- Gaslighters use manipulative tactics to make their victims question their sense of reality, their intuition, and often everything they know to be true.
- Your partner might be gaslighting you if they lie consistently, cause you to distrust yourself, use your weaknesses against you, or bully you.
- If you suspect that you’re being gaslighted by your significant other, it might be time to call it quits: especially if they can’t admit to or stop the abusive behavior.
- On the other hand, there is also hope for staying with your partner, but only if they can stop the manipulation.
- Couples therapy can play an important role in helping you and your partner discuss this unhealthy dynamic and improve your relationship.
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation and emotional abuse whereby the perpetrator leads one to question their reality, their logic, their intuition—everything they know to be true. This manipulative behavior is observed among friends, family, colleagues… and, of course, romantic couples. So, what does gaslighting look like in a relationship? And what should you do if your partner is gaslighting you?
Your Partner Might Be Gaslighting You If…
Gaslighting is the most difficult form of manipulation to spot. Fortunately, though, you can improve your chances by simply knowing what to look for. Karen Koenig, licensed clinical social worker, says that your gaslighting boyfriend or girlfriend might employ any or all of the following:
- Love-bombing is intentionally going overboard in the initial stage of a relationship to gain someone’s love. It also can be used to woo people back into the narcissist’s good graces after s/he has upset them. It is all pretense.
- Causing people to distrust themselves by telling them you said something you didn’t or didn’t say something you did. This goes along with intentionally undermining and confusing someone to cause distrust of self.
- Frequent lying even when it’s not necessary (to see what can be gotten away with).
- Frequent cheating or acting in unethical ways; e.g., stealing an item and giving it to someone.
- Purposely getting other people on your side to make you look better and turning them against someone else.
- Rarely taking responsibility for mistakes or apologizing for them.
- Running hot and cold for no apparent reason.
- Angering easily and starting fights to make someone uncomfortable and to gain power over them.
- Using people’s weaknesses to hurt them and have power over them.
- Bullying and teasing, then saying you didn’t mean anything by it.
- Insisting on a double standard: you can act one way and others must act another way.
- Being very jealous but also willing to betray something at the drop of a hat.
What do I do now?
If you suspect or find that your partner is gaslighting you, you’re probably wondering, “What the heck do I do now?” Some might say that the only logical move is to break up with your significant other. And while that’s likely your best bet if your partner denies their manipulative ways or engages in other abusive behavior (especially physical), you might be able to stay together… if they instead acknowledge and stop the abuse. In the latter case, a counselor or therapist can play an instrumental role in helping the two of you piece back together your relationship. William Schroeder MA, LPC, provides some guidelines for recognizing gaslighting and answering the, “What do I do now?” question:
“The defining line for me as a therapist is if the person doing the gaslighting is doing it to be manipulative and if what they are doing is emotionally abusive. Often, relationships that have themes like this can turn physically abusive as well. That said emotionally abusive relationships are simply not healthy for anyone to exist within.” He deems the following questions important:
- How do their partners handle these concerns that they have?
- Do they notice they feel unsafe?
- Does the intensity of the moment become volatile where they notice their heart and mind are racing?
- Can their partner validate any part of what they are saying or do they simply refute it all and become more condescending and contemptuous as they reverse every part of what they say?
“If their partner invalidates their concerns and refutes them, then this is an example of gaslighting and it isn’t healthy,” he says. “Sometimes, these things can be resolved in couples counseling, but if there is a fear of violence or a history of violence, most experts agree that the individual should focus on a way to build up their safety. A safety plan might involve leaving the relationship with the resources they need to stay safe.”