gaslighting in a relationship

Have you ever, in a relationship, started to doubt your own mind? Has your spouse made you question your reality? If so, you may have experienced gaslighting in a relationship. You’ve probably heard this term used more frequently in the last few years, but what does it truly mean, and where did it originate? 


The History Of Gaslighting

Gaslighting came from the 1944 movie entitled Gaslight. In the film, a woman had married a man who was literally trying to drive her insane. First, he would move things around the house to try and confuse her. Then, when she questioned him about their whereabouts, he would always say she was wrong and that he didn’t think she put it where she thought. The woman also heard things, such as footsteps coming from a sealed attic.

Back in 1944, when they made the movie, people were still using gas lights in their homes. Those lights were known to dim and flicker as they burned. The woman in the film would comment to her husband about the lights flickering, but he would always respond by saying he didn’t see anything. This phenomenon is where the movie name originated and where we get the term gaslighting today.

The term’s original definition was to drive someone insane through psychological manipulation. While the meaning has changed over the years, it’s still a tool for manipulation. Narcissists often use this tactic in abusive and toxic relationships to control their victims. But we most often deal with this issue when someone is trying to get away with something they have done wrong, and their spouse has started to find evidence. 


Gaslighting In A Relationship Often Hides Improprieties

To some degree, most of us have gaslit someone. If you’ve ever lied to someone when you knew that person knew the truth, you were trying to gaslight them. That doesn’t mean you were trying to drive them insane, but you wanted to make them doubt what they knew. We often see this behavior in troubled marriages where one spouse is having an affair, addicted to drugs, porn, gambling, or other afflictions like these. They don’t want to get caught in their improprieties, so they lie.

The lies may be subtle at first. No, I didn’t push you into the wall. You were off-balance, and I tried to catch you. Or, no, I’m not having an affair with that woman! She’s your best friend; she wouldn’t do that to you. Anything that might cause your spouse to doubt what they think they know. You might not be trying to harm your spouse intentionally; you’re just trying to save yourself. But in the long run, you’re causing more hurt.

How Do You Handle Gaslighting In A Relationship?

The first thing to do is to ensure that what you are remembering, thinking, and doing is reality and not fantasy. Your spouse will imply that you fantasized or dreamed up the situation. So, to make sure you remember correctly, start keeping a journal.

Write everything down about your day that you need to remember. Anything that your spouse says or does, write it down. Your spouse won’t be able to argue against the facts that you’ve written down. After a while, you’ll have all the evidence that you need to combat any gaslighting in your relationship. 

The second thing to do is pay more attention to their actions than their words. People who use gaslighting in a relationship are often quite fluent in language and can be very convincing. They are experts in logical and quick thinking, which helps them win most arguments. In addition, they appear to be sincere in everything they’re saying, which makes it very confusing. So, rather than listening to all those words, watch their behaviors. Then, add those behaviors to your journal as well.


Gaslighting Only Works If You Let It

Third, spend some time with people who can assure you that you’re ok and not going crazy. This doesn’t mean finding some friends who will just let you whine and complain and back up everything you say. Instead, find people you can be around that let you be the real you. You’ll be able to see that you can still think, feel, and act in a normal way in this setting.

Being away from the person gaslighting you will help you keep your own identity. Gaslighting in a relationship often sees the gaslighter trying to isolate you from anyone who might give you more information about what they’re doing. This can mean friends, family, and even people at your place of work. No matter how hard they push, staying in contact with those closest to you can help you feel normal again.

You don’t have to let gaslighting in a relationship work, no matter how glib your partner might be. Instead, you can keep it from working by staying connected to reality. Use the steps we’ve outlined in this article and anything else that helps you stay grounded.

Here at Marriage Helper, we want to support you in whatever you’re going through. We have Client Representatives who can guide you towards the resources we have that would be best for your situation, and you can schedule time to talk with a Client Rep here.

If you want more information on how to start fixing your marriage for the better (or you’re unsure if it can be saved), we have a FREE eBook called, “7 Keys To Fix Your Marriage” that you can access right now.

If you believe that control is an issue in your marriage, you can read this FREE eBook about control and learn about how you can begin to change your relationship.