When someone is gaslighting in relationships, they say or do things to make others feel like the problem is their fault. Gaslighting is a common form of emotional abuse that can happen in any relationship, but it’s especially tough when the message must work through language barriers.
Expat couples are particularly susceptible to gaslighting due to these language and cultural barriers. One of them may have only recently moved to their new country or is out of practice speaking another language.
Unbalanced Struggles and Language Gaslighting in Relationships
But what happens if one partner is struggling more than the other? How do they cope with feeling like they don’t understand or belong in their life abroad?
This is a time where signs of gaslighting in a relationship may come into play. The partner who feels isolated may try to regain control, blaming the other for their poor behaviors, making them feel like they are the one mistreating them or trying to confuse them.
On the other end of the spectrum, the partner who struggles to communicate effectively could become more susceptible to manipulation. One partner may often make the other feel like they don’t speak the language well enough. Even expats fluent in their partners’ native tongue can still fall prey to this form of abuse if they have trouble communicating.
Language problems can make these partners feel isolated or misunderstood. This can be especially true if expats are constantly blamed for not understanding their partner when trying to communicate about an issue in the relationship.
How to Deal with Gaslighting as an Expat
Because gaslighting twists the perception of reality, the challenge is also recognizing that it’s happening. Not to mention language being an additional barrier to our grasp on reality. So, learning how to recognize the signs is essential.
If you are an expat living abroad with your partner, you may have experienced some of these signs of gaslighting in a relationship if your partner has ever said:
· “I’m sorry that you think I hurt you.” or “you should have known I would react this way” – how a potential victimizer deflects responsibility
· “Your memory is terrible.” – how a gaslighting partner instills doubts in their partner and takes control because the victim loses trust in their judgment
· “You’re making too big a deal of this.” – how they try to make you feel dumb or wrong for expressing your emotions. By invalidating your feelings, they make you want to reject them yourself.
It can be hard to respond when someone gaslights you because you may start to believe that you are wrong. In this situation, the best thing you can do is pay attention to your feelings and not change them to comply with your partner.
Gaslighting in relationships may not be as obvious as physical abuse, but it can still have long-lasting effects.
To all expats dealing with gaslighting
Remember that dealing with culture shock, language barriers, and adaptation struggles is challenging enough in life abroad, and probably non-expat partners cannot fully understand.
So, if you’re in an expat relationship and feel like your partner has been gaslighting you, it’s time to seek some guidance. An expat psychologist specializing in expat couples relationships can help you work through language barriers and emotional trauma that may have occurred due to gaslighting.
They can also help you process your expat experience, learn how to communicate better, and reduce the likelihood of gaslighting in your relationship.
In expat relationships, counseling may provide expats with a safe space to feel understood and heard by their partners. As an expat psychologist, I can help you create an open dialogue between you and your partner to work together, resolve conflicts, and improve communication in the relationship.
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By your side,
Gabriela Encina is an online psychologist specialized in expat women and supports them with the guidance and tools they need to feel confident, make the best decisions for their lives, build and maintain meaningful relationships and prioritize their well-being.
Her approach is practical, solution-oriented and focused on the present.
Gabriela offers counseling to expat women in Spanish, English and German.