Dear Penny: Did My Husband Gaslight Me by Refusing to Pay the Internet Bill?

A woman holds up a mirror to her face to show her eyes and nose off center. This is meant to represent a woman battling with something such as gaslighting.
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Dear Penny,

My husband is manipulative and at times scary. He masks it with jokes and smiles. I essentially raise our girls alone. I pay all of their expenses, while he only covers his own. He doesn’t help with laundry and buys his own groceries. He offers maybe two or three hours of help in a 24-hour period for our soon-to-be 1-year-old. 

I do all nights alone, change all diapers and make all bottles and meals. He’s bought formula and diapers less than 10 times in a year, but he continuously makes me feel like I’m ungrateful. He tells me to just tell him when I need help, but we are both parents. I get tired of always begging for help, and he clearly won’t offer it. 

This week, our internet was disconnected just before a pretty important presentation. I had to leave home with my 1-year-old and hurry to my mother’s. This is his bill to pay, and it turns out it hasn’t been paid in a few months. He laughed at me and told me I overreacted. Am I being gaslit, or am I expecting too much in terms of partnership?

— H.

Dear H.,

I can’t see inside your husband’s head, so I can’t render an official verdict on whether he is deliberately gaslighting you. But the only words I need to read here are “My husband is manipulative and at times scary.” That sounds like your inner voice screaming “LEAVE.”

For readers who may not be familiar with the term, gaslighting is a type of manipulation where the manipulator deliberately sows seeds of confusion and self-doubt. The victim starts questioning their own perception of reality and even their sanity as a result.

Dear Penny

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But let’s put aside the “Is it gaslighting?” part of your question and focus for a moment on the “Am I expecting too much?” part. Your husband screwed up and caused you a lot of stress. He didn’t apologize and make a plan so that it won’t happen again — for example, he could have offered to put the bill on autopay — which is what a good partner would do. Instead, he laughed at you.

Is that deliberate gaslighting, or is he an aloof jerk? I don’t know. But wanting your partner to listen when you’re upset isn’t asking too much.

The division of household and child care duties you describe is unfortunately still pretty common among heterosexual couples, even when both spouses work. The American Time Use Survey found in 2021 that when children are younger than 6, women spend about twice as much time physically caring for kids than men and about four times more on education-related activities. In no way am I defending your husband for failing to step up and carry his share of parental responsibilities. I’m just saying that, sadly, this dynamic plays out in a lot of households.

I wish I knew more about what you mean when you describe your husband as “scary.” If you’re worried for your own safety or your children’s safety, I urge you to contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE. Consider whether it would be possible to stay with your mother or another family member or friend for now.

But if you’re not worried for your safety and you’re determined to stick around, acknowledge who it is you’re dealing with. You don’t have an emotionally sensitive partner who’s attuned to your needs. Proceed accordingly. Tell your husband “I need help” and assign him specific chores. I know this isn’t what you want, but it’s better than being responsible for everything. Make him responsible for buying groceries or cooking dinner. Tell him you need him to alternate nights of caring for your 1-year-old.

You might want to write down what you’ve asked him to do. Then revisit what you wrote down if he doesn’t follow through, which will hopefully help you confirm that you’re not losing your mind.

You should also make a habit of paying bills together each month. You may be tempted to just add paying the bills to your long list of to-dos after the internet incident. But don’t let your husband off the hook. Finances, child care and housework all need to be shared responsibilities.

I hope that your husband simply forgot to pay the internet bill and this was a one-time lapse. But verify that any bill he’s responsible for is current. If he’s missed mortgage, car or credit card payments, that could wreak serious havoc on your finances.

If you can afford to, I’d strongly suggest you book a few sessions with a therapist to help you figure out your next steps. Any relationship that makes you feel manipulated and fearful is not a healthy one.

Once you finally get your finances in order, you want to keep them that way. Here are several moves to make now.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].