Dear Thelma: What shall I do with my freeloader husband?


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 have been married for 10+ years to a man who was my sweetheart from high school. He was also my first boyfriend, and we got married after dating for eight years.

It was all nice and fun during the dating period and he even had a permanent job that paid well enough for us to go out for meals and holidays and pay the rent.

After we got married, he quit his regular job, saying he was struggling to make ends meet and wanted to start his own business. So I have been the sole breadwinner since.

Even with his business, he said he had struggles to make a decent living. It has been a really long while.

When I tried to discuss nicely with him if he would consider going back to a regular job, he got so aggressive and threatening that I stopped asking him.

As a loving wife, I have supported him through many months till now, but all he does is just take advantage of that to be a freeloader. He's not bothered about sharing things as a couple like we used to do before marriage.

Though he has earned some money from his business, he only spends it on himself and never on me. I only found out when I checked his account but again I dare not confront him as he will become very aggressive over it.

Also, using his charm, he continually assures me he will take care of household chores and upkeep of the house while I concentrate on my career.

I have climbed up the corporate ladder pretty well and earn enough to support two people. Sadly, though, he still stays the same while saying his love to me never changes. But the gap in terms of our maturity keeps getting bigger as the years go by and his defensive behaviour never changes.

These few years, our relationship started to get more and more strained as he is not even bothered to keep up with the household chores as promised. And he keeps spending more and more money from my account for his own hobby and enjoyment, in extravagance, causing us serious credit card debts.

When I confront him about his excessive spending and not doing household chores, he threatens to leave me. He even attempted suicide in front of me, saying I do not love him anymore and that I have changed.

When I made another attempt to talk to him while we were on a road trip, he tried to crash the car in the middle of a busy highway, to scare me.

I have tried many times to discuss this issue with him but it all ends with some sort of threat or him trying to end his life.

I am starting to get very upset and frustrated with the man I once loved so much who has turned out to be such an unreasonable person who even avoids discussing matters like a married couple.

We both wanted to retire before the required age but seeing the way he is living his life so carelessly and spending irresponsibly, I am starting to feel very suffocated around him.

I feel so alone and trapped in this relationship. I have thought of divorce but it is so difficult since we have been together for such a long time.

I am getting more and more depressed and anti-social by the day since he started to continually use his suicide tactics to scare me when I attempt to discuss his spending and household responsibilities.

Our house is also in a big mess as I am working full-time and only have the weekends to clean the house. It is affecting me. Please help.

Woman In A Dilemma


I'm so sorry to hear of your troubles. I think it can be summed up in one sentence: your husband has discovered that threatening suicide means he can live in idle luxury while you work yourself to the bone.

Your husband's tactics are called coercion. It's a type of emotional blackmail.

He uses this threat of self-harm as a whip, and it's making you feel hopeless and helpless. Plus, you are working in the office and at home so that he can benefit from your labour. It's no wonder you're exhausted.

You have tried to talk to him. He responds by acting aggressively, by scaring you in pretend suicides and once by pretending he was going to kill you in a car crash.

Normally I recommend open communication. As he's chosen to terrorise you, I think you have little choice left.

People who cold-bloodedly coerce others are typically devious and dangerous. Your priority is your safety. I urge you to leave but to be careful in doing so.

Without telling him, take some professional advice.

Hire a divorce lawyer. You mention divorce but there are several options including legal separation. Ask what each entails and figure out where you stand. Also ask for legal advice on strategies for dealing with your husband's coercion.

At the same time, find a therapist who works with abuse and coercion. Discuss your needs and your fears with her.

You're in your 30s, I think. There are 40 or more years ahead of you! Discuss what your happiness might look like.

As your husband's threats scare you, work out how you want to navigate this. Again, you have options that include calling his bluff and having a psychiatrist evaluate him.

Couples therapy is not recommended for abusive relationships. Couples therapy is for people who want to work out their differences in a loving, ethical way. It's based on trust and goodwill.

If you try couples therapy your husband will simply hijack the process, lie so that you stay in the marriage, and then go on with his usual ways.

At this point, you need to look after yourself. Do not trust a man who has demonstrated his true colours.

Once you have talked to a lawyer and a therapist, decide on a plan of action. If you leave him, you will need to gather paperwork and plan your exit.

You also need a support team. You've become anti-social. Please know that abuse victims are often isolated. Abusers encourage the disconnect because people who feel alone are easier to control.

If this coercion is taking place behind closed doors, let the light shine in. Gather your support network. Tell them exactly what he is, and lean on friends and family.

When you do, you will see two kinds of people. Those who will counsel you to stay unhappy and a hostage for life and those who support you exiting and finding the happiness you deserve.

Lean in with the people who want you to be happy.

Your divorce lawyer and therapist will advise you on how to stay safe as you leave. However, be prepared for drama.

Your husband knows that terrorising you has worked before, and he may try to pretend to suicide just to scare you.

Remember that this is not a person in pain. He is not ill. He is using threats to control you – that is unacceptable.

When dealing with coercive thugs, it's important to hang tough and to work towards your freedom. Lean on your support team. Trust yourself.

You deserve to be happy. So please go make those calls to the lawyer and therapist and know I'll be thinking of you.

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