If you are not a person who frequently goes online for news or entertainment purposes, then you may be completely in the dark, no pun intended, about what got gaslighting is or means. I believe this is not a term that has widespread societal use or is discussed much in day-to-day conversation. However, being an older millennial, I tend to go online for a great deal of the news input that I choose to take in. As such, social media and other sources have exposed me to the term gaslighting and what it can mean.
A person who engages in gaslighting is highly manipulative; a gaslighter will deny reality and lie about their actions. This causes the people in that person's life to question their sanity. Since the gaslighter will never admit the truth, the innocent party is stuck in a position where nobody can tell exactly what is going on.
This situation takes on added importance when you consider that the truth is essential in a divorce case. Family law cases focus a great deal on the facts and circumstances of a situation in addition to the actual family laws that are relevant. Judges conduct fact-dependent analyses of a case if a hearing or trial is ever held. If the basic facts or circumstances of your case are never clear due to the actions of a gaslighting spouse, then you can be made to feel helpless.
Gaslighting can even prevent a family law case from ever starting.
Before we can even reach the topic of a family law case like a divorce, I think it is important to take note of the reality that being married to a person who engages in gaslighting behavior can go a long way towards preventing you from even getting to the point where a divorce is filed. This is because you may have been misled, lied to, manipulated, and pushed towards remaining in a relationship that is not in your best interests or even healthy for you. Such is the power of gaslighting in a marriage that is on the rocks.
It can be a compelling force to have a person that you trust lie to you. Those lies take on added meaning and importance when you are not motivated to end your marriage in the first place. It is powerful to be told that your deeply held beliefs do not matter are off base or without merit. This may give you a warped sense of reassurance that maybe the failings of your marriage are not as significant as you think or that perhaps you are the cause of those problems.
I have seen people who are otherwise motivated to get divorced fail to move forward with a case because the gaslighting spouse has influenced their friends and family. In other words, you may find that your friends and family are not giving you proper advice or perspective due to their being gaslighted, as well. All around, being near a gaslighter means that you have to be hyper-aware of what they are saying in terms of their perspective or opinions. If you are not, you may lose any semblance of reality and be unable to make decisions that are in your best interests.
Gaslighting can turn into parental alienation.
Unfortunately, gaslighting is not a phenomenon that impacts only you and your spouse. It is reasonable to expect that your gaslighting spouse will also manipulate their way into harming your relationship with your children. This is not something that is out of the ordinary in any divorce. However, in a situation where your spouse is gaslighted, then manipulation is much more likely, in my opinion. If you are not concerned about gaslighting in the context of your marriage, then I think that you should pay close attention to this issue when it comes to your relationship with your children.
Parental alienation occurs most readily when your spouse has influenced your children to shy away from having a strong relationship with you. This can be done in many ways, but most commonly is done with words. Your spouse can take advantage of your children by telling them untruths or outright lies about you. If you notice that your children are not excited about seeing you or express hesitancy, you may encounter alienating behavior.
Parental alienation can turn into your children not wanting to spend time with you. It can also turn into your children not enjoying the time that they do spend with you. Children are especially susceptible to gaslighting because their understanding of reality is in flux as they mature. They are not necessarily in a position to trust their instincts as compared to an adult. They are also in a position where your kids likely trust your spouse greatly due to their authority position as a parent.
All in all, you need to be on guard against alienating behavior set forth by your spouse. The gaslighted are aware of how their actions can lead to harm for you. Many people who engage in this type of behavior do so not because they are unaware of the consequences of their actions but because they do not care about the impact of their words. The gaslighter cares only for their own life and wants to gain an advantage over you whenever possible.
If you suspect your spouse of engaging in alienating behavior, then this is something that you need to speak to your children about. It will help if you speak to your kids to understand based on their maturity level and ages. Older children are likely more capable of understanding this type of behavior and being aware of it. Younger children may understand very little about alienating behavior or identifying the behavior when they are exposed to it. You may need to reinforce your love for them and ensure that you are a source of consolation.
Divorce is tough- divorcing a gaslighter is tougher.
If your spouse is engaging in gaslighting behavior throughout your case, you should take steps to minimize the impact of their actions on your case. Being a liar is one thing, period; being a convincing and good liar is another thing. It probably wouldn't surprise you to learn that a dishonest person can negatively impact the results of a family law case like a divorce. As such, you need to be able to distinguish what gaslighting behavior is and understand the far-reaching impacts that it could have on your divorce and your post-divorce life.
The difficult part about divorcing a gaslighter is that the behavior can be extremely subtle and hard to distinguish from non-gaslighting forms of communication. But many times of verbal abuse, the bad actions are immediately in front of your face for you to see. By engaging in gaslighting behavior, your spelled control your emotions and cover up their bad behavior. This is a double whammy for those who attempt to get through a divorce in these types of less than ideal circumstances.
What I have observed in people dealing with a gaslighting spouse in a divorce is that they begin to lose confidence in themselves and their perspective. When you start to lose confidence, you no longer trust the decisions you make; this is true even if you have an experienced attorney who is helping to guide you throughout a case. When you lose confidence in yourself and your decision-making ability, you are more likely to believe the lies told to you by your spouse. This is true even if those lies are outlandish or not based on reality.
Unfortunately, manipulation is not new or novel within the context of a divorce. While the term gaslighting has been pride in prominence in recent years, especially on various social media websites, we in the world of family law know that gaslighting takes place with some regularity in the world of divorce. Gaslighting makes a difficult divorce especially troublesome for otherwise good-natured parties but unable to deal with anxiety brought about by gaslighting.
For example, it is not uncommon for family law attorneys to see their clients become anxious and fearful about the prognosis of their case in the future of their relationship with their children as a result of this sort of gaslighting behavior. Your spouse may have used gaslighting behavior to manipulate you throughout your marriage. However, the stakes are higher given that there is a legal process involved in a divorce case.
Additionally, your spouse's goal would likely be to eliminate your ability to function independently of them. This attachment allows the manipulation to occur even into the divorcing. And this gives your spouse an advantage in the world of your divorce case. You may be more likely to agree with the positions of your spouse. You may wind up agreeing to things in your divorce that you otherwise never would have considered due to a lack of confidence in your positions. Therefore, it is important to distinguish normal behavior from that of gaslighting behavior.
Using gaslighting behavior to manipulate a family court judge
Even though family court judges are not experienced when it comes to gaslighting in their courtrooms, even a family court judge can be misled by a convincing gaslighter. Sometimes family court judges will appoint attorneys ad litem or others to divorce cases to assess which spouse is more suited to become the primary conservator of children. Unfortunately, I find that gaslighting is commonplace in these types of scenarios where one parent can Curry favor with a gaslighter and therefore influence how a court ultimately rules regarding conservatorships questions.
And a gaslighting parent can lie to an attorney, add a line or other court representative outside the courtroom to cause the ad litem attorney or amicus attorney to believe that you cannot handle finances and make decisions for your children or becoming a primary conservator. The irony here is that you can be made to be the parity incapable of Co-parenting effectively when the gaslighting parent almost certainly would not be a strong Co-parent candidate.
Once the gaslighting spouse has had an opportunity to share untruths and manipulations with and am a kiss or add the line of attorney, it is challenging for you to make up ground. That person may have formed an opinion of you before you can even have a chance to make up the ground. For that reason, your attorney needs to be as aggressive as possible when it comes to informing the court and any courtroom representatives of the behavior of your Co-parent.
How to combat gaslighting behavior in your divorce?
Fortunately for you, there is hope when it comes to battling against gaslighting behavior in your divorce. All it takes is having a plan and then sticking to it throughout the case. It can become easy to feel disheartened or ambivalent about your divorce when you consider the behavior of a gaslighting spouse. They could always seem to be at the advantage when it comes to aggressive behavior designed to hurt your case and harm your relationship with your children.
However, you can take steps to mitigate their behavior and minimize the effect of this gaslighting behavior. You need to be on the same page with your attorney and communicate your concerns and ideas for mitigation strategies period; from there, you and your attorney can work as a team to anticipate your spouse's strategies and limit their impact on the case at large.
One simple strategy that I would work to implement would be that you should not share any plans with your Co-parent until you are sure of them. Command-line it does not make sense for you to work with your gaslighting spouse before the divorce is filed. Often, we will recommend that you attempt to work out solutions to problems with your spouse to avoid the divorce altogether. However, when it comes to a gaslighting spouse, you may be less reason to attempt to work on the problem when you know that you are bound to meet resistance and manipulation.
A side note to this piece of advice may be that you are in better shape than you might imagine beginning to move forward with the divorce sooner rather than later.
Be aggressive in asking for temporary orders.
Many times parties to a divorce will work to reduced their chances of a temporary order hearing by any means necessary. This often results in a situation where the temporary orders agreed to in mediation are rather weak and limp wristed in terms of protection that could benefit one or both parties. In the context of a gaslighting spouse, I would try to be as aggressive as I could be to minimize the impact of their behavior on the case and the relationship between you and your children.
For example, including specific language about manipulative or outright false statements about either party, your children, or the circumstances surrounding your case are important to consider including in temporary orders. While it may be difficult to enforce temporary orders like this, including them, maybe some whatever deterrent against your Co-parent engaging in this type of behavior. Your Co-parent or spouse may not respect these rules, but having them in place could go a long way towards limiting the negative impacts felt by you and your family.
Most temporary and final orders will include prohibitions against speaking to your children about the other parent and negative language. You and your attorney could be as creative as possible in including specific prohibitions against this type of behavior in your case. I think that specifying types of behavior in how the behavior is communicated to the children may increase the likelihood that the order can be enforced in the future.
At a bare minimum, you can always seek to limit your interactions with your Co-parent. For example, you could agree that communication is not done via text message but rather through websites like our family wizard. This way, you will always have a record of communication. Your Co-parent may be less likely to engage in gaslighting behavior if they understand that what they say will be recorded and can potentially be used against them and court in the future.