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Gaslighting: Beware The Power-Point and Brownie-Point Ploys

How to stay alert to manipulative ploys by a romantic partner.

mstlion Silhouette, FreeSVG, CC0
Source: mstlion Silhouette, FreeSVG, CC0

Some people use ploys to gain power over their partners. Psychology Today has published many articles on one such ploy: gaslighting: in which one partner manipulates the other into questioning their sanity.

Here, I want to alert you to two other such ploys: the power-point ploy and the brownie-point ploy.

The power-point ploy

Yesterday, a client told me about his frustration with his wife. The following is a paraphrase, with irrelevant details changed to protect my client’s anonymity.

She magnifies, inflames, leverages every mistake I make. She milks them for all they’re worth, a day, a week, a month later. If I didn’t put my kid into the car seat just one time, she, for a month now, reminds me how I put my child in danger, even though my wife is fully smart enough to know that the probability of that causing her to get hurt was very minimal. But to acknowledge that would shrink her power over me.

Then there was the one time I spanked my child. I know spanking is wrong but my child was being deliberately oppositional, baiting me, again and again. Finally, I decided that maybe a one-time spanking was the right thing to do. My wife never lets me forget it.

Then there’s the travel thing. She loves to travel while I find the cost and hassle usually not worth it. She magnifies that, constantly complaining, “You never want to have fun.” When I list all the fun things I enjoy doing, it mollifies her only for that moment. It won't be long before she'll use the travel example to argue that I'm no fun.

When she was pregnant, I was having a tough year at work but I tried to be there for her as much as I could. But occasionally, exhausted, like when she asked me to clean the fireplace, I said, “I’m tired. It’s not that important.” She said, “You’re always too tired. How can you be so unsupportive.” I admit that I responded too strongly: “If you think it's so damn important, you do it. You’re pregnant, not disabled.” She went wild. It’s been a year, and now, when I’d like another child, she fumes, “No way. I can’t trust you to be there for me when I’m pregnant.”

She’s like a terrible dog trainer, cowing the dog, that is, me, into submission. I can't risk her divorcing me—It's too scary so I don't want to push her much to try to get her to change. She wouldn't change much anyway. I just need to do better."

The power-play ploy is working well for her.

The brownie-point ploy

Sometimes that ploy is reversed: The person milks his or her good behavior to get brownie points from his partner, chips to be cashed in later. For example, a husband cleaned out the basement, which his wife asked him to do. Now, a year later, he's still using that to try to get what he wants, for example, “Hey, I did the basement. Is it so much to ask you to make your Beef Wellington once?"

The takeaway

Stakes are high in a romantic relationship: Gaining power over your partner can get you more of what you want. But such ploys played on you can deny you fair agency. So stay alert to the power-point, brownie-point, and gaslighting ploys.

That said, be aware of the possibility that your partner’s accusations may be legitimate. See, for example, this recent, popular Psychology Today post.

I read this aloud on YouTube.