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Gaslighting: How to Recognize Your Spouse’s Manipulative Behavior
Gaslighting has become a trending term in discussions surrounding unhealthy relationships. But what is it and how do you recognize it?
Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse. It can be deceptive and difficult to identify. The name derives from the 1938 play called Gas Light (and a subsequent film adaptation), in which a husband manipulates his wife into believing she’s going insane.
Gaslighting can have emotionally devastating consequences, and it’s often a reason people remain in unhappy marriages. When you’re informed about these manipulation tactics, you’re better able to understand if they’re happening and protect yourself.
Here’s how to recognize the signs of gaslighting in a marriage.
Gaslighting Takes Many Forms
Gaslighting can come in many forms. The common theme with gaslighting behaviors is that your partner uses manipulation tactics to make you question reality. It can be hard to determine how to deal with gaslighting spouses, but knowing what behaviors to watch for is the first step.
Here are some of the most common emotionally abusive behaviors that may be considered forms of gaslighting.
Telling lies is perhaps the foundation of gaslighting behavior. When a spouse lies to you, they control your perception of reality and destroy the trust that should exist between spouses. They may also have excessive, overblown emotional reactions if you question their lies.
Gaslighters commonly deny past events. This includes contradicting how situations played out, and things they did or said. They may try to make you think you’re crazy for how you remember events.
This can be highly destructive, as a gaslighter’s convincing insistence on their version of events can cause you to lose trust in your own memories and feelings.
Gaslighters will often trivialize your feelings and reactions. When a gaslighter uses trivialization, it’s common to hear phrases like:
It’s not a big deal
You’re too sensitive
You’re being paranoid
Trivializing is intended to make you question your own ability to behave reasonably and think rationally. A gaslighter’s confidence and insistence can make you feel like you’re overreacting when you’re actually having a valid, reasonable response to abusive behavior.
Projection is another tactic used by gaslighters. Projection is when the abusive partner remains on the offensive by blaming you before you can question their treatment of you.
Projecting partners tend to start big arguments over minor issues or accuse you of behavior they’re exhibiting. You might be accused of lying or having an affair. Projection is an attempt at deflecting blame onto you before you can rightfully place it on the gaslighter.
Hoovering happens when you try to leave a gaslighting spouse. When faced with losing control over you, an abusive spouse may suddenly change their behavior.
They begin treating you with love, respect, and consideration. They might talk about how they’ll change, or agree to attend couples’ therapy.
Often, this is just another manipulation tactic. It’s intended to make you think that the relationship is improving or that you just went through a rough patch. Once a gaslighting spouse feels secure again, they return to their abusive behavior.
Freedom from Gaslighting
The purpose of gaslighting is to control. If you’re dealing with a gaslighting husband or wife, it can be difficult to free yourself through divorce.
Sometimes, gaslighting isn’t a conscious choice. A spouse may be unintentionally trying to control you, or they may just have unhealthy relationship patterns that result in gaslighting behaviors.
Intentional or not, gaslighting is a destructive form of emotional abuse. It can have devastating long-term effects on one’s self-esteem, relationships, and mental health.
When you learn to recognize the actions and tactics used by gaslighters, it’s much easier to get the help you need to leave an abusive marriage. If you have a gaslighting spouse and want to find out more about divorce and related issues (like child custody), consider speaking with a family law attorney to evaluate your options. Don’t allow a manipulative spouse to take advantage of you.