “loveis” to 22522 for the National Dating Abuse Helpline. You can also call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org for mental health support. Additionally, you can find local mental health and crisis resources at dontcallthepolice.com. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention.