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What is “Gaslighting” and How Can it Affect a Marriage?

Posted On February 4, 2023 In General

Divorce is a difficult prospect to face even under the best of circumstances when spouses agree to part amicably. But when one spouse has been the victim of years of gaslighting by the other, leaving a toxic marriage becomes even more challenging. Victims of gaslighting may not live in reality to the same degree as people outside of the marriage. Instead, they might have many false ideas about the world, how they’re perceived by others, and whether or not they can function effectively outside of the marriage.

What is Gaslighting?

The term “Gaslighting” comes from the 1938 London theater production, Gaslight, and then a later film released by the same name in 1944. The film, Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyner, focuses on a husband’s attempts to drive his wife to insanity by convincing her that she’s imagining the dimming of the gaslights in their home as well as the sounds she hears in the attic at night, while also playing tricks on her to convince her that she’s a kleptomaniac. “Gaslighting” has become a way to describe the deceptive process one person uses to convince another of untruths, erode their confidence, and manipulate them into psychological dependence.

Gaslighting is a common tool used by abusive and often narcissistic spouses as a powerful mechanism for control. During a divorce, a gaslit spouse may make poor legal decisions and accept property division and child support arrangements that are not in their own best interests.

Understanding Signs of Gaslighting In a Marriage

When one spouse is the victim of years of gaslighting, it may take years for them to look back clearly and recognize the manipulation that took place during their marriage. Some signs of gaslighting in a marriage include the following:

  • One partner undermines the other’s confidence by convincing them that no one else would find them attractive, or that they aren’t smart or experienced enough for independence and success
  • One partner vehemently denies saying or doing something they did until the other partner doubts their own memory or perception of what happened
  • One partner convinces the other partner that their faults and failures alone are responsible for all of the troubles they’ve experienced in the marriage as well as in outside interests and careers
  • One partner exploits the other’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities to manipulate them into doing what they want and may use tactics to increase the other’s vulnerabilities in order to further exploit them
  • One spouse may tell the other a deceptively twisted version of events they both experienced until the gaslit partner doubts their own perception of the event

How to Tell If You’ve Been Gaslit in Your Marriage

While many victims of gaslighting don’t fully realize the way they were manipulated until years later, in some cases, a person might grow and mature during the marriage to a point that they begin to suspect what the gaslighter is doing. 

Some signs that you might be the victim of gaslighting include the following:

  • Feeling like you must “walk on eggshells” around your spouse so you don’t inadvertently say or do something that sends them into a tirade during which they highlight all of your faults and failures
  • Questioning your own judgment because you’ve been told you are wrong about so many things and make terrible decisions
  • Wondering if something is terribly wrong with you because your spouse has many friends and only you seem to set him/her off 
  • You find yourself apologizing constantly, even about your innate traits and characteristics
  • Feeling like you are never good enough to make your spouse happy
  • You feel confused by the other partner because they tell you how unattractive and unintelligent you are, while also telling you they love you and would never purposely try to hurt you

How Gaslighting Impacts Divorce

Many victims of gaslighting never file for divorce because they’ve been manipulated into accepting a situation that’s bad for them and they’ve been convinced they can’t get by on their own. It often takes a very serious incident of abuse or other egregious behavior to cause a gaslighting victim to seek a divorce. Once they do, they may not argue for what they deserve because the power balance in the relationship has been tipped one way for so long.

If you are a victim of gaslighting, a strong, dedicated attorney can passionately defend your interests throughout the divorce proceedings despite attempts at manipulation from the other spouse. By using a third-party advocate to communicate with your spouse during the divorce process, you can take the first important steps toward regaining independence and self-confidence.