Living with a manipulative spouse can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. In some relationships, it can be abusive. Recognizing your spouse’s manipulative behaviors is the first step in ending a destructive and harmful relationship. Gaslighting in marriage can be the cause for the end of a relationship. 

What is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting was adopted as a term in the 1960s to describe manipulating a person’s perception of reality. The term is taken from a 1938 play, Gas Light. In the play, a husband drives his wife crazy by dimming the house’s gas-powered lighting at random times. He denies anything happened, thereby making his wife begin to doubt her own senses. 

Before the end of the play, the wife is not sure of anything. She cannot tell if she remembers things correctly. Through subtle ways, like dimming the lights, the husband makes his wife and other people believe that she does not have a grasp on reality. 

Today, a spouse’s gaslighting is still subtle. It involves using various behaviors to make a person believe that they are overreacting to a situation or not remembering a situation or conversation clearly. It is a way to manipulate a spouse into thinking they are at fault.

Spouses who are narcissists or have a narcissistic personality disorder will often use gaslighting to manipulate their spouses. 

How Does Gaslighting Harm Someone?

Gaslighting can cause a person to doubt themselves. They may lose self-confidence. Their self-esteem may be negatively impacted as they begin to believe that they are experiencing a mental health crisis.

A gaslighting victim may doubt their own reality. They become confused and dependent upon the gaslighting spouse. They also become easier to manipulate as they depend on their spouse to tell them what is and is not “real.”

Unfortunately, the gaslighting spouse may make others believe their spouse is not well. Friends and family may begin to believe that the spouse has emotional or mental issues, which could result in the loss of child custody in a divorce case

What Are the Signs of Gaslighting?

Gaslighting can occur by itself or through physical, sexual, emotional, or financial abuse. It can be difficult to recognize, especially as it continues and the gaslighted spouse begins to doubt reality.

Some of the signs that your spouse may be trying to gaslight you include:

Denial in the Face of Proof

If your spouse insists that he is not lying to you even though you have proof, he may be trying to gaslight you. Your spouse may continue to deny something happened vehemently no matter what proof you provide. Your spouse may remain calm and continue to stand by the lie.

Your spouse may also create an alternate set of facts or a different yet plausible scenario. He continues to stick with that fact to make you believe you are mistaken and he is right.

Manipulate Your Feelings 

Your spouse may try to convince you that your family and friends are out to get you or do not have your best interest at heart. The purpose is to isolate you and make you more dependent on your spouse. 

A gaslighter may make statements and raise issues that cause conflict. Your spouse may say that your friend made a pass at him or your dad said you were not good with money. 

Neither statement is true, but it is his word against theirs. He will tell you that he loves you and is always honest with you. When the person denies they said or did anything, he will use that denial as further proof that they are liars and he is the only one that tells you the truth. 

Projecting Bad Behavior

If you confront your spouse about something, she might accuse you of the behavior. She insists that you are the one mistreating her. A gaslighting spouse distorts the narrative to make you the person at fault.

Accusing You of Being Paranoid

Another common tactic used by gaslighting spouses is claiming you are paranoid or sensitive. You may question your spouse about finances, why they are always late from work on certain nights, or why they need a second cell phone. These are all legitimate questions or concerns.

However, a gaslighting spouse shifts the blame to you. Your spouse might bring up something from your past that has made you paranoid or sensitive. For example, your parents had to file bankruptcy, so your questions about finances are just you overreacting and being paranoid. He will say anything to make you believe your legitimate feelings are delusions. 

How to Deal with a Gaslighting Spouse – Seek Help from a Professional

There could be more signs that your spouse is manipulating you. You may want to seek couples counseling, but gaslighting husband or wife often works to convince the therapist that they are right and their spouse has severe problems. In the alternative, you could see an individual counselor to learn how to deal with a gaslighting spouse. 

You can seek help for an abusive relationship by contacting The National Domestic Abuse Hotline or the New Jersey Domestic Violence Hotline

Emotional and mental abuse can be just as devastating as physical abuse. The first step is to find safety and seek help. A New Jersey family law attorney can also help you develop a plan to safely get out of the home and petition the family court for assistance.