In case you're unfamiliar with the term gaslighting, I'll tell you that it's a form of psychological abuse in which a loved one presents you with false information and then doggedly insists it's true, causing you, over time, to question your perception of reality and to blame yourself for the other person's actions and any problems in your relationship with that person. Often, gaslighting behaviors are perpetrated by partners to cover up sexual infidelity, financial shenanigans, or some other ongoing bad behavior.
One of the most disturbing facets of gaslighting is that everyone is vulnerable—even incredibly intelligent and emotionally stable individuals. In part this is because, as human beings, our natural tendency is to believe what the people we love and trust tell us. So rather than questioning a loved one, we tend to defend and make excuses for the person, even if the behavior we're willfully ignoring hurts us directly.
Moreover, gaslighting is just plain hard to spot because it tends to start slowly, with small lies and believable excuses. "I'm sorry I'm late, honey. I've got a big project at work and I lost track of time." A loving spouse would hardly question that statement. Over time, of course, the lies get bigger and the excuses get flimsier, but we might not notice because the escalation is so gradual. In some ways, it's like putting a frog in a pot of water that is set to slowly boil. Because the temperature increases only gradually, the frog doesn't notice that it's being cooked.
If you're worried about the possibility of gaslighting in your relationship, there are three questions you can ask yourself, delineated below. If you find yourself answering yes to these queries, with examples to back this up, it's quite possible that your spouse has betrayed you and is gaslighting you to get away with it.
1. If/when you question your significant other about where he was and what he was doing, does he flip the script, making the problem yours instead of his?
If so, you may have heard statements like:
"I told you I had to work late and to not wait up. Why don't you listen? Honestly, it feels like I don't matter to you. You're mad over nothing."
"Why do you keep asking me if something is going on? It's really annoying when you do that."
"I was working late at the office and I closed my eyes for a minute and fell asleep. I can't believe you're angry because I forgot to call. How could I call when I was asleep?"
2. Does your mate cause you to feel as if you are emotionally and psychologically fragile, and that's the reason you don't fully trust him?
If so, you've probably heard statements like:
"She's just a coworker. When she calls here, it's because we have a project to finish. Why are you always so jealous?"
"I was absolutely not at the park with another woman. In fact, I was stuck in meetings all day at the office. You're delusional if you think you saw me at the park."
"I would never do that. I don't even look at other women. You're just being crazy, and it really upsets me that you don't trust me."
3. Do you find yourself denying your instincts and your perception of reality because that's the only way you can believe what your spouse tells you?
If so, you've likely forced yourself to believe statements that deep down you know are not true, such as:
"I wasn't looking at her; I was looking over her shoulder to signal the waiter."
"I told you on Friday morning, over breakfast, that I had to go out of town for work this weekend. Obviously you weren't listening. Or maybe you were just really sleepy and didn't hear me."
"I don't know who you saw at that restaurant having a romantic dinner. All I know is that it wasn't me."
If you've answered yes to these questions, it's more than a little bit likely there's a problem in your relationship and you're not the cause, despite what your mate would have you believe. Of course, that can be a difficult reality to accept. If necessary, you might want to ask your friends and family for their opinion.
Generally, these individuals are a lot more in touch with the reality of your relationship than you might expect. If they agree that betrayal and gaslighting are issues, you'll absolutely want to take action, seeking outside assistance from a psychotherapeutic professional familiar with the intricacies of infidelity and gaslighting.