Gaslighting: How to Recognize Your Spouse’s Manipulative Behavior

Hossein Berenji, Apr 14, 2021

Divorce can be a very difficult process for a person. However, someone who has been “gaslighted” by their spouse may experience additional challenges when seeking a divorce. They may be unsure of themselves and their reality, making it even more challenging to get out of a toxic marriage.

What Does Gaslighting Mean?

Gaslighting is a term taken from a 1938 play entitled Gas Light. In the play, a husband tries to make his wife think she is losing her mind. He does many things to make his wife doubt her own senses and reality, including turning down the gas lights at their home. He would deny that he noticed anything, making his wife doubt herself.

The term gaslighting became popular in the 1960s. It is used to describe the manipulation of another person’s perception of reality.

Gaslighting is a common tool used by narcissistic and abusive spouses to control their partners. When done correctly, gaslighting can make a spouse doubt their own senses and memory. A spouse that is the victim of gaslighting may appear to have emotional or mental disorders.

How Can Gaslighting Be Used Against a Spouse in Family Court Matters?

Gaslighting makes you doubt your reality. It can make you believe that you are at fault for the breakup of your marriage. In an abusive marriage, gaslighting can make you more dependent on your spouse and separate you from family and friends.

Gaslighting can destroy your self-esteem. It can make it easier for your spouse to manipulate you into accepting a property division settlement or child custody agreement that is not in your best interest. It may make a judge, therapist, counselor, or child advocate believe that you are not fit to have custody of your children.

Are There Signs That You Are a Victim of Gaslighting?

Gaslighting can be subtle. It may accompany domestic abuse, including verbal, emotional, financial, sexual, and physical abuse.

Some of the signs that your spouse may be trying to gaslight you include, but are not limited to:

Manipulating Your Emotions and Feelings

Your spouse makes comments that initiate conflict between you and your spouse. The comments may also cause conflict between you and your family and friends. In all cases, your spouse believes they are right.

This type of gaslighting aims to isolate you and make you more dependent on your spouse. For example, your spouse may tell you that your boss is hitting on you, and you enjoy it. He may give you an example of your boss giving you flowers for your birthday.

You know the gesture is innocent and that your boss is not hitting on you. However, your spouse continues to bring the matter up until you ask your boss. Your boss denies that he is interested in you in any manner other than a professional relationship.

When you tell your spouse, your spouse accuses your boss of lying. Your spouse says that he loves you and you should trust him. He would never lie to you.

Constantly being told that other people are lying to you and your spouse is the only one you can trust can make you doubt other people’s intentions. It makes you rely on your spouse and doubt your feelings and perceptions.

Proof Does Not Matter

Your spouse denies accusations, even when you have proof they are lying to you. No matter how much proof you might provide, your spouse remains calm in the face of the proof and continues to deny the allegations. When you become upset, your spouse points out that you are hysterical and seeing things incorrectly.

A gaslighting spouse may create a different scenario to explain the situation. They may create an alternative set of facts that are just plausible enough to make you doubt yourself. They may accuse you of being paranoid and shift the blame to you for the situation.

Blaming You for Their Poor Behavior

Gaslighting spouses turn the tables and blame you for their poor behavior. They distort the narrative to make you appear to be the one mistreating them. For example, if you work overtime, you neglect them and do not want to spend time with them. Therefore, you must be having an affair.

Divorcing a Gaslighting Spouse

It can be tough to summon the courage to begin divorce proceedings. If you believe your spouse is gaslighting you, you may want to seek help from a therapist or counselor.

For domestic abuse, including emotional and mental abuse, you can reach out to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) or The National Domestic Abuse Hotline.

A Los Angeles family lawyer can also help you develop a plan to leave an abusive marriage while maintaining your safety. The first step is to seek professional help.