Suicidal Threats and Personal Relationships: Implications and Impact

Lea Ann Powers

December 10, 2013



According to Boland and Follingstad (1987) Close relationships thrive on open communication, mutual satisfaction and trust.


When potential life-threatening behavior or communicative violence enters the picture, relationships and relationship status may suffer.


When faced with the knowledge that a friend or partner may be in imminent danger of harming him or herself, an untrained professional may find him or herself at a crossroads: What to do with this information and how to proceed?  This paper examines the threat of suicide as a dark communicative behavior and as a possible tactic for compliance and control. It examines perception of motivation for a suicide threat, what the owner of this information (the threatened party) feels they ought to do with the information, and finally what impact this type of threat may have on a close relationship.


Question: Was the suicidal ideation was felt to be a tactic for manipulation, intimidation, or coercive control in a close relationship.


Relationships have both rewards and costs  (Thibaut & Coules, 1952)

Successful relationships include expressions of love, support, and affection (Boland and Follingstad ,1987)


Aggression, and hostility, in a relationship are related to lower levels of satisfaction and lower perceived relationship stability. (Godbout, N., Dutton, D., et al. (2009). Therefore, verbal threats expressing self-harm or suicidality, could be perceived as damaging the quality of a close relationship.


The Unidimensional Closeness Scale views closeness as including the other in the self (Dibble, J. L., Levine, T. R., Park, H. S., 2012). According to this perspective, “in a close relationship the individual acts as if some or all aspects of the partner are partially the individuals own and can be experienced cognitively, emotionally, and behaviorally” (p. 565). Close relationships do not necessarily include only intimate partners. Closeness can be felt between friends and acquaintances. Therefore, distress felt by a friend or partner in a relationship and expressed as a suicidal threat, could be perceived as personal distress


Threatening behavior creates greater relationship distress. Threats and hostility during conflict signifies a high likelihood of relationship dysfunction (Woodin, 2011).



Understanding why people suggest suicidal ideation

Why choose this tactic?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collects data about mortality in the U.S., including deaths by suicide. In 2010 (the most recent year for which data are available), 38,364 suicides were reported, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. In that year, someone in the country died by suicide every 13.7 minutes (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2013). Studying any aspect of suicidality may lead to further positive outcomes for both the threatened and the threatener.



A 2005 study on coercive control acknowledged that verbal aggression and threats (violence) are tools that a perpetrator uses to gain greater power in a relationship to deter or trigger specific behaviors, win arguments, or demonstrate dominance


In the case of suicidal ideation the threatened will experience negative consequences for non-compliance.

The implied negative consequences could be the potential death of the friend/partner. The death of the friend/partner can also be considered a form of punishment, as the threatened may carry guilty of feelings for not preventing a possible suicide.


Strauchler, McCloseky, Malloy, Sitaker, Grigsby, & Gillig (2004) evaluated several Violence Scales that assessed the power dynamics of interpersonal violence considered to be psychologically coercive using The Modified Conflict Tactic Scale. The authors categorized the characteristics of each scale and defined a category by which suicidal threats could be measured. This category included manipulation, (threats, mindgames, property abuse, safe/feelings of fear, jealousy, and suicide).


Shortcoming of this research was the lack of information about emotional abuse and most was centered on physical abuse.



Much research has been conducted that outlines the long-term negative effects of threats and coercion. Studies indicate that verbal abuse (threats for the sake of manipulation and control) is a form of emotional abuse and is more relentless and terrorizing then physical abuse. (Queen, Brackley & Williams, 2009)


The assessment, prediction and treatment of the danger of self -harm are responsibilities of trained medical professionals. In a study by VandeCreek and Knapp, the authors acknowledge that, “even after gather an extensive amount of information on the patient, predictions of violence and future violence cannot be made with a high degree of accuracy” (p.1337). If the assessment of real or imagined threatened and violent behavior is difficult for trained professionals, how must a nonprofessional, faced with a threat of a friend or partners suicide, make decisions about how to manage the privacy of the threatener and what course of action should be taken? Suicide is a serious, ongoing, and growing public health issue. In order to better understand the reasons, rationale, implications, and impact of suicidal threats on close relationships the following research question was proposed:


Research Question: What are the implications and impact of suicidal threats on personal relationships?

  1. a.    What did the threatener hope to accomplish by using suicide as tactic?
  2. b.    What does the owner of the information regarding the threat feel they ought to do with the information?
  3. c.     How does the threat of suicide impact a close relationship?



Total Responses: 59



55% of participants were over 50 years old, 21% were over 40 years old, 14% were over 40 years old and 10% participants were over 20 years old.  There were no responses under 21 years old.



62% of participants were female and 38% were male.



93% of participants were Caucasian, the balance of participants were evenly divided between black, Asian, Hispanic, and other race.



45% of participants had graduate degrees, 31% had 4-year college degrees, and 17% had some college beyond high school.


Known someone who attempted suicide

52% participants had a friend who had threatened suicide

24% participants had a partner who had threatened suicide

Number of attempts


Number of Threats

threatened more than one time (2-5 times)- 53%

threatened one time – 18%

multiple threats (more than 5)- 10%


Time Frame

course of days-12%





Did you take the threat seriously?

yes 83%

no- 21%


Reaction to the threat of suicide

24 responses. 10 Offered professional help; 9 offered anecdotal help; 11 felt helpless, worried, or angry. 4 stayed with the person.


Responsible for the threats

44% did not feel responsible for the threat, 55% did feel responsible (this question could have been asked in a more direct way. Did you feel responsible for the outcome, or did you feel responsible for the cause?)


Feel you ought to do?

7 offered professional help

18 offered anecdotal help, conversation

8 were worried, angry, upset

1 stayed with the person



I felt I needed to do something, but didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t sure what to do. Somehow I felt responsible for his death. I should have made sure that the person stayed in the hospital longer. I started to cry when he told me about this plan. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t think he would…  Made my own threats about our marriage if he didn’t seek help.


What do you think your friend hoped to accomplish?

33 participants

24 (72%) felt the person was in pain, was hurting psychologically

9 (27%) participants felt that the suicidal threat was intentionally used to end a relationship, to control me, to make me upset and worried, to gain attention, or to manipulate, to see what kind of reaction they could get.


Why choose suicide?

Most thought this was the only option to a painful situation, 88%.

19% thought it was to get “proper” attention, or to manipulate a situation. One respondent suggested the suicide threat was to get revenge.


What impact did the threat have on your relationship? (33)


18% of participants said having this information actually strengthened their relationship. By disclosing these deep, dark feelings, the friends felt closer.

9% felt that it increased their awareness and made them more attuned to their friend.  This group did not disclose if the information caused them greater distress or not, however, holding this type of information would seem to increase responsibility for a friend’s well-being, so potentially, this group could be included in statistics that showed damage to their relationship


27% felt that the information had no effect on their relationship- it did not cause positive, nor negative repercussions


52% did indicate that the suicidal suggestion damaged their friendship/relationship.



The relationship felt strained, we’ve distanced ourselves from each other, anger, sadness, exhaustion, added fear, stressed me out, I was on edge, scared, my son died.


Have you ever used the threat of suicide to get something that you wanted?

39 responses, only one person said “yes”


Reason, I used it as a cry for help, for attention.  Didn’t know what else to do.

(Raised as a Christian, threat of everlasting hell can be a huge deterrent)



People use “I’m suicidal” to get attention and to be hospitalized. They learn to work the system.

Knowing that someone has suggested this is very painful and worrisome.

People who threaten suicide should be taken seriously.





Team Rocket evaluated several online dating sites to determine if sites catering to specific audiences showed  greater satisfaction in regard to the classification or area in which user’s had sought out the site. For instance, if tall girls went to the “Tall Friends” site, were they more satisfied with the potential “matches” available to them. In other words, did the site deliver what it promised?  We looked at several sites including:

  • Ashley Madison
  • Scientific Match
  • Women Behind Bars
  • Tall Friends
  • No Longer Lonely
  • Trek Passions
  • Darwin Dating 
  • 420 Dating
  • Crazy Blind Date
  • OK Cupid

Our class textbook: The Dark Side of Close Relationships II, Chapter 5, Internet Matching Services, The good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Disguised as Attractive), (Sprecher, Susan, Routledge, 2011, New York), outlined nine areas that people are most likely to misrepresent themselves in online dating sites, areas that are problematic:

1. Lies about gender, income, employment, age, marital status 2. Lies/misrepresentation about relationship intent: long term relationship vs. hook-up 3. Lies about dating/communicating with more than one person at a time 4. Socially acceptable lies-embellishing one’s characteristics and feigning certain interests 5. Misrepresentation portraying personal qualities for a future self 6. Misrepresentation portraying limitations of self-knowledge (foggy mirror 7. Blanket criticism of the quality of “matches” 8. Blanket criticism of the site (cost, unsubscribing, etc.) 9. Comments about the site being better for men or women 

After reviewing several sites, here are some observations:

  • Online dating allows people access to potential partners they otherwise would not have, however, specific things the online dating industry does, undermines it’s helpfulness.
  • One of the weaknesses of online dating is an over reliance on “profiles,” Although most dating websites feature photos and detailed, searchable profiles covering everything from personality traits to likes and dislikes, this information isn’t necessarily useful in identifying a partner, largely due to misrepresentation and misinterpretation. 
  • Also, daters don’t always know what they want in a mate — even though they generally think they do. People often lack insight into what attracts them to others (and why), and therefore the characteristics they seek out in an online profile may be very different from those that will create a connection in person.
  • The ability to study profiles online also makes daters picky and judgmental. The sheer number of options can be overwhelming, and the ease with which people can sift through profiles — and click on to the next one — may lead them to “objectify” potential partners and compare them as if they were shopping.
  • Communicating via email or instant message before meeting in person isn’t always helpful. Some online communication is a good thing, the researchers say, but too much of it can skew expectations and ultimately sabotage a match. People tend to read too much into emails and other online conversations, which increases the potential for misunderstandings and disappointment. 
  • Certain sites promise much more than they can deliver, and by inducing people to search for that perfect soul mate, they may actually be undermining positive outcomes.

Personal observation: Fifteen minutes with a real person is probably more worthwhile than hours trolling online matching sites.

Infidelity: When, Where, Why?

Chapter 7, The Dark Side of Close Relationships II, (2011), New York, Routledge.

Reaction Paper, #2, October 1, 2013

It is difficult to measure infidelity; is it not only a violation if faithfulness; or, whether partners feel they are actually violating their relationship-it becomes a matter of interpretation.

Adultery, infidelity and U. S. Laws: In 2012, adultery was a criminal offense in 23 states.  In those states where adultery is still on the statute books (although rarely prosecuted), penalties vary from life sentence

According the the NYTimes, Nov. 2012: Sex between unmarried adults — especially after the 2003 Supreme Court decision “Lawrence v. Texas” that made sexual activity by consenting adults in private legal across the country.

Infidelity as a method of mate selection. There is evidence to indicate that “Men, more than women, reported using resource display, submission and debasement, and intrasexual threats to retain their mates. Women, more than men, reported using appearance enhancement and verbal signals of possession.”  According the the authors, there is evidence that infidelity may server this purpose.

Opposition to fidelity in marriage: Dr Catherine Hakim, a French sociologist and author, argues that a “sour and rigid English view” of infidelity is condemning millions of people to live frustrated “celibate” lives.

Marital Decoys & Infidelity Checks- There are companies that devote their energy to “flirt to test partners for unacceptable behavior.”

Consequences of infidelity vary from state-to-state, and belief systems, expectations, and outcomes can vary as well.

This reaction paper is based upon the content found in Chapter 4, The Dark Side of Family Communication (Olson, Baiocchi-Wagner, Kratzer & Symonds, 2012), entitled: Familial Interaction Structure and the Dark Side


Using the Circumplex Model  and Family Communications Pattern Theory to evaluate a recalled incident and family communication styles and patterns, revealed disturbing patterns of cohesion, flexibility, and communication within my nuclear family.

Cohesion being  the level of closeness family members feel for one another, or family bonding; flexibility, the amount of change a family can manage defined by chaotic, flexible, structured and rigid styles; and communication styles that influenced the family’s general approach to either.

Personal family flexibility was evaluated between structured, flexible, and/or rigid.

The Family Communications Pattern Theory states that families have an inherent need to achieve psychological balance and understanding of each other (Olson, Baiocchi-Wagner, Kratzer & Symonds, 2012, p. 86). Also, families develop fairly stable and predictable ways of communicating with each other. Patterns of dark behavior, synchonically and diachronically, was evaluated and the outcome of those patterns.

Conclusion: The ambivalent and multifunctional nature of our needs, goals, dreams, nightmares, and foibles allow the dark side to creep into our lives slowly and become normal over time. Distorted, distressing, dysfunctional, and destructive aspects of human behavior are truly dark when they impair the survival or thriving of another human being-in this case, young children.

Lea SunshineI AM a hybrid thinker; personally, professionally, emotionally, and experientially. From college athletics, to extreme deadlines, to financial crisis, to life-threatening and life-saving events, to cuddly babies, and warm puppies.  I’m open to looking at the world differently.

Real-life experiences have given me insight that provides real-world understanding of consumer preferences, motivations, and needs by understanding people, being intuitive, and examining environments. I use this experience as a marketer.

As a creative director for over a decade, I’ve stayed focused, yet with an open mind and a willingness to take opportunities wherever they arise–whether it’s for my clients, my projects, or myself.  I create every day.

I’m a mother of three wonderful children who humble me with their insight and initiative and bless me with their friendship and smiles.

As a student, studying professional communication at IPFW, I hope to gain knowledge and a better understanding of negotiating relationships- both professional and personal.