Dear Thelma: I have unstable mental health and am stuck in an unhappy marriage


Do you need a listening ear? Thelma is here to help. Email lifestyle@thestar.com.my.

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Those 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 family, social and community care centre (011-1959 8214 on WhatsApp); or Befrienders Kuala Lumpur (03-7627 2929 / email sam@befrienders.org.my / befrienders centres in malaysia).

Dear Thelma,

I grew up in a rather conservative family where mental issues are seen as non-existent or something that's "made up by kids".

I grew up with an abusive father who physically assaulted my mother and cheated on her. Nevertheless I was too young to be able to interpret what was going on till after his death. However, it made an impact on me that I should be wise in choosing a life partner.

I grew up hating men at one point because of my father – till I met my husband whom I have regretted marrying.

I chose him as my life partner out of blind love despite all the odds and challenges I went through because of him and his family who is very conservative as well.

Till now, I am blaming myself for hesitantly choosing him even though I couldn't accept his past of being playful and having premarital sex with his ex. I went for psychiatric treatment and counselling to manage my insecurities.

I ended up being taken advantage of by my husband as he sees me as someone who is rather unstable. We both fought relentlessly till our union. Things were going fine, although with some ups and downs.

Then I got pregnant. I was in a long-distance relationship with him at that time due to work matters, and we only saw each other every week or at least twice a month.

I tried my best to get a job transfer till my last trimester of pregnancy. The transfer was delayed till I was in my 38th week. It was very stressful for me as the only choice I had was to resign and look for another job nearby.

My husband didn't not take any initiative and just left me to handle things on my own. This caused a further rift in our relationship. I see him as someone who is irresponsible.

As I had expected, when I confronted his mother about this issue, she did nothing but instead blamed me for getting pregnant without planning.

After much prayer and several appeals for a transfer, I managed to get it. I couldn't have been happier when my transfer was finally approved.

It is an hour-plus drive from home to the new working place and is indeed tiring. I have discussed with my husband to move somewhere nearer to ease the travel but again he did not make any move or initiative.

To be honest, my only focus right now is my baby and I want the best for her. However I hate my husband and want nothing from him. I wish things were not this complicated.

Getting a divorce is a major step for us, and he is not happy about it, as he is worried I might get custody as I am financially more stable than him.

The reality is, we both don't love each other any more.

My own family has disowned me due to my mental issues and random outbursts.

No love left


I'm sorry to hear you're in a difficult situation. I notice you don't ask a question but as you're concerned about the complicated divorce, I think this is what you'd like to talk about.

The big picture is that you can walk away from the marriage but, as you have a baby, you are both also parents.

Your baby has the right to have both a mum and a dad. This means you two will be tied together in a relationship until your baby is an adult.

So instead of focusing on divorce and custody, I suggest the question is this: While you separate as a couple, how will the two of you care for your daughter?

To get to a proper answer, I think you need to deal with your emotions and your mental health first.

You're angry and don't want anything from him. However, as you're stuck with him for now, it is sensible to work towards a mutually respectful relationship.

Given that you both quarrelled often and you didn't approve of his morals, it seems clear that you two were not a match. There was love but that has flipped into anger.

As the emotions you feel now will interfere with your joint parenting in years to come, I think it will be helpful to work through your emotions with a counsellor.

Go by yourself first and later, once you understand yourself better, perhaps have a session with your husband. He should go and talk to someone too!

Once the anger has gone, hopefully you can work together with less friction. As a bonus, should you ever want to date or marry again, personal insight will help you make happier choices in your relationships.

Next, you saw a psychiatrist and your family disowned you due to mental issues and random outbursts. I'm sorry to hear that. That has to be difficult.

But to be practical, where are you with your mental health? If you are 100% OK, and have been so for a year or more, then it's possibly not an issue.

If you still have episodes, then you need to assess exactly how being a mum will impact on you. Kids are stressful, especially small ones. If you lash out, this will impact on your daughter.

The best thing is to go back to the psychiatrist and discuss it. Also discuss it with the counsellor. Make a plan that works for you and your daughter.

As for custody issues, I'm afraid there are so many parameters that I'm not sure what options to suggest. My best advice is that you should avoid seeing decisions in black and white.

It's not marriage or divorce, it's separating your personal relationship but parenting together. It's not he gets custody or you get custody; it's middle ground and both of you caring for your child.

You might care for the baby for one month and have him care for her the next. Or perhaps you take it week by week, or even half week by half week.

Of perhaps, as you earn more, perhaps you can contribute more money and he can contribute more hands-on care.

However it works, it will take both of you, and very likely extra hands too. Also, whatever works for now will need to be evaluated and renegotiated as her needs and your circumstances change.

Does it sound a lot? I'm afraid it's easier to marry than to separate, especially when there's a child in the mix, but please know that families do this all the time.

As a plus, please don't beat yourself up. Guilt is a waste of time. Neither of you set out to hurt each other. The choices you've both made are not ideal but you had love once.

With work, you can be reasonable friends and work together to make your daughter's life a happy one. As a bonus, I think that work will help you two be happier too.

Good luck and know I'm thinking of you all.

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