Dear Thelma: After our tiff, my wife's family is forcing us to divorce

  • Living
  • Sunday, 29 Aug 2021

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Dear Thelma,

June 14, 2021, was the worst day of my life.

The night before the incident, my wife made me so upset over a small issue that I screamed at her out of frustration. I did not realise that my action caused her to walk out on me on that fateful morning.

I was so panicky that I did not know what to do. After calming myself down, I mustered enough courage to call some very close friends and tell them what happened.

Those three days and two nights were like hell to me. I was locked inside my in-laws' rented house (that's right, my wife locked me inside the house and took the house keys with her and left for her parents' house. I did not have a spare set of keys).

So one friend offered to call a locksmith to break the locks on the door, while another friend advised me to make a police report as it is illegal to lock your own spouse out of the house (in this case, I was locked in). However, I refused to follow any of their instructions, as I was hoping my wife would come back to let me out of the house.

Sure enough, on the evening of June 16, she came, but not alone. Four of her family members were with her. Seeing the numbers game, I knew I would have a very hard time.

Using intimidation, her family members forced me to write four different letters (the first letter saying we agree to divorce with immediate effect; the second letter saying we agree not to communicate with each other anymore using whatever means of communication; the third letter saying that I need to move out of their rented house by the end of the month, and the fourth letter saying that I am not allowed to go near the family house or else they will call the police to arrest me).

As the letters were written, they also forced me to read them out loud, and I was audio-recorded using one of the family member's handphone.

I was so panicky at that time and I seriously did not know what to do. But I noticed from my wife's silent expression that she did not agree with how her family members were treating me then.

So eventually I moved out and rented a small room somewhere far away from the in-laws. Even so, that did not stop my wife from secretly communicating with me to update me on what's going on in her family home.

I could tell that her decision to return to her family was a huge mistake, as she was constantly harassed by her three elder sisters almost daily. Feeling guilty, she wanted to run away from her family but it seemed impossible as her brother-in-law had set up CCTVs around the house and even had two dogs guarding the house at all times.

As I'm writing this email, she told me that the lawyer has finished drafting the divorce letters and will be preparing them soon for our signatures.

Right now, I feel helpless as we both do not want to proceed with the divorce. We have both agreed to reconcile, without her family's approval, and also with the condition I promise to change my behaviour.

I know it is not easy for me to change my behaviour overnight, but for the sake of love I promised to do so, and I will learn to cherish and appreciate my wife more after this.

I wish there was something I could do to help her escape from her family home. What should I do?

And if she manages to run away, what will the consequences be from her family? Do we need to make any police report to protect ourselves from further harassment by them? Or do we need to obtain a court order to keep them away from us while we try to rebuild our relationship?

Any suggestions will be deeply appreciated.

Helpless Husband

Dear Helpless Husband,

Your letter is very clear but I don't think you understand how you come across.

You screamed at your spouse over a small issue. And you freely admit that this is regular behaviour.

Shouting induces an automatic fight or flight response, which is why the police, armed forces, and others working in dangerous fields are trained to yell in certain situations.

In a domestic setting, shouting is only acceptable if there is immediate danger and you are warning someone. At any other time, shouting is emotional abuse, a form of violence.

You used your voice and your rage in order to frighten and control your wife.

I would understand if she walked out from fear of you or because of the disrespect you treated her with. However, she locked the door behind her, knowing you would be trapped inside.

Two thoughts came to mind. First, if you had suffered an illness or there had been a fire, you might have died.

Your wife is not a child, and she deliberately put you in danger. It was not a momentary burst of anger, either. She left you in this dangerous position for days.

Second, I have never come across adults who don't have their own set of house keys. Don't you two have the ability to come and go freely? What does that say about your mindset?

Next, her family come in a group and use the threat of violence to coerce you into signing documents. The fact that they also taped this depraved act in clear ignorance of how their own behaviour reflects on them astonishes me.

The rest of it, your wife being locked in her family's home, being afraid to speak up, and having her sisters gang up on her and scream at her, is part of a pattern of violence, control, and intimidation.

Frankly, all of you ought to take a good long look at your behaviour because it is entirely unacceptable.

By all means, get a lawyer to advise you and your wife on your rights. It sounds as though you will need a lot of legal help.

However, it is clear to me that you asked your questions because it was your intent to out-bully your wife's family. I strongly suggest that you drop that idea. Violence begets violence. And as you've seen first-hand, it does not solve anything. Instead, get yourselves into counselling.

If you and your wife want to build a healthy relationship, you both need to learn to communicate openly, honestly and to start treating each other with respect. This will not happen overnight because it will require a complete change of mindset, attitudes, and behaviour.

Please note that I don't often speak this bluntly. However, if you continue on this path, I fear that you run a great risk of ensuring a lifetime of unhappiness for yourself and the people around you. Get help, and do it today.

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