What to Do If Your Spouse Is Gaslighting You

You may have heard the term “gaslight” used to describe certain types of misleading or dishonest behavior. However, gaslighting is so much more than that. In fact, it’s a serious, insidious form of abuse that’s all too common in romantic relationships.

Many people use gaslighting to control their partners’ behavior and emotions. If your spouse regularly gaslights you, you’re suffering from a serious form of abuse. Here’s what you need to know about gaslighting, why it’s so dangerous, and what to do if you’re trying to divorce a gaslighting spouse.

What Is Gaslighting?

The term “gaslighting” comes from the 1944 movie Gaslight, in which a husband tries to make his wife go insane by toying with her perceptions. One of his most blatant actions is adjusting the gaslights that light their home, then denying that it seems brighter or darker in the room. Throughout the movie, he lies about objective reality, making his wife question whether she can trust her own memory and senses.

That’s what gaslighting is. The basic definition of gaslighting is the manipulation of someone over time that causes them “to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.”

Gaslighting is a highly effective tactic used by abusers to build control over their victims. Each individual instance is small enough to be written off. However, when it occurs regularly, it quickly makes you doubt yourself and feel like you need the abusive person to function.

Some people may gaslight you on purpose. However, some abusers may not even consciously understand that they’re gaslighting their victims. In their desire to constantly be right and never be questioned, they may reshape their own memories so that they were right all along.

Suppose your spouse tells you to order plane tickets for a specific date and time but gets the details wrong. You order exactly what your spouse requested. However, when you let them know what you bought, they insist that they told you the correct date and time and the mistake was yours. Your spouse may genuinely believe that they’re right, but they’re still gaslighting you if this is part of a behavioral trend.

Gaslighting vs. Emotional and Verbal Abuse

Gaslighting is a specific kind of emotional abuse. Its entire purpose is to make you insecure and more attached to your abuser. By insisting that you can’t trust yourself, gaslighters make themselves seem like the only source of truth in your life and force you to rely on them for even basic tasks.

Many gaslighters are also verbally abusive, insulting their victims for being “stupid,” “forgetful,” or “inconsiderate.” This reinforces the impact of their lies, making you feel like you’re lucky the abuser is willing to “help” you. A long gaslighting campaign can leave you feeling like no one else could ever want to spend time with you and that you’d be lost in the world without your abuser’s help.

Is Gaslighting Grounds for Divorce?

In California, you don’t need to have a reason to get divorced. As long as you don’t want to be married anymore, you can file for divorce at any time. That means that you don’t have to prove anything to get your divorce, whether that’s gaslighting or another form of abuse.  

Still, if you suspect your spouse is gaslighting, that’s absolutely a strong reason to end your marriage. You deserve to have a life partner that works with you and doesn’t make you doubt your perceptions of reality. If your current partner is trying to control or humiliate you, then you can and should leave the relationship as soon as possible.

How to Handle Gaslighting in Your Divorce

If you decide to divorce a gaslighting spouse, you need to be careful. These types of people are excellent at making you doubt your decisions. You need to take appropriate precautions to make sure you don’t get dragged back into the relationship.

  • Record everything your spouse says. Gaslighting only works if there’s no proof regarding which person is right. When it’s your word against your spouse’s, their confidence may be enough to make you doubt yourself. That’s why you should record what they say whenever it might affect you. Write down or take audio recordings so you can refer to them later if your spouse tries to mislead you. This can help you build confidence in your perceptions and prove what was actually said.
  • Communicate by text as much as possible. Similarly, once you’ve decided to end your marriage, communicate with your spouse by email or text. These mediums are much more permanent, so you’ll have a record of any lies, insults, or other abusive behavior your spouse attempts.
  • Talk things over with a trustworthy friend. Reach out to family and friends that aren’t connected to your spouse and discuss situations. Since they’re not involved, they can confirm your beliefs and reinforce your confidence in your decisions.
  • Work with an experienced divorce lawyer. Finally, any divorce takes a lot of legal work. Reach out to a qualified divorce lawyer to help you handle the details and act as a buffer between you and your abusive spouse. Good divorce lawyers can help you avoid spending time with your spouse any more than necessary, ensuring that they don’t have the opportunity to try to drag you back into old, destructive patterns.

Get Away from Your Gaslighting Spouse

While gaslighting can be tricky to prove, it’s absolutely a form of abuse and should be taken seriously. As long as you’re married to a gaslighter, you’ll never feel like you can trust yourself, your emotions, or your decisions. You deserve to escape that pervasive doubt and stand on your own two feet.

Still, if you’re considering divorcing your gaslighting spouse, you need help. The right divorce lawyer can help you track what your spouse says and does and spot when they’re lying to you. They can also support you as you navigate the legal system, even if your spouse is working against you. Schedule your consultation to start breaking free today.

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Kaspar & Lugay, LLP is a family law firm with offices in Corte Madera, CA; Napa, CA; Walnut Creek, CA; and San Diego, CA. We also represent clients in San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, Pismo Beach, Contra Costa County, and Los Angeles.