Heartbreak

12 Ways Even A Loving Partner May 'Accidentally' Gaslight You

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It is easy to assume that your partner knows how to make a point, be assertive, or advocate for themselves in a healthy way.

Sadly, not everyone grew up in a home that mentored healthy and direct communication, listening and problem-solving, good boundaries, the value of mutual respect, and building a strong family community. The fact is your partner may not have been schooled in any of these arts or even had the example of loving, caring and acceptance. 

So when faced with the task of communicating, it is possible they default to what they have experienced from friends and family. Winning at any cost, manipulation, and ignoring the needs and feelings of others. 

A single incident may not be as harmful, but when gaslighting happens over time, you lose confidence and doubt your mental stability. Regardless of the gaslighter's intention, it is something that should be addressed and remedied immediately.

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Subtle or blatantly obvious, decide quickly if your partner is gaslighting you, and call them on it. If they are ready to take responsibility, you have made a good start.

Here are a few interactions that indicate your partner is unintentionally gaslighting you — or may be doing it on purpose

1. They blame you for “every” problem. 

Of course, you have made some mistakes and have raised your hand to say, “I did it.” Like most people, you expect your significant other to do the same because you can think of incidents and occasions when they have also made mistakes. After all, failures are unavoidable and they pave the road to growth and wisdom. 

But your partner won’t admit their faults and you begin to question your memory and perspective. “What am I missing here?” you ask yourself. Your friends are just as confused asa you are, and agree that something is wrong.

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2. They make small faults and infractions significant.

When you continue in an environment of excessive blame, your self-esteem is bound to suffer and if you aren’t careful you are second-guessing over-analyzing every little tic, wrong turn, or purchase you make, fearful that you have made an inferior choice and will be found out. 

Your partner doesn’t let you forget it, and months later you are still haunted by previous stumbles and slips.

3. They trivialize your concerns and feelings.

After a while, you can’t make sense of your life and appeal to the only person who can help you regain confidence. You follow the protocol suggested by your therapist and describe the situation and how it makes you feel, hoping to assert your concerns and needs. 

“Yesterday, when I asked you to sort the laundry, you laughed at my request, making me feel so small!” They chuckle and say disparagingly, “It’s laundry for heaven’s sake!"

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4. Your point of view is invalid.

With more than just words, your partner is saying that the way you see the world doesn’t count. This leads you, more often than you want to believe, to give up your point of view.

You do this because you don’t like confrontation. Manipulators focused on winning are wired to stand their ground. It is in their nature and they don’t recognize that your way of looking at things is an essential “you.”

I have seen enough partners who have relinquished their unique perspectives to the emotional toll of gaslighting.

5. They pretend to forget.

When a couple in a counseling session consistently has different facts of the same story, the therapist knows that someone is lying. Now, imagine when this happens at home and the victim has no recourse for the truth.

No one who will identify the problem and challenge the abuser. One ploy for the cornered abuser is to say,” I forget” or “I remember it differently.”

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6. They contradict your recollection.

Another variation of “I forget” is when your significant other suggests that your specific memory of an event is tainted. You may even begin to doubt yourself, asking “Am I losing it? I was sure that it happened this way."

"What else have I forgotten?” is likely to be your next question — and that's where the gaslighting starts to take effect.

7. They counter with an alternative memory.

When your partner counters with an alternative memory, you are left wondering if there is any point in you remembering and speaking up.

Since your self-esteem is cultivated and nourished when the people who matter affirm you, that opposition is an especially harsh blow to you.

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8. They pretend not to understand. 

The first time it happened, you let it go. However, when your partner defaults to quizzical expression, pretending not to understand your viewpoint that a majority of your peers would side with, you know something is wrong. 

9. They change the subject.

I am not saying that every time your partner diverts the conversation, they are gaslighting, but if it is part of a pattern designed to quiet your thoughts, opinions, and attitudes, it's time to ask why.

I have seen partners engage in these behaviors because they sincerely desire to be loving and create secure, happy homes. Unfortunately, the zeal for control led them to silence the other, and exert power. Now, their partner is convinced that their perspective is invalid and harmful to the dynamic of the relationship.  

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10. They make arbitrary rules.

I have heard partners complain that their partner changes the rules when they are finally getting it right. They say that the fight that ensues when they have made even the slightest infraction so unrealistic that it leaves them feeling crazy.

For example, one man says his partner uses the line ”you should know” so often that he is constantly worried that he is making a mistake again. In another scenario, a woman complains that her partner has a list of expectations hat leave her anxious and dreading to be at home.

Preferences and requests are perfectly valid, but not when you don’t have a voice in negotiations and every discussion leaves you slumped and uncertain that you deserve an opportunity to speak up.

11. They restrict your activities.

Perhaps, they are overly invested in a weekly Sunday brunch with their family, or believe your children must only attend a certain school, even if it means you have to change jobs, exit your art classes and give up exercise. Suggesting more worthy activities is just one way to restrict you. 

The idea of force is hard to grasp, yet partners have found ways to restrict each other and leave them questioning and eventually dismissing desired activities as “foolish, crazy and silly." 

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12. They punish you for disagreement.

When silent treatment and withdrawal from couple and family activities follow in the wake of a couple’s disagreement, the temptation is to classify it as poor communication.

In other words, if your partner is punishing you for having a mind of your own and refusing their version of facts, I would be worried. I don’t believe they got into the relationship to wound your self-esteem, compromise your personal growth, or leave you confused, powerless, and wondering who you are.

If you don’t bring an end to this form of manipulation, you are likely to suffer long-term effects of anxiety, depression and psychological trauma. A very different experience from the relationship of mutual support and trust you expected.  

Most of us leave the honeymoon hoping for the best and believing it all works out in the end. It doesn’t help that the movies we love best don’t take you past the vows, the ring or the bedroom scene.

There is so much more to a happy life and the first best step is to be aware of the pitfalls that a you face from the person you least expect. 

If loving your partner hurts you mentally and emotionally. If your mind is in chaos and you walk on eggshells, it is time to say no to any form of emotional manipulation.

No amount of gaslighting is acceptable and your true love story does not have to end in heartbreak.

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Reta Walker is a therapist specializing in healing relationships. She offers one-on-one sessions, couples retreats, and courses to help couples get back on track.

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