Dear Thelma: I am walking on eggshells due to my volatile, jobless hubby


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Those suffering from mental health issues or contemplating suicide can reach out to the Mental Health Psychosocial Support Service (03-2935 9935 / 014-322 3392); Talian Kasih (15999 / 019-261 5999 on WhatsApp); Jakim’s (Department of Islamic Development Malaysia) family, social and community care centre (0111-959 8214 on WhatsApp); and Befrienders Kuala Lumpur (03-7627 2929 or go to befrienders.org.my/centre-in-malaysia for a full list of numbers nationwide and operating hours, or email sam@befrienders.org.my).



I generally consider myself a rational, capable and independent person. I am good at my job and get along well with my friends and relatives. But my marriage has been challenging, though it was a love match.

My husband has always been petulant but he has since become more and more bad-tempered. As he grows older, he seems to have become less capable of dealing with hardships, be it a traffic snarl or the loss of a job.

I find it increasingly hard to live with, what more like or love, a man that is so volatile it feels like I am walking on eggshells.

Through the years, I have learnt to deal with his temperament. We had some peaceful years when we seemed to have reached a harmonious understanding, and we even enjoyed some nice holidays together. We do not have a child.

But recently he lost his job, and it was a big blow that he is having great difficulty dealing with. There is a lot of aggression now.

He doesn’t hit me but he does throw things to vent his frustrations and swears at the top of his voice, even in public. And there are times when he lashes out at me verbally – anything can be a trigger.

There are no physical scars but bearing the brunt of his ill temper is taking a toll on me and I am just bracing myself for a big explosion.

We have attended counselling but it wasn’t successful because he doesn’t believe he needs it or that anyone can help him. I have thought of leaving him but I am also worried that this would break him as he doesn’t have good family support. He is also at a low point and vulnerable now.

In the past, I have stayed on because our situation improved. But our current situation is making me rethink my marriage. Will he ever change? Will I always have to put up with his temper? I am also frankly scared of how he will react if I leave.

Long-suffering wife

I’m so sorry you’re having a bad time. I’m concerned by your description because it reeks of violence. Throwing things, screaming, and making you so afraid that you’re constantly expecting rage is abusive. His lack of concern for the effect his behaviour has on you is also a huge red flag.

As he has already told you that he isn’t interested in changing, your future is clear: he will stay this way. I understand that this is difficult to understand. When we see people we love (or have loved in the past) behave destructively, we want to believe that they will revert to their old selves.

But here’s the thing: we all go through rough times in our lives when we are not our best selves. However, that is limited and when we become aware of how our behaviour is hurting our loved ones, we pull ourselves together and take action for effective change.

That can be painful. It can take a lot of introspection. It often needs a humble state of mind where we examine the bits of ourselves that we are ashamed of or don’t like. But we do it because we value and respect our loved ones.

Your husband is the only person who can change his behaviour; the choice is entirely his. You have no power of that at all. Your husband has had an opportunity to change, you have asked him and shown him the way, but he won’t take it. That means you have a stark choice. You either continue to live this way or you leave.

From your letter, you have thought of leaving but are afraid his reaction will be violent. I suggest you call counselling hotline for advice, and consult a lawyer too so that you know your rights.

Reach out to the Mental Health Psychosocial Support Service (03-2935 9935/ 014-322 3392); Talian Kasih (15999/ 019-261 5999 on WhatsApp); Jakim’s (Department of Islamic Development Malaysia) family, social and community care centre (011-1959 8214 on WhatsApp); and Befrienders Kuala Lumpur (03-7627 2929 or go to befrienders.org.my/centre-in-malaysia for a full list of numbers nationwide and operating hours, or email sam@befrienders.org.my).

Also gather a small support group of people you can trust completely. Lean on them, because changing a long-term relationship is always stressful, whether there is violence or not.

When you do leave, don’t be in a rush to make any big decisions. Take a year or more to figure out who you are and what you want.

Your priority in this is your own safety. Please remember this. As for your husband, it may be the catalyst he needs to become accountable. If it is, he needs to go to therapy by himself to fix himself.

But whatever he chooses to do, remember it’s his journey, not yours. Your job is to stay safe.

If he does work hard on himself, then you may want to re-evaluate your relationship in a year or two. But take it slowly, please. He has been this way for some years, so it will take some time for him to learn new behaviour.

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