Home Marriage What is Gaslighting in a Marriage and How to Handle It

What is Gaslighting in a Marriage and How to Handle It

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Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that can occur in any relationship, but is especially damaging in a marriage. It involves one partner deliberately and systematically making the other partner question their own sanity, perception of reality, and memories.

The term originates from the 1944 film Gaslight, where a man manipulates his wife into thinking she is losing her mind. While the film depicts an extreme example, many real-life relationships exhibit more subtle forms of gaslighting that can be hard to detect.

This destructive pattern erodes trust, creates self-doubt, and harms the foundation of marriage.

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What Does Gaslighting Look Like in Marriage?

Gaslighting typically follows a pattern where one spouse provokes the other and then denies it ever happened. Some examples include:

  • Lying and denying facts. For instance, saying an event or conversation never happened when it did.
  • Discounting feelings and perceptions. Telling a spouse they are “too sensitive” or “imagining things” when reacting to the gaslighter’s behavior.
  • Projection and misdirection. Making accusations towards the other spouse that are untrue or exaggerations, to deflect blame.
  • Contradicting themselves and rewriting history. Changing details of a story to disorient their partner and evade accountability.
  • Sowing seeds of confusion. Using convincing lies backed up by false “evidence” to deliberately confuse the victim and make them doubt their own memory.
  • Suggesting the victim is unstable. Making them think they are paranoid, irrational, “crazy”, or incapable of remembering things accurately.

These patterns slowly train the victim to distrust their own instincts, emotions, and recollections. Over time, the gaslighting spouse gains more power while the victim loses confidence in what they know to be true.

Why Do People Gaslight Their Spouse?

There are several possible motivations behind gaslighting in marriage:

  • Power and control. Gaslighters want to be dominant in the relationship. By distorting their partner’s reality, they gain leverage and obedience.
  • Deflection. Creating self-doubt allows gaslighters to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. They can justify poor behavior by painting their spouse as unreasonable or unstable.
  • Validation. Constructing an alternate version of events satisfies gaslighters’ emotional needs. They may have an underlying desire to be right or avoid guilt.
  • Concealment. Gaslighting obscures the truth. The abusive spouse may use it to hide lies, indiscretions, or flaws from their partner.

Whatever the goal, gaslighting stems from a sense of entitlement and lack of empathy. The perpetrator feels justified in using emotional manipulation tactics to serve their own agenda.

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Signs Your Spouse is Gaslighting You

Gaslighting starts subtly, which makes it hard to detect at first. Look out for these common warning signs:

  • They frequently say things like “that never happened” when recalling past events.
  • They tell blatant lies but are very convincing.
  • They deny promises were made or say you misunderstood them.
  • They trivialize your thoughts and feelings.
  • They twist facts to match their own narrative.
  • They insist you said or did things you don’t remember doing.
  • They make convincing false accusations that leave you confused and defensive.
  • They monitor and control you while accusing you of being “paranoid.”
  • They alternate between kindness and meanness unpredictably.
  • Friends and family have expressed concern about your relationship.
  • You constantly second guess yourself and your memories.
  • You feel a profound sense of confusion and self-doubt.

The more boxes checked, the more likely you are experiencing gaslighting. But even one of these signs suggests a serious problem.

Gaslighting Examples in Marriage

It can be hard to distinguish gaslighting from typical marital disputes. Here are some examples that cross the line from disagreement into gaslighting territory:

  • Your spouse spends irresponsibly but insists you are bad with money when you confront them.
  • You find proof of an affair and your spouse says it was just a platonic friendship, suggesting you are paranoid.
  • Your spouse sabotages your diet and exercise routine then claims you lack willpower when you don’t meet your goals.
  • Your spouse frequently calls you lazy even though you work full time and do most chores. When confronted, they deny insulting you.
  • You want to visit family but your spouse guilt trips you out of going, then later says it was your decision.
  • Your spouse agrees to watch the kids so you can go out but then makes you feel guilty for leaving them, saying they never agreed to babysit.

In each case, the gaslighting spouse uses false narratives, misdirection, and denial to control the victim’s actions and perceptions. Their version of reality overrides the truth.

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Common Gaslighting Tactics

Gaslighters tend to employ the same techniques over and over. Here are five manipulative games to watch out for:

  1. “You’re too sensitive.” Dismissing your feelings is a subtle way invalidate your experience. This tactic makes you reluctant to express emotions or call out mistreatment.
  2. “It’s all in your head.” This phrase makes you question perceptions and doubt your own judgment. Over time, you learn to automatically distrust your own instincts.
  3. “You’re misremembering.” Whengaslighters rewrite history, they plant seeds that your recollection is flawed. Repeat this often enough and they can convince you that their version of events is reality.
  4. “Are you crazy?” Framing you as irrational, unhinged, or unwell puts you on the defensive. Wanting to appear sane, you may work harder to see their perspective.
  5. “You’re overreacting.” Minimizing your feelings helps gaslighters avoid accountability. This gradually trains you to downplay their unacceptable behavior.

Rinse and repeat these phrases to break down a spouse’s sense of self-trust. The abuser ends up controlling which versions of reality get accepted as truth.

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Why Gaslighting Works

Gaslighting is so hard to pinpoint because it leverages basic human vulnerabilities. Victims question their judgment for these reasons:

We all misremember things. Our memories can be unreliable, so we give others the benefit of the doubt. The gaslighter exploits this tendency, planting plausible seeds of doubt.

Emotions cloud judgment. When someone insists our feelings made us misperceive things, we wonder if they could be right. Gaslighters leverage this insecurity.

Liars often go undetected. Studies show most people do no better than chance in spotting lies. Skilled gaslighters use this to their advantage.

Marriage relies on trust. We want to trust our spouse’s perspective and expect them to be honest with us. The gaslighter abuses this foundation of trust.

Consistent denial wears you down. When someone adamantly and repeatedly denies your version of events, you eventually start to question if you could be wrong.

A gaslighter plays on these weaknesses to gradually turn you against yourself. That’s why confronting individual instances rarely stops the pattern.

Long Term Impact of Gaslighting

Living in a continuous state of uncertainty, self-doubt, and confusion exacts a heavy mental toll. Gaslighting jeopardizes victims’ security and well-being in many ways:

  • Decreased self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Worsening anxiety, depression, and overall mental health
  • Distorted sense of reality and difficulty making decisions
  • Isolation from friends and family who can provide reality checks
  • Loss of sense of self, giving up personal needs and preferences
  • Dependence on the abuser for their version of “reality”
  • Physical stress symptoms such as insomnia, headaches, and weight changes

Left unchecked, gaslighting can damage the victim’s career, important relationships, physical health, and quality of life. It frequently escalates to more overt emotional or physical abuse.

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Is Gaslighting a Form of Mental Abuse?

Gaslighting absolutely qualifies as mental or psychological abuse. The intention is to deliberately destabilize and control the victim. Some abusive patterns that often accompany gaslighting include:

  • Intimidation. Making threats and frequently losing their temper.
  • Denial. Refusing to take responsibility for harmful behavior.
  • Minimizing. Downplaying the victim’s feelings and concerns.
  • Isolation. Blocking access to outside support and perspectives.
  • Blame shifting. Framing the victim as the problem in the relationship.
  • Emotional neglect. Ignoring the victim’s needs while demanding attention themselves.
  • Moving goalposts. Constantly changing expectations so the victim can never “win.”

When coupled with these tactics, gaslighting becomes a powerful tool for coercive control. The abuser destroys their target’s ability to trust themselves, while evading accountability.

How to Respond to Gaslighting from Your Spouse

If you suspect you are being gaslit, you cannot afford to ignore it. Here are some tips for responding:

  • Trust your gut. Honor your feelings, memories, and perceptions about events. Gaslighters want you to doubt yourself.
  • Get third party perspectives. Talk to trusted friends, family members, or professionals to reality test. Gaslighters operate in secrecy.
  • Look for patterns. Reflect on your relationship history. Gaslighting is gradual and consistent over time.
  • Learn to spot manipulation. Educate yourself on emotional abuse tactics so you can recognize them. Knowledge is power.
  • Confront skeptically. Avoid falling for false denials, projections, or misdirections. Stick to facts and observable behaviors.
  • Establish healthy boundaries. Make clear you will not accept lies, belittling, or blame. Walk away when necessary. Protect your time and energy.
  • Get support. Join a support group, lean on loved ones, or work with a counselor. You need people who can validate your reality.
  • Consider leaving safely. In severe cases, the healthiest option is to exit the relationship, with the help of professionals. Your well-being comes first.

Prioritize self-protection over convincing your spouse or trying to change them. Their unhealthy patterns will likely persist without intensive therapy.

How to Prove You Are Being Gaslit

Since gaslighters are master manipulators, hard evidence can be useful. Consider collecting proof to document patterns:

Keep a diary. Record incidents as soon as possible. Include quotes, behaviors, and your reactions. Gaslighters will deny entries, but concrete details are compelling.

Save correspondence. Hold onto texts, emails, letters, or notes. They timestamp interactions and capture abusive language.

Take photos. Pictures showing damage to property, injuries, or other relevant evidence preserves important visual details.

Make recordings. Subject to local laws, audio or video can directly refute false claims about conversations. Inform the gaslighter first.

Obtain statements. Written accounts from witnesses or professionals can verify events your spouse denies. Medical reports are especially valuable.

Focus on validating your experience, not convincing others. Even irrefutable proof rarely breaks through denial. Safety matters most.

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How to Recover from Gaslighting

Escaping a gaslighting relationship is just the first step in recovery. The toxic effects linger and must be proactively treated.

  • See a therapist. Work with an experienced counselor to unpack trauma, boost self-worth, and set healthy boundaries.
  • Join a support group. Connecting with fellow survivors provides validation and strength. You realize you aren’t alone.
  • Practice self-care. Nurture your physical, mental, and emotional health with rest, nutrition, exercise, and fun activities.
  • Limit contact. Take space from former gaslighters and anyone who enables their behavior. Restrict interactions.
  • Be patient. Rebuilding confidence, instincts, and stability takes time after gaslighting. Celebrate small wins.
  • Learn assertiveness. Practice expressing your needs while respecting others. Unlearn people pleasing habits.
  • Reality test. Check in with trusted friends whenever you feel uncertain. Seek second opinions to reinforce perspective.

Healing your sense of sanity and self requires determination, support, and compassion for yourself. You deserve to feel confident and secure again.

When to Walk Away from a Gaslighting Relationship

Leaving any marriage is a complex, personal decision, but gaslighting must be taken seriously. Consider ending the relationship if:

  • Your spouse repeatedly gaslights with no accountability after being confronted
  • You suffer from anxiety, depression, or physical health problems related to the abuse
  • Gaslighting escalates to threats, intimidation, or physical violence
  • Your friends or family urge you to leave for safety reasons
  • You fantasize about leaving frequently or feel you would be happier alone
  • Your spouse refuses to admit there is a problem or seek counseling
  • The relationship feels hurtful more often than it feels loving and supportive

While couples counseling can help in some cases, it takes two willing partners. Listen to your gut. Prioritize your well-being above all else.

Getting Divorced After Gaslighting

Surviving gaslighting leaves emotional scars, but you can heal. Divorce brings challenges, but also freedom. Embrace this new chapter.

Get clear on the truth. Review your journal entries, recordings, photos, and other evidence you may have collected over the years. Let facts guide your decisions, not false narratives.

Build your support system. Tell close friends and family about the situation. Their validation will give you strength. Connect with domestic violence advocates.

Consult attorneys. Learn your legal rights and options. File police reports if you experienced threats, abuse, or violence.

Secure separate housing. If needed, look into shelters, temporary rentals, or staying with someone trustworthy. Protect yourself first.

Seek counseling. Process confusing emotions with a professional. Expect grief, anger, and residual self-doubt. Healing takes time.

Practice radical self-care. Make your needs the priority. Sleep, eat well, exercise, and carve out quality time for yourself. You deserve peace.

Maintain boundaries. Limit contact with your ex after the split. Create physical and emotional space to gain clarity. Support people will enforce boundaries if you can’t.

The process is painful, but freedom and a fresh start are on the other side. With help and perseverance, you can reclaim your sense of self – without toxic influences.

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Recovering Self-Trust After Gaslighting

The deepest wounds from gaslighting involve lost confidence in your own judgment. Restoring self-trust and stability takes time and conscious effort.

  • Get connected. Bond with empathetic people you can count on for honest feedback rather than gaslighting. Check in when you feel shaky.
  • Recall past accuracy. List examples from your life when you were right about something you questioned. Look for proof your perceptions are valid.
  • Practice assertiveness. Set small boundaries in low-stakes situations, then work your way up. Regain faith in your instincts.
  • Fact check. Double check your recollection of important conversations and events before second guessing yourself. The facts usually confirm your memory is correct.
  • Keep a confidence journal. Record daily victories and things that make you proud. Read it when you feel insecure.
  • Try meditation. Mindfulness and grounding techniques can help stop negative self-talk cycles.
  • Be patient and compassionate. Tell yourself what you would tell a friend in your situation. Counter self-criticism with gentleness.

Surround yourself with people who celebrate your strengths and unique perspectives. You are rebuilding your sense of inner security.

Overcoming Relationship Anxiety After Gaslighting

The damage from gaslighting sabotages confidence long after leaving the relationship. Lingering effects like anxiety, insecurity, and suspicion are normal.

Practice self-soothing. Calm racing thoughts with deep breathing, visualization, meditation, or calming activities. Reduce stress in healthy ways.

Validate yourself. When you start over-analyzing a situation, take a break and remind yourself of the facts. Pull out your journal if needed.

Communicate transparently. Tell new partners how your past experience affects you. Ask for reassurance when you feel anxious or insecure.

Set boundaries. Don’t ignore red flags or suppress doubts just to avoid rocking the boat. You have the right to feel safe.

Get professional help. A therapist can help you work through residual relationship anxiety related to PTSD. Support groups also provide community.

Go slow with trust. Take things one day at a time rather than worrying about the future. Focus on actions instead of words.

Practice self-care. Make sure your own emotional needs are met independently. Don’t tolerate dishonesty or disrespect.

Staying grounded in the present will keep you from spiraling. Healing rebuilt trust takes time, but you’ve got this.

Finding Closure After Gaslighting

Getting closure after an abusive relationship can be difficult, as the gaslighting often continues until the very end. Some ways to seek meaningful closure include:

  • Accepting it’s over. Letting go of fantasies they will change or suddenly acknowledge their behavior. Closure comes from within.
  • Releasing the anger. Moving past righteous resentment frees you from their control. Forgiveness is for you, not them.
  • Focusing on the future. Dwelling on the past gives them power. Looking ahead puts you in control.
  • Finding meaning. Sharing your story compassionately helps other victims feel less alone. Turn pain into purpose.
  • Recognizing your worth. The problem was their disorder, not your worthiness of love. You are enough.
  • Validating yourself. Look back at evidence that confirms your feelings and perspective were totally justified.
  • Trying mindfulness. Meditation and spiritual practices can help detach and find peace.

The healthiest closure happens by making peace internally, without needing admissions of wrongdoing or changed behavior. While apologies may validate you, they also prolong ties to the gaslighter.

Focus on how far you’ve come, despite the odds. Rediscover things that light you up, apart from the relationship. Seek validation from safe people, not unsafe ones.

Closure means no longer letting your life revolve around something that hurt you. It’s preventing the gaslighting from shaping your identity and future. You now get to write your own story.

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How to Help Someone Experiencing Gaslighting

If someone you care about shows signs of gaslighting, offer compassion without judgment. Here are some ways to support victims:

  • Listen without immediately contradicting descriptions of the situation. Victims need to vent without pressure.
  • Ask how you can help rather than imposing advice. Offer specific types of support.
  • Remind them the abuse is the abuser’s fault, not theirs. Counter gaslighting messages.
  • Provide perspective by asking gentle questions. Don’t accuse or make demands.
  • Suggest talking to experts who can validate their experience, not just yours.
  • If they aren’t ready to leave, don’t criticize their choices. Respect their agency.
  • Share resources privately for when they are ready to explore options.
  • Once they leave, continue providing emotional support and reality checks. Recovery is challenging.

You can’t force someone to recognize the abuse, but letting them know you care and are ready to help can make all the difference.

Gaslighting Recovery Support Groups

Connecting with fellow survivors provides community and rebuilds trust. Some great options include:

Therapy Groups. Licensed therapists facilitate sessions focusing on specific issues like trauma, self-worth, or setting boundaries. Provides structure and expert guidance.

Peer Support Groups. Organizations like Emotions Anonymous or Recovery International host chapter meetings worldwide. Members relate through shared experiences.

Online Forums. Websites like Psych Central and Reddit offer forums where members discuss struggles anonymously. Great option when mobility is limited.

Domestic Violence Groups. Organizations like the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence connect local resources. Designed with abuse victims’ needs in mind.

Gaslighting Specialists. Some therapists run specific support groups for gaslighting recovery. Search directories or ask local practices for referrals.

Whichever format fits best, the right group provides validation and freedom from isolation. Find people who “get it.”

Overcoming Gaslighting – In Conclusion

Gaslighting erodes a victim’s identity, distorts their reality, and leaves long-lasting emotional scars. But with compassion, community, and dedication to rediscovering your truth, you can reclaim your life.

Honor your inner strength and know you are not alone. Support exists at every step – during active abuse, throughout separation, and lifelong recovery. Healing won’t happen overnight, but have faith you will get there. Gaslighting’s power fades with distance and time.

Your journey now centers on rebuilding the self-trust and confidence that was taken from you. Give yourself patience and grace. The past can’t define you unless you let it. Your power remains, ready to be tapped into.

You have so much left to experience and contribute. The future awaits the person you want to become, free from manipulation or self-doubt. That freedom to know and redefine yourself is possible. No one can take that away for good.

 

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