Conspiracy theories are nothing new, but over the past several years with the emergence of QAnon and other movements, more and more people subscribe to these beliefs. Purporting to have knowledge and evidence that the rest of the country doesn’t, QAnon and other followers believe a variety of debunked information, including that the inauguration was faked, former President Trump is waging a secret war against Satan worshippers, and that COVID-19 vaccines are a form of mind control.
In a March 2021 survey, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that 15 percent of Americans agreed with the following statement: “The government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.” Further, twenty percent agreed with the statement, “There is a storm coming soon that will sweep away the elites in power and restore the rightful leaders.”
In some cases, conspiracy theories are mostly harmless and limited to lively internet discussion. However, some individuals can become addicted to conspiracy theories, leading to negative or even devastating effects in their personal lives.
The American Psychological Association (APA) points to research showing that people believe in conspiracy theories for a number of reasons, including:
- Explaining random events
- Feeling a sense of belonging
- Feeling unique or special
- Fulfilling the need for security and certainty
According to psychologist Daniel Romer, PhD, research director at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, “Conspiracy theories make people feel as though they have some sort of control over the world. They can be psychologically reassuring, especially in uncertain times.”
However, according to the APA, “Dispelling conspiracy theories is a major challenge, partly because their adherents tend to distrust authority and believe that powerful people or groups are corrupt—a conviction that supporters of QAnon share.”
When conspiracy theories affect your marriage
What do you do when one spouse’s conspiracy theories are causing conflict in the relationship? An article in Salon detailed some of the harrowing stories of marriages destroyed by QAnon’s misinformation.
Adam (name changed) talks about the moment he knew he had lost his wife to conspiracy theory group QAnon:
She started to tell me that we needed to start amassing guns, that we needed to start converting our currency into gold and silver because when the Civil War happens, we need to have something to trade with other people. The adrenochrome, the pedophile rings — she was a believer that Tom Hanks was a pedophile, and it got to a point where I couldn’t watch the national nightly news without her believing I was giving in to the liberals and helping mainstream media ratings by continuing to watch.
He filed for divorce in 2020, stating, “I just have to move forward, I really wish that she could have gotten some help. I love her, I love her still.”
Daniel Shaw, a psychoanalyst who specializes in cult recovery, notes that Adam is not alone. He receives several calls a day from people seeking help on behalf of their loved ones, including spouses.
Shaw also explains the challenges of trying to get through to a partner embroiled in conspiracy theories, noting, “You cannot directly confront them, try to attack them, prove in a legalistic way that their ideas are false. None of those things work, they just backfire — and it’s not normal for a partner to have that kind of gentle and caring approach when something so crazy is going on.”
Helping a conspiracy theory-addicted spouse
If your partner is obsessed with QAnon or other conspiracies to the point that it’s negatively affecting your relationship, you likely need support, not just for them, but also for yourself. Psychology Today offers some advice, but also a reminder to understand that “trying to rescue people from QAnon may not only be difficult but in some cases doomed to fail.”
- Remember that they don’t want to be “saved.” Most people who have fallen down a conspiracy theory rabbit hole don’t want to come out. Leaving QAnon, for them, can mean giving up their new identity, sense of belonging, and mission in life. In cases like these, addiction therapy may help. “Unplugging” is also useful, but it’s nearly impossible to prevent access to the internet.
- Focus on common bonds. Set boundaries or change the subject when the subject comes around to politics or other QAnon subjects. Try to talk about happy memories and better times. If you are able, you can also try to listen with compassion and understanding. Arguing won’t change anyone’s mind.
- Point them toward debunking experts, like referring your loved one to “accounts of those who have left the conspiracy theory world or to experts who know about QAnon and have experience and success with debunking.” One of these is called QAnonCasualties on Reddit, where people share stories of how QAnon has created chaos in their lives.
- Practice self-care. Seek out support for yourself. Psychology Today suggests the following resources: “My father, the QAnon conspiracy theorist” by Reed Ryley Grable, Escaping the Rabbit Hole: How to Debunk Conspiracy Theories Using Facts, Logic, and Respect by Mick West, and Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults and Beliefs and The Cult of Trump by ex-cult member turned cult expert and counselor Steven Hassan.
In some cases, a marriage may be unable to be saved, or your spouse’s beliefs may put your family in physical danger. If you’ve reached this point, it’s time to talk to a compassionate and experienced attorney in order to protect yourself.
The Bethesda family law attorneys at McCabe Russell, P.A. can help. We can talk to you about what’s going on and help you plan for a better and brighter future for you and your children. Let us answer all of your questions about divorce, asset division, alimony, and child support. To set up a consultation, call 443-917-3347 or reach out to us through our contact form. We also maintain offices in Rockville, Fulton, and Columbia.