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What is love gaslighting?

Love gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse and manipulation where the gaslighter makes their romantic partner question their own reality, memory, and perceptions of events occurring within the relationship. The term comes from the 1944 film Gaslight, where a manipulative husband tries convincing his wife that she is going insane. While the motives behind love gaslighting can vary, it ultimately serves to gain power and control over the victim while evading accountability.

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What Does Gaslighting Look Like in Relationships?

Love gaslighting is insidious because it often starts gradually before escalating over time. At first, the gaslighter’s actions may seem harmless, such as telling a small white lie to avoid an argument. However, as the gaslighting continues, the lies and manipulation tactics become more extreme. Here are some examples of gaslighting behavior in relationships:

Lying and Denial

The gaslighter will often flat out lie about things they said or did, even when confronted with evidence. If caught in a lie, they will deny it or minimize it rather than take responsibility. For example, if a girlfriend finds romantic text messages her boyfriend sent to another woman, he may insist it was just a friendly conversation, nothing happened, and that she is overreacting.

Contradicting and Forgetting

Gaslighters will make statements or promises, then completely contradict themselves later on. When called out on the contradiction, they will claim to never have said it in the first place. The gaslighter may also pretend to forget important details and events that are then used against the victim. For instance, a husband may forget a wife’s birthday after years of celebrating it, making her seem unreasonable for being upset.

Sowing Self-Doubt

A key technique is making the victim question their own judgment, memory, and perceptions. They may insist the victim misunderstood something said, convince them they are too sensitive, twist details of events, downplay the victim’s concerns as wrong or petty, and more. Over time, the victim starts distrusting their own instincts.

Projecting Blame

When confronted with hurtful behavior, gaslighters deflect responsibility by blaming the victim. Common tactics are accusing them of being dishonest, unstable, too emotional, or the real problem in the relationship. This gradual shifting of blame results in the victim feeling responsible for any issues.


In order to maintain power and control, gaslighters will try to cut off their partner’s other relationships and independence. They may prevent contact with family/friends, monitor activity, restrict access to money, or use jealousy tactics. This lack of external support makes it harder for the victim to recognize the gaslighting.

What Are Some Specific Examples of Love Gaslighting?

While gaslighting can take many forms, here are some of the most common examples of how it shows up in romantic relationships:

Cooking Example

– A wife asks her husband to start cooking dinner twice a week so she can have a break. He agrees, but then never follows through.
– When she brings up his broken promise weeks later, he insists they never had that conversation.
– He accuses her of being too picky about his cooking, says he tries his best but she is impossible to please.
– She starts questioning if the conversation really happened or if she is being unreasonable in her expectations.

Flirting Example

– A girlfriend notices her boyfriend winking at and flirting with another woman at a party.
– When she confronts him, he says she is imagining things and he would never flirt with anyone but her.
– He turns it around on her, accuses her of being jealous and controlling for not trusting him.
– She walks away confused, wondering if she really did see what she thought or overreacted.

Infidelity Example

– A husband is having an affair but keeps telling his wife she is being paranoid whenever she suspects anything.
– If evidence comes up indicating he is cheating, he vehemently denies it, fabricates excuses, or says she is crazy.
– He insists he would never cheat, she is insecure and looking for problems where there are none.
– She no longer trusts her gut instinct and begins blaming herself for falsely accusing him.

What Causes Someone to Gaslight a Romantic Partner?

There are a variety of possible motivations that may lead someone to emotionally manipulate a partner through gaslighting:


The gaslighter may secretly struggle with inner insecurities or inadequacies, so they gaslight to compensate for these feelings. Putting their partner down or evading accountability helps them feel more confident and powerful.


People having affairs often use gaslighting tactics to cover up and facilitate their cheating. Telling lies, denying evidence, blaming their spouse, etc. helps continue the infidelity without consequences.


Narcissists have an excessive sense of self-importance and lack of empathy for others. They may use emotional manipulation and deception to get what they want out of a relationship. Gaslighting helps them maintain control.

Avoiding Commitment

Some gaslighters emotionally manipulate and mistreat their partners as a way to undermine the relationship and avoid deeper commitment. This can be unconscious behavior for some.

Sadistic Tendencies

In extreme cases, gaslighters may take pleasure in exerting power over a partner and putting them down. Dominating the victim caters to underlying sadistic personality tendencies.

Childhood Issues

Gaslighting behavior may be learned from childhood. Growing up around manipulation, abuse, untreated mental illness, or an environment of lies can normalize this behavior.

What are the Effects of Love Gaslighting on the Victim?

Being the victim of a gaslighter’s emotional manipulation can have severe psychological impacts over time. Effects may include:

Loss of Self-Esteem

Constant belittling, criticism, and guilt-tripping by the gaslighter chips away at the victim’s self-esteem. They begin feeling worthless, ugly, incompetent, crazy, and incapable of doing anything right.

Anxiety and Depression

Feelings of self-doubt, helplessness, and isolation created by gaslighting often lead to anxiety and depression. The mental health consequences can be extremely damaging.

Confusion and Disorientation

The often bewildering contradiction between the gaslighter’s words and actions results in the victim questioning reality. They can no longer trust their instincts, perceptions, or memories.

Apologizing and Guilt

Victims start excessively apologizing to avoid further conflict and take on undeserved blame. They feel responsible for causing problems and the gaslighter’s behavior.

Learned Helplessness

The manipulation makes victims feel powerless, trapped, and that any attempts to improve things are futile. They sink into despairing passivity and a sense that they cannot escape.

Post-Traumatic Stress

The chronic stress of prolonged gaslighting can alter brain functioning. Some victims develop PTSD or trauma bonding to the abuser. Flashbacks, hypervigilance, and anxiety are common.

How Can You Tell if You are Being Gaslighted by a Partner?

Recognizing the signs of gaslighting can be tricky, especially when it starts gradually. Here are some clues that may indicate a partner is gaslighting you:

You Constantly Second-Guess Yourself

Do you frequently question whether your perceptions, emotions, reactions, and memories of certain situations are accurate? If your partner is fueling self-doubt, this may be gaslighting.

You Make a Lot of Apologies and Concessions

Do you find yourself constantly saying sorry or backtracking on your needs to avoid conflict and keep the peace? Gaslighters condition victims to do this through threats (explicit or implicit).

You Feel Like Things are Always Your Fault

When anything goes wrong in the relationship, does your partner consistently blame you or make you feel responsible? This undeserved burden of blame is typical gaslighting.

You Have Trouble Making Simple Decisions

Victims of gaslighting often have trouble trusting themselves to make decisions. If you struggle deciding basic things or always defer to your partner’s judgment, this may be why.

You are Isolating More From Friends and Family

Abusers often cut off their victims from other relationships to reinforce dependence. If you have pulled away from loved ones, especially at your partner’s urging, this can indicate gaslighting.

How to Respond to Love Gaslighting

If you realize you are being gaslighted by a romantic partner, here are some tips for responding:

Trust Your Gut

Keep a journal detailing incidents where you felt manipulated or confused by your partner. Review it to identify patterns and trust your instincts.

Set Boundaries

Refuse to engage if your partner denies reality. State clear expectations of honesty and accountability. Walk away if they cross boundaries.

See a Therapist

Getting professional support validates your experiences and can help you safely leave an abusive situation. A good therapist assists with boundaries, rebuilding self-esteem, and processing trauma.

Lean on Loved Ones

Open up to trusted friends and family to regain perspective. Their feedback and support helps counteract the gaslighter’s isolation tactics.

Confront Tactfully

Directly call out contradictory statements and lies, but avoid aggressive confrontation. Gaslighters want an emotional reaction.

Prepare an Exit Strategy

Abusive relationships usually don’t improve without complete separation. Make plans to safely leave, like financial independence and a place to stay.

Is Gaslighting Unintentionally Common in Relationships?

While severe, intentional gaslighting is abusive, some relationship behaviors may unintentionally have gaslighting effects:

Forgetting Promises

We all forget things sometimes. Occasionally forgetting a commitment can make partners feel unvalued, even if unintentional. Own up quickly if this happens.


Misunderstandings and misinterpreting a partner’s words or actions happens in relationships. Be quick to apologize for the confusion.

Minimizing Concerns

It’s common to occasionally minimize a partner’s concerns, especially if you don’t understand why they are upset. But frequent invalidation can make someone question their perception.

Lying to Avoid Conflict

Small lies told to avert arguments (e.g. pretending you forgot an event to avoid attending when you really didn’t want to go) can still degrade trust.

Joking Hyperboles

Teasing a partner through exaggerated jokes can come across as dismissiveness. For example, if they cook dinner say, “This looks barely edible!” as playful ribbing but they take it as criticism.

The key difference between unintentional gaslighting and the abusive behavior is motive and frequency. Occasional miscommunication is normal. But consistent, targeted manipulation to control and subordinate a partner is intentional gaslighting.

How to Avoid Unintentionally Gaslighting Your Partner

You can avoid inadvertently gaslighting your loved one by:

Validating Their Reality

Don’t contradict their experience. Accept their feelings as legitimate and worthy of concern, even if you disagree. Offer understanding and empathy.

Taking Responsibility

Own up quickly to any mistakes, miscommunications, forgotten commitments, etc. Sincerely apologize and make amends. Don’t make excuses.

Communicating Openly

Check in about how your words and actions are impacting your partner. Create space for their honest feelings and adjust behaviors accordingly.

Letting Go of Defensiveness

If your partner seems upset by something you said or did, resist the urge to justify yourself. Righteous indignation often minimizes their experience.

Seeing Conflict as Collaborative

View disagreements as opportunities to increase mutual understanding and intimacy. Don’t take differing perspectives personally.

Setting Healthy Boundaries Around Gaslighting

To build trust and prevent gaslighting from infecting your relationship, set these healthy boundaries:

No Abusive Language or Threats

Make it clear verbally attacking, insulting, or threatening your partner is unacceptable and the relationship will end if it continues. Follow through consistently.

Take a Time-Out if Needed

If a discussion is escalating, take a break and revisit it later when emotions have settled. This helps avoid manipulative arguments.

No Physical Abuse

Violence of any kind should mean immediate termination of the relationship. Make it known that you will not tolerate physical intimidation.

Honesty and Transparency

Keeping your partner informed about your activities, friendships, whereabouts, etc. builds trust. Willingness to share conveys you have nothing to hide.

Check In on the Relationship

Regularly have open conversations about how each of you are feeling in the relationship. Feelings of diminishing self-worth may indicate gaslighting.

When to Seek Outside Help

In mild cases where gaslighting seems unintentional from an otherwise loving partner, counseling may help bring necessary self-awareness. However, if you see any of these red flags, seek help from domestic abuse hotlines, the police, or others to safely exit:

– Your partner repeatedly crosses clear boundaries
– Gaslighting escalates in intensity and frequency over time
– You feel fearful for your safety
– The relationship has become emotionally abusive
– They isolate, threaten, intimidate, or physically harm you

Trust your gut. None of these behaviors are acceptable in a healthy relationship under any circumstances. You deserve to feel emotionally safe with your partner. Consider whether it is time to safely walk away.


Being the victim of a gaslighter’s emotional manipulation and abuse can be an isolating experience where you doubt your own reality. But learning to recognize the key signs of gaslighting behavior enables you to respond appropriately, whether by setting firmer boundaries or safely exiting an abusive situation. While some gaslighting-type behaviors may unintentionally occur in relationships, consistent emotional abuse and control crosses a serious line and should be addressed. With greater understanding of this devastating manipulation tactic, you can better protect yourself and find the unconditional love you deserve.