Dear Thelma: Suffering in silence from husband's abuse

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Dear Thelma,

I am a 36-year-old woman who recently tied the knot with a 44-year-old man. It is the first marriage for both of us.

I had known him for about two years prior to our wedding. We were introduced by a friend of mine who is his relative. As we lived in different states, we started communicating via mobile phone and eventually we met each other every month. Throughout our courtship, I did most of the travelling and sometimes even had to lie to my family.

In the initial stages, he was all right but could be a tad annoying and rude at times. I brushed it aside as I had never been in a serious relationship before and felt lonely.

Age was another factor that drew me towards him as I had hoped to get married and start a family.

After courting for eight months, I had told my family about him and they met each other. He was reluctant to tell his family about me and kept our relationship a secret from them until after more than one year of courtship. I eventually met up with them. From then on, preparations for our engagement and wedding began.

Since we got married, I have moved to the state he resides in and that is when all hell broke loose. I did not expect him to be the person that he is. I could count the days when I have not shed tears of sorrow. I have never felt so upset and low in my life. I wake up every morning feeling nauseated and have an unexplainable pain in my veins especially in my arms. It is an uncomfortable feeling and I do not like it.

He is not only physically but also verbally abusive. He berates me daily without bothering about my emotions. He physically assaults me by slapping me, pulling my hair, kicking me, twisting my arms and punching me for no apparent reason. When I ask him, he just says,"I like hitting you, I can only do it to you."

He uses bad words on me too and even called me a prostitute. He constantly insults me and puts me down, in public and at home. He refuses to admit in public that I am his wife as he does not find me beautiful or attractive. He keeps saying I am his maid and he does not even want to be friends with me on social media.

I feel so humiliated and embarrassed to face my neighbours as they can hear all his abuses.

Nothing I do is ever good enough for him; he always gives negative remarks.

Also, he is very dominating and wants my passwords and checks my phone frequently. There are just so many sordid things that happen daily, it would take pages and pages to write them all.

I tried talking to him about his behaviour towards me but it always ends up with more raised voice and conflicts.

He acknowledges the fact that he treats me badly and says he won’t do it anymore – but he keeps doing it.

I try my best to be as nice as possible to him to avoid being abused but it just never stops. He fits the bill of a narcissist and cannot accept any comments about himself unless they are praises.

I want to tell his family about our problems with the hope that they will advise him but that will not be of any use as his family thinks of him as their god. He supports them financially, and I am always told that I am so lucky to be married to him.

They would never believe my word against him, he has made that clear to me.

He portrays a different image when in public, so it will be hard for people to believe that he behaves surly towards me. Even my parents think he is a very good person. I do not want to tell them anything because they will be worried sick about me, especially since I now live far away from them. I put on a façade that everything is well.

I have some bruise marks on my body. I have started taking pictures and recording some of our arguments discreetly so that I have evidence against him.

I had always envisioned myself being happily married with children, but I do not see this happening for me anymore.

I really want my marriage to work and not end up in a divorce but I cannot carry on living like this. It’s not easy having that divorce stigma.

I do not want to shame and upset my elderly parents but I really cannot live in this manner.

I also feel ashamed of myself. I am accomplished in almost all aspects of my life but I have failed badly at marriage. I really wonder what I did wrongly to deserve such bad luck. My mind is constantly thinking of my situation and it is making me feel emotionally drained.

I fortunately did not quit my job as I am allowed to work from home. At least, I will not be dependent on anyone to provide for me.

This whole situation is taking a toll on me. The MCO isn’t helping as well because I have to be stuck at home all day long with him. At times, I feel like just leaving him for good but I am afraid of the consequences. He says things like,"You are mine and I can do whatever I want to you."

He has told me that he will make life a living hell for me and my family if I leave him. I do not want any harm to befall my family.

What I should do? Please help me.

At Wits' End

Dear At Wits' End,

He sweet-talked you into trusting him, then lured you away from your home into his so that he could beat and humiliate you in secret.

I'm so sorry, but you've fallen into the hands of a dangerous abuser. This man is beating you and he may kill you. It is vitally important you leave immediately.

Please pick up your purse with your IC in it and go straight to a safe place. This can be a budget hotel, a friend or a relative.

Once you're in a safe room with a solid lock on the door, call the following people for support: Women's Aid Organisation for advice, shelter and more at WAO Hotline: 03-3000 8858 (24 hours) or SMS/WhatsApp Tina: 018-988 8058 (24 hours).

Alternatively, make for a One Stop Crisis Centre that is part of the emergency room at government hospitals. Doctors there will collect medical evidence that can be used in court, and they can put you in contact with a Medical Social Worker or Social Welfare Officer who can talk to you about legal issues, shelter and police protection.

As you are married, you can get a restraining order. The support folks will help you with that. And as you're working, you can hire a lawyer to represent you. This will help put a buffer between you and any immediate threats your soon-to-be ex makes. Be certain to hire a lawyer who has dealt with domestic violence cases before. You need a person who understands how violent people work.

Under no circumstances should you allow anyone to talk you into trying to "make it up" with your spouse. Do not allow anyone to try and mediate in couples therapy either. I say this because when ordinary people quarrel, making up and therapy or mediation can work. This is because ordinary people respect each other and look for win-win.

When one partner is abusive, that person will use the process in order to gain power and control. Your husband has a track record proving he is dangerous, he has told you himself that he enjoys hurting you, and he has no intention of changing.

While we don't keep national statistics, a 2018 United Nations report on global violence found that 58% of female homicide victims are killed by their intimate partners or family members. You must keep yourself safe from him and that means distance. Get away and stay away.

I'm worried about your safety so that is my first focus. Now, a short word about your feelings.

You feel guilty and ashamed, and that you should be able to make this marriage work. With respect, that is illogical. Who is choosing to beat you? He is. Who is choosing to threaten you? He is. Put the blame where it belongs: on him.

There is no point in talking to his family. We can only change ourselves, not other people. Your husband enjoys being violent; he chooses to be violent. You do not have the power to fix that; your duty is to keep yourself safe and to heal.

Once you get into a safe space, a mental health professional with experience in abuse can help you talk it out. You will learn that abuse can happen to anyone. Violent, manipulative people are very clever. It can be very hard to spot them.

You will also learn that abuse is common. We used to never talk about it, and we used to blame victims. While victim-blaming is still an issue, there is also much more support. Ignore the ignorant and lean in on friends and family who step up to help during this difficult time.

And as a precaution, use the sessions to figure out why you ignored the red flags and change that part of your behaviour, so that you can avoid running into the same situation.

Please, pick up your purse now and go.

Suggested reading: From victim to warrior

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