‘Help, my girlfriend is gaslighting me’
Welcome to Relationship Rehab, news.com.au's weekly column solving all your romantic problems, no holds barred. This week, our resident sexologist Isiah McKimmie tackles a man being gaslighted by his partner, a woman battling with the Christmas mental load and a woman dreading the office silly season.
MY GIRLFRIEND IS GASLIGHTING ME
QUESTION: My partner and I have been struggling on and off now for around eight months with just constant little fights about anything and everything and the smallest fight turns into her threatening to leave me and gaslighting me continuously.
I've got to the point where I don't know if I want to do this anymore and I'm not even sure counselling can help.
We've talked about seeing a couples counsellor a few times now which seems to have gone by the way side as things have become "better" for lack of a better term. Our intimacy is completely gone and I'm just really at a loss.
Can you give me any advice/guidance?
ANSWER: This is a really common place that couples reach out to me from. They've often been saying, "We need to do something" for a really long time, but have put off getting help.
They find themselves stuck in the same cycle, where things are better for a while, but end up back in the same place a few weeks or months later. They're not sure if anything can help - or even if they want to keep trying. Some couples have actually separated by the time they get to see me. Most of the couples that have reached out to me for support have ended up staying together.
Therapy gives you proven advice, an impartial third party to help you see each other's perspective and practical tools to help you interact differently. We also look for the root causes of the problems so you're making change at a deep level.
You'll also know that, by the end of the process, you've tried everything.
RELATED: My wife doesn't want to have sex
Therapy can also help you to get clarity on a relationship that isn't serving you. You can make a choice to leave the relationship feeling clearer - and can do it more harmoniously that you might otherwise.
There are a couple of things I hear going on in this relationship to be looked at.
It sounds like you're experiencing "negative sentiment override" where negativity and conflict have built up to such a point in your relationship that even the smallest things are taken negatively and cause an argument.
The gaslighting is another issue.
Gaslighting is a form of abuse whereby one partner contradicts or confuses the other to the points it makes them question their sanity. You end up constantly doubting yourself - and your version of reality, which leaves you wide open to manipulation and control. This needs to be taken seriously.
Of course intimacy has disappeared with all of this going on - it's isn't safe right now for you to be emotionally or sexually open.
For most couples, I recommend seeing a couples therapist together, but given the gaslighting that's present here, I strongly recommend you reach out to a therapist on your own for support.
Seeing a therapist by yourself can help you make sense of what's going on and help you see what's reasonable - and what isn't. They can help you decide whether to stay and work on it, or if you need to get out and how to do that safely.
CHRISTMAS MENTAL LOAD IS PUSHING ME OVER THE EDGE
QUESTION: Every year, my husband leaves me to do absolutely everything for Christmas - buy the gifts, cook the food, clean up, pack the bags for our trip to his parents' place. The only thing he does is take the kids to the shops on Christmas Eve to buy me a present (that I have to give suggestions for). This year, I am over it and feeling extremely resentful. What do I do?
ANSWER: What you're describing is known as "carrying the mental load of a household". Unfortunately, women are still overwhelmingly responsible for this, with the energy and the toll it takes on them largely going unnoticed by their partners.
I suspect that this issue isn't just related to Christmas, but your relationship dynamics as a whole. Stressful periods like Christmas tend to bring out what is simmering under the surface.
To be clear - this isn't you being needy or nagging - this is an important relationship and personal wellbeing issue (not to mention an important gender equality issue).
You need to take on the running of your household - including the Christmas tasks - as a team effort.
Have a discussion with him. Be clear in your need for him to take more responsibility and initiative.
Talk about the things that need to be done and work out how you can each take responsibility. If you're just telling him what to do, you're still carrying the load.
Set boundaries around what you will and won't do - and keep them.
This isn't just an issue for this time of year, if you can work on this in your relationship, you won't end up in the same place next year.
DO I HAVE TO GO TO MY OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY?
QUESTION: I cannot stand the thought of going to my work Christmas party - Christmas parties in general just fill me with dread. What's wrong with me?
ANSWER: I don't think there's anything wrong with you! As an introvert, large parties aren't really my thing either. Especially when there's an obligation to talk to a lot of people.
What is it about it that's filling you with dread? Is there a way to mitigate that?
Unless there's something else going on, here are my suggestions:
Get in and get out. Set a time limit for yourself of say two hours. Tell yourself after that, you're free to leave.
Limit your alcohol - you'll tend to stay longer if you're drinking.
Arrange to meet a co-worker that you're friendly with there.
Of course, you could just not go.
If you have a question for Isiah, email firstname.lastname@example.org