Thankfully we live in a world where it’s easier than ever to get resources and assistance for victimization when you’re in an unhealthy relationship. However, when most of us think about being in a relationship that deems getting help—or being saved—from, it has to do with physical abuse. There are many other kinds of abuse, however, much of which is mental. Gaslighting is one of those. Gaslighting in a relationship is a particularly heinous tactic, which doesn’t sound hardly as bad as it is in reality. “Gaslighting has to do with misdirecting, lying and denying a truth to another person by making them doubt their perceptions, memory and sanity,” explains Stan Tatkin PsyD, MFT, leading couple therapist and author of Wired for Love. “People lie, people hide, people omit, but gaslighting is much worse—it’s abusive and cowardice.” In other words, if your partner uses gaslighting to escape from being found out about something, it should be a deal breaker—and you should leave the relationship as soon as possible.
But since gaslighting itself is a term that few people truly understand, it’s important to know what to look for should it happen to you. We asked experts to unveil the key signs of gaslighting in a relationship early on, so you know when to get out.
Your partner’s withholding secrets from you
While you and your partner certainly don’t have to reveal every little detail of your lives to each other, withholding important information from each other forecasts gaslighting in a relationship. “Continual holding of secrets damages the relationship’s safety and security,” says Dr. Tatkin. “If you are the partner who believes in full transparency (we share information with each other) and your partner believes otherwise, this spells out big trouble for your future happiness together.”
Your partner starts telling you lies
According to Dr. Tatkin, all partners lie and use deception, but it’s a matter of degree and frequency. “A partner who continually lies, deflects, blames others to avoid responsibility, and omits important information, cannot be trusted and therefore should be ousted from the relationship,” he says. “Habitual lying is undoubtedly a sign of abuse.” While, at first, you may not believe them, a sign of gaslighting in a relationship is that you start to as they keep saying these lies until you’re worn down, explains Elliott R Katz, author of Being the Strong Man a Woman Wants. “Their goal is to make you feel that your judgement is wrong and that you’re incapable of making decisions without them helping, or ultimately making, them for you.”
They isolate you from friends and family
In a healthy relationship, your partner is proud that you have close relationships with your family members. In fact, he or she may even help you foster those relationships. However, when there is gaslighting in a relationship, a key sign is that your partner tries convincing you that your family and friends are a hindrance in your life and/or have harmed you. “This deprives you of the people who can help you realize what is happening to you,” says Katz.
They praise you for doing something that benefits them
Positive reinforcement is a fundamental part of any healthy relationship. We all like to hear that we’re doing a good job once in a while, whether it’s at work and especially when it’s at home. If the only positive reinforcement your partner gives you is when you do something that directly benefits him or her, be it something sexual or a favor such as fixing their car, this is a sign of gaslighting, according to Katz.
They criticize you constantly
If your partner is constantly pointing out things that you’re doing wrong, even if he or she is sugar-coating these criticisms, it’s an early sign of gaslighting, according to Friedemann Schaub MD, PhD, author of The Fear and Anxiety Solution. If he or she tells you that it would be better for you to not have another cookie, because he or she is concerned about your health, when in reality he or she would like you to lose weight, it’s an early sign of gaslighting. Another example, Dr. Schaub provides is if your partner mentions that his mother was keeping the home in such great order, insinuating that you don’t. “Camouflaged criticism is a form of passive-aggressive behavior, which can easily make you feel insecure and self-conscious—and thus easier controllable,” he adds.