Wayne Baker
by Wayne Baker, M.A., LPC
Member, Affair Recovery Expert Panel

A Toxic Mix: Gaslighting and Infidelity

Gaslighting coupled with infidelity is extremely toxic.

When talking about gaslighting or infidelity, each on its own can devastate the safety and trust of any relationship. But together, they form an especially dangerous mix. Understanding their dynamics and learning how to navigate the impact can be the first step in healing and preventing even further harm.

Designed specifically for wayward spouses, this 17-week online course is a supportive, nonjudgmental environment for you to heal and develop empathy. Over the years, this course has helped thousands of people find hope, set healthy boundaries and move toward extraordinary lives.

Learn More | Hope For Healing!

The term gaslighting originated from a 1944 film called Gaslight, where a husband manipulates his wife into believing and thinking that she's actually losing her mind.1 Gaslighting is a form of intentional, psychological manipulation, where the gaslighter seeks to sow seeds of doubt or trigger moments of insanity in their targeted individual, making them question their own memory, discernment, sanity, and stability. This is usually accomplished by belittling, denying, or altering the truth. This behavior is a twisted way for the gaslighter to maintain their faltering sense of self-esteem and hold onto the relationship.

It's a maladaptive form of protection, and honestly, as an Internal Family Systems Therapist, I see the need to get in there and help understand what this protector's goals are, where the gaslighting is coming from, and what the person might be trying to protect.

That doesn't mean their behavior is not hurtful. The gaslighting doesn't help the gaslighter, and it's harmful to the one being gaslit. Unpacking this requires a lot of work. It is not easy for a couple to overcome because there are a lot of layers to it.

The person that's using the gaslighting needs a target. Whether they fully realize it or not, their goal in gaslighting is typically to keep the others from seeing their faults and insecurities in order to keep them in the relationship.

It's important to remember that gaslighting is an intentional behavior that belittles someone's sense of themselves or their reality or their experience. The intention of the gaslighting is to cause confusion. Contrary to many people's belief, memory is fallible. That means that remembering things differently, disagreeing on what you remember, or having a different perspective, is not always gaslighting. It's not a behavior that you see in your romantic partner that you simply don't like. Gaslighting is far more intentional and extreme than that.

If there's no intent to harm, I don't believe it's gaslighting. When an unfaithful partner lies because they're feeling a lot of shame, I don't think that's gaslighting either. The question that I ask about the person that I suspect is gaslighting, is what does this person stand to gain by this behavior? Do they stand to gain the upper hand, or are they trying to avoid losing something? That's a really important question. What is the gain here? And sometimes there's a lot of work that goes into fleshing that out. It's not always apparent. It's not always easy to find.

Let's go back to infidelity for a minute. Infidelity refers to any act of unfaithfulness in a committed relationship. You know, at Affair Recovery, we simply define infidelity as the keeping of secrets. This breach of safety and trust takes many forms, from one-night stands to emotional affairs to physical affairs to long-term, emotionally and physically entangled relationships. The common thread across all the types of infidelity is secrecy and the energy spent at keeping the secrets. So, let's talk for a minute about where these two things overlap.

When someone is committing infidelity, or they're being unfaithful in any way, they often employ gaslighting tactics to keep their partner in the dark. Remember, gaslighting includes the intention to question your sanity. Infidelity, in any of its forms, requires a level of deception. Gaslighting can often be a useful tool in maintaining that deception.

Here's how it typically unfolds. Here are some of the most common examples that I see in my therapy practice. The first thing I see is denial. The wayward partner will deny any wrongdoing, even when confronted, even in the face of evidence.

The next thing I see is trivialization or minimizing. The wayward partner may admit to the act, but they'll downplay its significance. "We were just friends." "It was a harmless flirt." "It only happened once."

Another thing I observe is blame shifting. This is where they might turn the tables and blame their partner. "If you had only paid more attention to me." "If you weren't so busy." "If you weren't always gone."

Sometimes, I see the wayward partner outright questioning the state of their partner's sanity. They imply that their partner has a case of paranoia, are delusional or emotionally unstable, or are unnecessarily suspicious.

Any of these can lead to the betrayed partner feeling lost, confused, or doubting their intuition or sense of reality. And the prolonged experience can have severe emotional and psychological effects, including anxiety and depression, diminished self-worth, and all kinds of things like that.

When you combine all that, the impact of gaslighting while dealing with the fallout of infidelity can be deep and long lasting. And gaslighting, if it's there, has got to be dealt with quickly because the long-term effects are going to be very damaging for the relationship.

You know, I believe that safety is foundational to any relationship. If we're not creating or fostering safety inside the relationship, and there's clearly not more safety inside the relationship than there is outside the relationship, then I ask the question: What are we doing here?

Infidelity on its own can leave the betrayed spouse struggling deeply with anguishing feelings of inadequacy and fear, hurt, rage, and grief. This continual state of despair coupled with gaslighting can be mentally exhausting and very damaging. That's why safety has to be job #1 in the aftermath of infidelity.

One of the worst things I see after infidelity and with the presence of gaslighting, is betrayed partners being isolated from their family and friends. I would also encourage you to watch Rick's video on Psychological Abuse, which also speaks to gaslighting. People tell me, and I've witnessed it, that people who have experienced gaslighting become embarrassed about their own perceived flaws. The gaslighter has convinced them that others see their flaws and can't be trusted. The betrayed spouse starts to question themselves at a deeper and deeper level if this persists for any length of time.

There are physical effects that happen to the stress and anxiety from living with somebody that's repeatedly gaslighting you. The infidelity can manifest itself in a host of physical ways, such as insomnia, nightmares, weight changes, and all other stress-related illnesses.

There's this dance. My good friend and infidelity therapist colleague, Job Lopez, suggested that couples frequently are convinced that the other one is gaslighting them. They both feel like they've been gaslit, and I have to say that I see that in my practice too. In these extremely emotional and stressful situations, gaslighting can be a coping mechanism.

Again, I go back to the "parts" language. This part of them has a deep sense of insecurity, and they may be using these kinds of tactics to stay in the relationship. That requires work with a good IFS therapist or somebody that knows how to work in this type of crisis. In any of these situations, though, what I believe is that good, healthy boundaries are important.

If you perceive that your partner is gaslighting you, the best thing to do is take a break from that conversation, get apart from each other for at least half an hour or maybe longer, and be curious about all the parts of you that are involved. Analyze the parts of you that are hurt, or sad, or furious. It's the part of you that wants your partner to hurt too. No judgment I'm not here to judge you about any of this. I'm just inviting you to Just observe and be curious at the very beginning about it right now.

If you suspect that you're being gaslit and suspect that you might be guilty of that too, I want you to consider all of these following steps.

  1. Trust your logic (head).
  2. Trust your instincts (heart).
  3. Trust your gut.

I do this head, heart, gut exercise with clients a lot, where our head represents our intellect, our heart represents our emotions, and our gut represents our core identity. And they all have a belief, these three minds, if you will. So, you can start with your head. What's going on here? What do you believe about this issue? What's happening? And let your head answer your intellect. Then do the same thing with your heart and the same thing with your gut. Always go back to your head, your heart, and your gut.

When in doubt, always go back to the heart because the heart is central and you'll find an answer there. I know it sounds kind of crazy, but it really does work. And sometimes it works pretty quickly! Sometimes it takes several days or even longer to find out. But I really want people to get "back in their body" because we think a lot, and sometimes the things we think are not true. Get back in the body, go back to your heart, and learn to trust yourself again.

If you're a betrayed spouse, I know, I know, I know, that is really hard to do sometimes. The thing I want you to remember is that this is not your fault. It's not your responsibility to take responsibility for their actions. Also, seek external perspectives. Talk to trusted friends or family or pastors or a therapist who can provide an objective viewpoint and validate your feelings in a healthy way. They might help you see things in a way you maybe haven't before.

Speaking of therapists, please find a good therapist. A professional who is trained in these matters of infidelity recovery will be able to help you through any kind of gaslighting or other offensive or personality disorder behaviors that might be going on. They can help you understand and help you heal from the trauma, then help you decide on the best course of action going forward.

I said earlier, and I'm going to say it again: Boundaries. Set boundaries about what's acceptable in the relationship. Don't engage in lengthy conversations, because sometimes, oftentimes actually, the gaslighter will use your words against you. Prioritize self-care, engage in activities that lift you up. From exercise to meditation to spending time with loved ones, getting out and doing something new is so helpful.

Gaslighting combined with infidelity, can create deeply traumatic experiences. Awareness and understanding are crucial for healing and prevention. No one – no one – deserves to be in a relationship where their impression of reality is constantly being questioned or where trust is repeatedly broken. Everyone has the right to love, connect, respect, and be free from manipulation and betrayal.

If you find yourself dealing with infidelity and manipulation and gaslighting behavior, then I can think of no better place than the EMS Weekend program offered by Affair Recovery. Whether it's the virtual or the in-person weekend program, my recommendation is you do the weekend in person if you can.

You can find all the details about the EMS program under the programs tab at the Affair Recovery website.



RL_Media Type: 

Add New Comment:


It's the most pain I ever felt in life.

To be gaslighted with manipulation with projection. My spouse gaslite me along with telling others I was crazy. Even so far as using my words and emotions as their own to bait their affair partner, I found in their texts. Thank you for this article. People need this information. I grew up in a family that did not have boundaries . When I started putting boundaries in place the projection and gaslighting with belittling got worse for a period of time. I pray for anyone who experiences this.

Something I listened to

Something I listened to yesterday brought up an excellent point around gaslighting and the harm it might cause. Sometimes “your gut” is telling you the truth about something that’s off with your spouse, maybe emotional intimacy goes missing in the relationship and so you question them. They respond defensively and accuse you of being the problem - that you’re not trusting, that you make things up, that you’re projecting your own issues onto them. At that point you’re left with only two options: This person you love and have always trusted is telling you the truth and you’re being crazy by thinking otherwise OR they’re lying to you (but because you’ve always trusted them this doesn’t seem plausible). A person can’t exist well in the middle of these two beliefs and it WILL make you crazy trying to resolve them. In the end you begin to question your own ability to be discerning, to rely on what your inner voice is telling you is right and true. It makes navigating the rest of life very difficult, not just your marriage, because you cannot trust your own good judgement.

I also think not all gaslighting is necessarily intentional. I think in some cases it’s a well-developed coping mechanism that maybe provided a level of protection in childhood when it was needed in abusive situations. It becomes so ingrained that a person uses it for protection without even thinking about it much, if at all. They aren’t intentionally trying to mess with your mind, they’re simply protecting self using a method that worked for them in the past. It will take some work for them to recognize that habit and change it.

Thanks for presenting on this important topic!

What type of affair was it?

Our free Affair Analyzer provides you with insights about your unique situation and gives you a personalized plan of action.
Take the Affair Analyzer

Free Surviving Infidelity Bootcamp

Our experts designed this step-by-step guide to help you survive infidelity. Be intentional with your healing with this free 7-day bootcamp.
I would highly recommend giving this a try.
-D, Texas