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4 Tips for Divorcing a Gaslighting Ex

Woman looking sad with a man

An estimated 65,000 domestic violence reports are made to police in New Jersey every year, but they don’t paint the whole picture. Domestic violence can take forms that are more subtle, but no less harmful. One of the more subversive forms of emotional abuse is commonly referred to as gaslighting. If you’re divorcing someone who commonly gaslights you, our Hackensack divorce lawyers have a few general tips. We do recommend consulting with an attorney about the specifics of your case before taking any major steps.

What is Gaslighting?

The term “gaslighting” gets thrown around a lot today, but not so much because it’s a new issue. Rather, it’s a very common practice that has been gaining more awareness and attention, particularly in the wake of the #metoo movement.

The term actually derives from a 1944 movie entitled Gaslight, a psychological thriller in which a man manipulates his wife to the point she thinks she’s going insane. Few who have survived these kinds of relationships would describe them as “thrilling.”

As reported in Psychology Today, gaslighting is a technique of emotional and mental manipulation wherein a person seeking power makes the victim question their reality. It’s a well-documented tactic of dictators and cult leaders, but it’s also quite common among narcissists and abusers. They convince their partner they are mentally unstable or crazy in order to gain control over the relationship. It’s done gradually over time, so that the victim doesn’t realize the extent to which they’ve been deceived. The victim doubts their own credibility.

Evidence of gaslighting may include things like:

  • Your spouse denies the truth of something they did or said.
  • Your spouse questions your memory. You may be accused of constantly forgetting or misremembering.
  • Your spouse minimizes your emotions. You’re frequently accused of overreacting and being irrational.
  • Your spouse discredits you in front of other people. They may even go so far as top spread rumors of your mental instability. This may lead to others doubting your version of events.
  • Your spouse refuses to engage. He or she pretends not to understand you or ignores you completely when you try to engage with them about key issues in your relationship. In doing so, they get to avoid having tough conversations.

Some Tips if You’re Divorcing a Gaslighter

Once you fully recognize you’re being gaslit, it becomes harder to control you and that can make your estranged spouse dangerous. Be prepared for them to react badly to any discussion of divorce. It is critical if you feel you may be in danger to have domestic violence resources at the ready.

Some general tips:

  • Don’t tell the person you’re leaving them until you absolutely have to. If you fear they may become violent, your first priority will be getting to safety. They can find out when they’re served divorce papers while you are somewhere safe. Even if that isn’t the case, keep in mind that divorce requires a fair amount of preparation and planning. An emotionally manipulative person isn’t likely to respect whatever boundaries you put in place during that process. It’s best to have your ducks all in row before you tell them.
  • Recruit strong advocates. An experienced divorce attorney and a qualified therapist can help you prepare financially and emotionally for an impending separation and divorce. You want a divorce attorney who has extensive experience handling cases that involve narcissistic and/or abusive spouses. Narcissists don’t easily compromise and will likely make the process difficult at every turn possible. Working with a knowledgeable legal advocate can give you strength and confidence and help you determine which battles are worth fighting.
  • Do not hesitate to seek an order of protection, if necessary. Temporary restraining orders and final restraining orders are appropriate in cases where there have been threats, stalking, or actual violence. You and your children deserve to be safe and free from fear.
  • Document everything. Record any attempts to belittle, confuse, or scare you. Start as far back as you can recall, noting when the behavior began, how it’s evolved, and how it has impacted your life - then and now. Be as specific as possible. Note any corroborating evidence and names of witnesses, etc. Even if you don’t share these things in Court, they may be helpful for your attorney as they help you navigate the legal process.

As compassionate, committed Hackensack divorce lawyers, we recognize gaslighters’ attempts to confuse and control, and we’ll validate it when we see it. Every New Jersey divorce requires some degree of preparation and planning, but victims of gaslighting may need to put in extra effort. The payoff of emotional freedom for yourself (and your children) is worth it.

Contact our Hackensack Divorce Attorneys at (732) 810-0034 to schedule an appointment.

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