"Dear Thelma" is a relationship advice column that appears in The Star, a publication that is part of the Asia News Network.
My relationship with my wife is getting worse as we argue a lot, and we can't seem to see eye to eye on some matters, such as sex.
She is 34 and I am 44. We used to have a good relationship. We are staying apart as she is from Indonesia and I am from Malaysia. She has a seven-year-old daughter.
At present, my financial situation is not good.
The problem started when she asked for phone sex all the time or talked about sex, saying I'm not sensitive to her needs and cannot fulfil her sexual desire.
I work from morning till late at night. I get too tired and stressed.
She always blames me for not giving her what she wants, and our relationship is not getting any better.
I tried to explain to her my situation as I worry about our future and I don't think about sex as my stress is all about how to solve my problems and trying to make ends meet.
She says I don't understand her.
I'm already mentally stressed about money, and how to give her and her kid a better life, to get them to come over and live with me.
But her impatience makes me more stressed although I've tried my best to explain things to her. She knows my situation well but says I am giving excuses. She feels upset each time we talk.
I do love her very much, but she doesn't seem to understand how stressed out I am, and that I can't give her what she wants. i.e. sex and romance.
I work every single day, to pay the bills and debts. She works too but she has her family to take care of, since she's the sole provider in her family.
I am tired. By the time I come home from work, it's late - and she wants phone sex. If I say I'm tired, she gets angry and hangs up.
Her daughter feels I'm a bad stepdad, an unloving person who doesn't understand her mum. I feel sad.
I don't know what to do now, as she keeps blaming me for even small things.
I suggested that we get help from a counsellor, but she refuses.
I hope she can change, and be understanding and patient. I'm trying to build a family by working hard but, at the moment, I'm struggling. That makes me stressed out every day.
Dear Mentally Stressed,
A person who punishes you for not having sex when they demand is an abuser. Shouting at you, humiliating you and insulting you is all part of the emotional abuse pattern of behaviour. So is using your little stepdaughter as a weapon to guilt you.
I think you need to consider what you are getting out of this relationship and whether you want to stay in it. That is a tricky question because I don't see anything in your letter that would support giving it a go. However, as you married her and made a commitment, let's start off with the presumption you want to try and mend it.
Your wife needs to find a mental health professional who has experience of emotional abuse. The aim of their sessions should be for your wife to take accountability for her actions and to learn new behaviour that is respectful of others.
While their initial focus should be on how she behaves towards you and her daughter, I suspect she will be abusing others too, so they should take a very long look at all her relationships.
I strongly recommend against couples counselling. When partners have communication, sex or other kinds of problems and there is no abuse, couples counselling is awesome. However, when one of the people is abusive, couples counselling tends to backfire. This is because abusive partners typically hijack sessions.
If you go with your wife, it's likely she will turn the sessions into trying to force you into giving in to her demands. This is because abusive people tend to be very manipulative.
Bottom line: Her behaviour is her problem and she needs to take responsibility for herself and change.
I would give her an ultimatum.
Send your wife a note that sets out what needs to happen next. She must go and get help and you need to see a solid and long-lasting change in her. Be super clear and respectful. Keep it short, too. Do not get drawn into a discussion.
She'll probably throw a tantrum, hoping that scaring you will mean she can keep going as she is. Stick to your statement and if she keeps screaming, hang up or mute her.
If she uses that poor child to guilt you, tell the girl gently that this is grown-up stuff and that you can't talk about it with her. (If you can, send this article to the child's close relatives like an aunt or grandfather. They need to advocate for her.)
If your wife won't take responsibility for her behaviour, walk away. It is better to acknowledge you made a mistake and got in with the wrong person than to live a life of misery.
If she agrees to work on herself, change will likely take months, and perhaps as long as a year or more. As such, I think you will need to step back from her.
I know it sounds harsh but, as I said, abusive people tend to be manipulative. You don't want to be sucked into a couple of weeks honeymoon sweetness, only for it to start up all over again.
It would be different if you were in the same place, but you are countries apart. So take a break.
During this time, educate yourself on abusive relationships. This abuse will have impacted on you, so it's important you identify what has happened and heal.
Read books, newspaper articles, and speak to people who have escaped from domestic violence and other forms of abusive relationships. If you need to, have a few quiet sessions with a mental health professional yourself.
As for your own stress level, it sounds as if you're burning out. You must make some time for yourself. Do some happy things for yourself - a game of football, weekend breakfast with old friends - simple things that will connect you back into your former happy self.
When you feel calmer and happier, take stock of your life, your goals and your needs. Hopefully, your paths of action will be clearer then and you can position yourself into a better space.