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Dear Thelma: My wife pulls my ears and verbally abuses me in front of my family

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Dear Thelma,

I have known my wife for 30 years and married for 10 years. We do not have any kids as I have health issues related to child-bearing.

My wife’s parents and siblings treat me like a biological member of the family. They supported me mentally and financially when I was at my lowest point.

Her parents and brothers dote on her – especially her dad, who has since passed away.

She has not worked since the day we met.

I fell in love with her because she was very polite, charming and sweet, and her family gave me warmth and love.

Throughout our marriage, she stayed at home and I worked very hard. My wife was like a princess to me and I tried my best to fulfill her desires.

When she is in a good mood, she would do the cooking and iron my clothes. If not, we would eat out or at her mum or brother’s place. Whenever she cooks, I have to help wash and cut the vegetables, and do the cleaning up.

There were times when I came back late and she would scold me with vulgar words and accuse me of having an affair outside, when I’m just trying to earn more income. I have to support my retired parents. As my siblings do not care much, I have to shoulder this responsibility.

My wife would scold and belittle me in front of my parents. She calls me useless, says I can’t father a child, and pulls my ear to remind me that I have today because of her and her family.

I had promised my father-in-law to love and stay with her till we’re old. I have never betrayed her but, being in sales, I have to service clients, whether male or female.

Sometimes, when she craves for something, I have to get it for her no matter what the time is.

She complains that I don’t help out with the housework but leave it to her.

Before I go to work, I have to buy food for her lunch as she wakes up rather late, and also feed the dogs and clean up their cage. Yet she always accuses me of not helping out with the housework.

If I go and collect food from my mother-in-law’s for dinner, she accuses me of having no shame, always hoping for free food. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law always call us to go over for dinner. When they call her to go over for dinner, she doesn’t answer so they call me. When I answer the call, she scolds me.

If I don’t take their call, I would be disrespectful.

I don’t have to tell her family about her conduct because they know her well.

Sometimes after work, we go over to her mum’s place on certain occasions but we’re always running late though we stay the nearest to her mum. When I reach home to pick her up, she has not taken her bath, washed her hair, etc. She would tell everyone that I came back late.

When her mum or brother scold her, she would throw tantrums and hide my car keys or handphone, just like a child.

When her relatives ask her what happened, why so fat and no wonder can’t conceive, she would use vulgar words and call me useless in front of everyone.

When we eat out, I have to order food to her liking otherwise she would nag me.

She keeps reminding me that I have today because of her and that I owe her.

Frustrated hubby


Dear Frustrated Hubby,

Your wife calls you useless, humiliates you about your reproductive health and twists your ear to punch the message home. That’s abuse.

Perhaps you haven’t noticed in so many words, but your letter shows very clearly that it’s a constant battle: the way your wife deliberately makes you two late and then blames you, the way she sabotages you by hiding your keys – it’s all part of pushing you about.

As for your in-laws, they may have helped you but they are also abusive towards your wife, shaming her for her body and her reproductive situation. And they also enable her nastiness towards you.

Frankly, the whole situation sounds a nightmare. Here are some thoughts.

Know that this is not an issue for you to fix. It is your wife and your in-laws who need to change. They should seek help for themselves.

As the victim, you will need to work on several issues. You will likely have suffered in self-esteem and self-confidence. Typically, victims feel guilt and shame. Many also feel anger, which they may sometimes express in unhelpful ways.

You need to figure out how your experience has affected you, and to work back to a happy, healthy you.

Therefore, I urge you to seek help from a mental health professional who is specifically trained to deal with abuse. This is a complex issue and you must work with someone who understands how it works and what strategies for positive change are effective.

I note you haven’t asked a question. However, I suggest that after a few sessions, you will have a clearer view of your own needs and thoughts. At that point, you should consider what you want to do about your marriage.

You say you made a promise to your father-in-law. My dear, that’s utter nonsense. There is no need to stay with someone who is cruel to you. If you decide you want to leave, then do so.

If your wife is open to change, you may want to pause and see what happens. However, please do not to go to couples counselling with her.

I’m aware this sounds counter-intuitive, however, couples counselling is for people who want to work through issues from a perspective ofequality and respect. When there is abuse in the relationship, couples counselling backfires because the abuser will use it to game the system.

If your wife is genuine about wanting to change, she needs to have her own separate therapist. You cannot be involved in her journey of change. She needs to be responsible for herself.

Your wife can only come to couples counselling when she’s unlearned her abusive behaviour and learned to be mutually respectful.

That’s why I say it’s very difficult. Your wife has been cruel to you for years. That kind of attitude can’t be changed in a few weeks or months. It will take an awful lot of hard, consistent work.

Another complication is that abusive people are very resistant to change. When you’re abusive, you get to do as you like because everyone is too scared to cross you. When you’re respectful of others, things don’t always go your own way. Therefore, it takes a lot of courage and insight to change.

Most abusers simply don’t have that in them. Typically, they rant and rave when a victim speaks up. They will also move heaven and earth to keep their victim in their power. But when the victim exits, the abuser simply finds another victim.

I’m afraid your heart will sink as you read this. However, please do consider this: if you could live without being humiliated and shamed, how would you feel? What would your life be like? What kind of person would you be?

It’s scary to challenge an abuser. However, the prospect of a happy life can fuel victims with the energy they need to make important changes. We all deserve happiness.

So, go talk it over with a professional and figure out what you want. Then do what you think will make you happy.



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