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5 Signs of Gaslighting in a Marriage

In 1944 a film was released that depicted a husband who lied to his wife about reality in order to convince her she was insane so he could obtain her fortune. The film was named “Gaslight” for the gaslights that he would dim to alter her environment. This film later became the premise for the term “gaslighting”. 

Gaslighting is an emotionally abusive control technique that is used to exert power over people by causing them to question their reality. Although commonly used by dictators and cult leaders, it can also be used by abusers and narcissists in personal and romantic relationships. Unfortunately, gaslighting often occurs in marriages. In most cases, people who gaslight may be unaware of their behavior, nevertheless it is highly destructive to their partners and the relationship. Here are five signs that your partner may be gaslighting you: 

Man pointing at himself innocently as his shadow shows his nose growing to indicate a lie

They Lie

Gaslighters will often use lies as a way to change your perception of reality. They will lie about almost anything, even things that you can prove they are lying about. However, they act so sure about their lie that you may start to doubt that you are right. This doubt is what they are trying to accomplish. In some cases, they will even deny things that happened. This can cause you to wonder if it actually happened. 

You Cannot Disagree With Them

It is impossible to amicably disagree with a gaslighter. If you do disagree with them, they will accuse you of being crazy, unstable, a liar, or out of your mind. Essentially, your side of the argument will have no credibility to them and anything you say can and will be used against you. 

They Are Very Persuasive

Not only will gaslighters disagree with your thoughts, but they will talk you into believing theirs. This is because it is essential to a gaslighter that the person they are controlling agrees with their version of reality. In some cases, gaslighters can even make their victims apologize for acting “crazy” or “overreacting”. 

They Use Confusion to Create False Security

Knowing something for certain results in feelings of stability. Conversely, confusion causes anxiety and instability. Although gaslighters cause confusion, they have convinced their victims that they are the unstable one. Because it is natural human behavior to search for stability, many victims will find a false sense of security in gaslighters because they believe them to provide stability. 

Tall man pointing down at small woman while fighting

You Feel Minimized

Often gaslighters will minimize the way you feel by saying things like, “calm down” or “stop overreacting”. They never acknowledge the way you feel or what your thoughts are, and you often don’t feel any sense of validation from them. Telling them how you feel can cause them to shift the blame to you. Many gaslighters will have their victims believe that their bad behavior is caused by the victims themselves. 

As you can see, gaslighting in a marriage is highly destructive and not healthy. If your spouse is exhibiting signs of gaslighting, it is important to attend couples therapy or marriage counseling as soon as possible to work through them. Gaslighting is not something that can be ignored because it will not improve on its own and will usually get worse the longer it continues. For more information on couples therapy, see “Do You Need Couples Therapy?”

Dr. Miller is trained in Adult, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. She is also trained in Anesthesia and Pain Management. Because of her broad experience, Dr. Miller is uniquely qualified to treat psychological trauma, depression and anxiety that can occur as a result of injury or disability.  For more information, schedule a consultation at NJ Family Psychiatry & Therapy.

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Helene A. Miller / And Other Providers
Family Psychiatry and Therapy brings compassion, understanding, and skilled care to patients throughout New Jersey. Our team of mental health professionals focuses on providing a positive and uplifting experience that aids our patients in facing life’s toughest challenges.