‘I feel used’: My partner stays with me 5 nights a week, even though he owns his own home. Should he pay for utilities and food? 

Dear Quentin,

I’m disabled, 52, and have one minor son. My boyfriend has his own house, and also has a minor child still living at home, as well as another son, 24, who is living at home and is employed as his younger son’s babysitter.

He stays at my place, probably five out of seven nights, but doesn’t seem to think that he needs to help pay for utilities or anything else because he has his own household to run. I told him it seems like I’m doing everything for him for free, and I feel used. 

He seems to think that if he pays bills that he’s “paying for sex,” and he shouldn’t have to pay any bills at my house. I responded that he should stay at his own house. He accused me of being materialistic, and said I was preparing the way to be unfaithful to him. 

It seems wrong to be accused of such things. I’m honest both in and about our relationship.

Feeling Used

Dear Feeling,

You would like him to contribute in some fashion to your expenses, given that he stays with you five days a week, and his response was sorely lacking. It seems fair for him to contribute to the weekly grocery bill if he is staying with you for most of the week. However, I’m on the fence about having him contribute to utilities given that he has his own home and utilities to pay for. 

Putting the finances aside, this does not sound like a healthy and/or emotionally safe relationship for you. There are red flags in in business, in politics, and in life, and there are red lines that people should not cross. Trust can be broken by lying and/or using nefarious means to get the outcome you want. This is a red line. 

Thus, there are two sides to your dilemma: financial responsibility and potential emotional abuse. The former is easier to deal with than the latter, but the outcome may be the same. Making a comparison between paying bills and paying for sex is shocking. You stood up for yourself and used your voice, and he tried to silence you by insinuating that you wish to be unfaithful to him. 

It seems fair for him to contribute to the weekly grocery bill if he is staying with you for most of the week.

That response — implying that you would be unfaithful if he contributed financially — seems to be a lame attempt at gaslighting. It is an attempt to shame you, humiliate you and doubt yourself for having the courage to assert yourself. Merriam-Webster named “gaslighting” the word of the year in 2022, after searches on Merriam-Webster.com rose over 1,700% year-over-year.

Named after a 1938 play and 1944 film about a husband who used a flickering gas light in an attempt to make his wife think she was crazy, gaslighting is defined as as “psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.”

This is an attempt to shame and humiliate you for having the courage to assert yourself.

There is, perhaps, another cause for concern. Your partner has two sons, one of whom is a minor, and yet he spends five nights a week with you while his older son is employed by him as a full-time babysitter. There’s something wrong with this picture. The fact that he does not spend time with his young son five nights a week should give you all the information you need to know.

These are questions for you. Of course, it’s hard to judge the nature of a relationship from one letter, but there are many red flags, and you should trust your instincts. Do you feel safe? Do you feel protected? Does this relationship bring you joy and a feeling of stability? Do you feel like your boyfriend is a good role model for your young son? And how does your son feel about your partner?

I focused on the other issues in your letter over your original financial question about splitting expenses, which is often a complex and highly charged subject, and I chose to answer your letter because it alarmed me. Buying a house is the single biggest purchase any of us will likely make, and the cost of maintaining it and paying property taxes is a lifelong obligation and, sometimes, a steep challenge. 

But one’s choice of partner is often the biggest financial decision in life. 

“There are two sides to your dilemma: financial responsibility and potential emotional abuse. The former is easier to deal with than the latter.”

MarketWatch illustration

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