What is blackmail?
The dictionary meaning of blackmail says: the act of getting money from people or forcing them to do something by threatening to tell a secret of theirs or to harm them.
In case of an intimate relationship, this may involve harm being threatened on the partner or the blackmailer threatening harm upon himself/ herself. The blackmailer fully knows that this will scare or pressure their partner to act in the way they want.
Blackmail - the variety
Blackmail in relationships can take many forms: emotional, physical, sexual, or financial. Emotional attachment and dependence form the basis of blackmail in any relationship.
Emotional blackmail can be coercing your partner to do or give something by setting conditions to something they want.
Rina and Sachin have been dating for a year now. Their relationship is growing and Rina wants to be introduced to Sachin’s friends to feel more involved in his life. He insists that she change and improve her dressing sense before he introduces her to his friends.
This is a form of emotional blackmail. Statements and actions that imply excessive or unhealthy dependence are also a form of emotional blackmailing.
‘I love you so much that I can’t stay away from you even for a minute. So, please don’t go to stay at your parents’ place’.
In most contexts, such a statement would be a red flag for emotional abuse. If you or your partner say this a lot, it’s time to think.
Physical blackmail tends to play on the fear of harm to the partner or to the blackmailer him(her)self. Why this threat of physical harm holds power is because the partner being blackmailed fears for their relationship.
Shikha and Samar, a married couple, often have arguments. One day, during a recurring argument, Samar picks up a knife and threatens to stab himself if the matter is discussed any further. Shikha fears for her husband’s safety and drops the subject.
This is a sign of physical blackmail. It is important to note that Samar’s threat might not necessarily be followed by action. But the blackmailer might also resort to playing it out in some measure to inject even more fear in the partner being blackmailed.
For the above example, Samar might stick the knife slightly onto his body to threaten that he can really act on what he is saying.
Sexual blackmail is the use of electronic imagery or sexual information about the partner to force sexual favours out of them. In the present, digital era, sexual blackmail could also involve sextortion, that means persuasion to perform sexual acts before a webcam, the blackmailer secretly recording a video of it and then using it to blackmail the person on that video.
Karan and Pooja were dating for a year and Karan knows how much she loves him. However, he asks Pooja to prove her love by sending him nude pictures of her. If she doesn’t, he would break-up with her. Unwillingly, Pooja sends the nudes to him. Now everytime Karan wants to have a video chat with Pooja, he asks her to remove her clothes, else he will leak the nudes to everyone.
This is the example of sexual blackmail which involves the blackmailer partner (in this case Karan) threaten to leak such information, messages, or images to the blackmailed partner’s social, professional, or family circles, or any place where they know it is going to cause the partner harm and harassment.
Using this fear of revealing, Karan wants Pooja to perform sexual acts she would not consent to otherwise.
Financial blackmail includes blackmailing a partner with financial resources or exploiting the financial dependence of a partner to make them do something or behave a certain way.
Lata is a working woman but all her finances are controlled by her husband Jiten – who also possesses her debit card, the ATM pin. She is not allowed to spend any money without asking him while Jiten spends wherever he wants to. He has threatened her that he will not allow her to work or go out if she spends any money without his knowledge.
This is financial blackmail. In cases where a partner is financially dependent on the blackmailing partner, the blackmail could be through threatening or actually cutting off their financial assistance until they give in to their demands.
Read more on how to fight blackmail in relationships here.
*To protect the identity, names have been changed and the person/s in the picture is/are models.