How to Cope with a Suicidal Partner
Trigger warning: This post contains frank discussion of suicide.
Being in a relationship with a suicidal partner can be emotionally taxing and daunting. There is this complicated pattern in my dating life in that the partners I loved most have threatened suicide at least once. I am still trying to figure out exactly why I am drawn to individuals who experience such turmoil. Perhaps it is because I had suicidal ideations when I was in high school, and I feel like these partners understand me. Maybe I cannot compartmentalize the social worker in me when it comes to dating, and I want to try and "save" everyone I meet. Regardless, here are the things I wish I had known when I had a suicidal partner.
What to Do If Your Partner Is Suicidal
Urge Them to Seek Professional Help
When my former suicidal partners threatened suicide, I felt like it was my responsibility to reintroduce a will to live. In my mind, their lives were balancing upon everything I said and did. If I did not pick up their phone calls, I was sure I would be the one to blame if they were found dead. Although it can be painful to voice this to a partner, it is essential to tell your partner that you alone cannot save him or her; that person needs to seek professional help. I thought I could be the one to save my partners, but the truth is, I was highly unqualified.
Listen to Your Partner and Give Your Partner Space to Talk
There is a flawed belief that talking about suicide with individuals experiencing ideations is dangerous and can push them to take their own lives. Research shows that this is not the case. Therefore, be there to listen to your partner and talk to that person about how he or she is feeling. Of course, keep an open mind and do not push your judgments onto your partner. You may not understand how your partner is feeling, but believe him or her and take in his or her feelings as truth.
Do Not Blame Yourself
No matter what your partner says, it is crucial not to blame yourself and not to take responsibility for how your partner is feeling. About six years ago, my long term partner broke up with me in a five-minute phone call. In this phone call, he told me he was dropping out of college and was highly suicidal. He cut off communication with nearly all of his friends, and for months, I felt like his life was my responsibility. I believed that if he died, it would have been my fault. This belief weighed heavily on me and resulted in intense emotional turmoil.
When a Partner's Threat of Suicide Turns into Emotional Abuse
Although I am a firm believer that suicide threats should be taken seriously, there have been times in my life where these threats have kept me in sticky and emotionally abusive situations. When your partner threatens suicide only when you are doing something that he or she doesn't approve of, this can quickly turn into a form of manipulation. I once dated someone who would threaten to kill himself whenever I tried to end the relationship. As a result, I stayed in this relationship much longer than was healthy for me. If you suspect that your partner may be manipulating you in such a fashion, I encourage you to seek out professional support.
If you feel that you may hurt yourself or someone else, call 9-1-1 immediately.
For more information on suicide, see our suicide information, resources, and support section. For additional mental health help, please see our mental health hotline numbers and referral information section.
O'Grady, H. (2019, September 6). How to Cope with a Suicidal Partner, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, November 28 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/relationshipsandmentalillness/2019/9/how-to-cope-with-a-suicidal-partner
Author: Hannah O'Grady
Thank you so much for your vulnerable article. I never thought I would be going through something like this from a partner and with that being said it was refreshing to read and know that I am not alone in this. One question I have though is that my partner has expressed that if he stays in this relationship, he will want to kill himself. I want him to have the freedom to choose what he does however I worry that when he is in this frame of mind, he might actually follow through with committing suicide instead of wanting to breakup. I would love to hear your advice with what to do with this and how to handle a situation like this if possible. Thanks again, Brooke
Hi Brooke - thanks for sharing your experience in this comment. It's great that you're reaching out regarding your concerns about how to handle this situation with your partner. I'd like to share a webpage here on HealthyPlace containing suicide hotline phone numbers that you could share with your partner if they're feeling suicidal and need support: https://www.healthyplace.com/suicide/suicide-hotline-phone-numbers.
I want you to know that you're not alone, and support is always available for you and your partner. I also want to share that I relate to your situation to a degree: I struggle with suicidal thoughts myself, and I've had times when I've told past partners that I felt like I was a burden to them and that they would be better off without me, while at the same time finding the idea of breaking up with them impossible to imagine. Looking back, I realize that, even with their best intentions, nothing my partners ever said to me in those moments made my suicidal thoughts go away completely. Everyone's experience is different, but I believe my suicidal thoughts come from deep beliefs about myself and my worth as a partner and a human being, and that's why no amount of reassurance from my partners felt like enough. It's only through professional help and educating myself on the symptoms of my mental illness that I've been able to get a better handle on my suicidal thoughts and gain some clarity on how my distorted beliefs about myself impact my relationships.
I can imagine it's very difficult to figure out what to do or say to a partner who's feeling suicidal. I hope that you continue to reach out for support as you've done in this comment and that the resources provided on the webpage I shared might be helpful for your partner. Take good care of yourself, and thanks again for your comment!