Dear Thelma: My abusive wife wants a divorce, I want to keep my family together

PHOTO: The Star/Asia News Network

Dear Thelma

I am 47 years old and have been married for over 14 years. We have two children.

Since 2015, my wife and I have been separated twice. The first separation lasted for four months before I moved back with her. This time, we have been separated since August last year. It was a simple matter that caused me to move out - all I said was no to something and I was punished.

I am now staying with my parents. I have no siblings and no one to talk to about my problems. I worry about my kids and cry every night over them. I can't trouble my parents as they are old and it is totally unfair to burden them.

With this second separation, I decided to note down everything that my wife has done to me, the maids and my parents. I have attached that letter to you, Thelma.

I know she has a problem. She does not admit that she has a problem and blames everyone else.

I have supported my family all these years and have helped my wife as much as I can. Whenever we argue, she says she wants a divorce. She is abusive towards me and others when she is angry.

I have loved my wife very much but sometimes, she is easily convinced by friends and listens to them more often than me. I love my family too. She is always the one who starts the fights and makes a big scene. When I walk away, she calls me a coward. In the past, she has pushed me to the edge and I have made the mistake of hitting her twice.

She has called me names and bullied me. I have kept quiet because of my kids. When I moved back after the separation in 2015, she provoked me in every argument by saying, "Hit me, you idiot." I would walk away and she would continue to insult me.

I don't want a divorce, I want to keep the family together. I have two beautiful children and I love them a lot. They are staying with her and I see them on weekends. I am doing everything for the kids. They want me to come home. My wife doesn't want to go for counselling, which she says is a waste of time. She is just being afraid and her ego is so big.

I am looking for a way to resolve this as I need my kids and to keep my family together.

Hurting husband

Note: For the benefit of the readers, this letter came with an eight-page document, detailing various incidents that have taken place.

Dear Hurting Husband

You write a very detailed and honest letter; kudos for that. I hope my response is as useful to you.

You want to keep your family together and your kids want you home. However, as your marriage is dominated by physical violence and emotional abuse, I'm concerned you will hurt each other if you go back.

It will be of no benefit to anyone if you are jailed for assault or if you end up in hospital if your wife attacks you. Also, heaven forbid, what if one of you kills the other?

So please, for the moment at least, keep your distance or make sure when you visit that you have someone with you who can intervene should tempers rise.

Next, the despair in your letter comes through very clearly. Hold on to the fact that your parents, kids, relatives and friends love you. Yes, you're in a mess at the moment and you've done things you regret. However, you are honest about your actions and willing to improve yourself. That is to be respected.

Now, how are you going to get to a better place? The big picture is that there are several main issues you need to tackle.

First, your kids are the priority here. They are innocents in this and they are suffering. You say your wife hits them and verbally abuses them. This is unacceptable. They are also missing school, which will have consequences on their future as well.

Get them into a safe environment. As this will be fraught with problems, I think it makes sense at this point to talk to a lawyer.

Second, you say your wife is physically and verbally abusing the family maids. Quite apart from the moral implications, this behaviour could land you with serious legal consequences.

You don't say where these ladies are from, but as maids are typically bound by contracts and usually lack funds to escape, it is up to you to step up. Talk to them about their options, and be prepared to send them back to their homes. Again, you may want to talk to your lawyer about this.

Third is your own situation. Frankly, when relationships deteriorate to the point you describe, it is difficult to reset behaviours and to put the marriage back on a proper foundation.

I'm not saying it can't be done. People do work themselves into dreadful situations sometimes, and there are some amazing success stories. However, it has taken several years for your situation to deteriorate into its present state and so you can't expect it to be fixed in days or even weeks.

Also, a marriage is a partnership and so it takes both parties to effect positive change. You say your wife refuses to go to counselling so that's not a good sign. However, you are open to it, and I think you will benefit enormously.

I urge you to seek personal counselling as soon as possible. Because of the nature of your troubles, look for someone who has lots of domestic violence experience. Pick a person who does not aim to "fix" your marriage; look for someone who works for the best possible solutions for all of you.

You will have to explore what your marriage was like at the beginning, what went wrong, and whether it is repairable. This will involve examining how your other relationships work, and how you deal with problems/stress.

I strongly suggest that sessions include discussions on how to help your kids. As you say they are terrorised, they may need a counsellor themselves.

In addition, they will have questions about your marriage. This will be challenging as you will have to limit information to be age-appropriate, and of course you can't put them into a position where they feel they have to choose sides. Model this in detail with your counsellor before you address this. From your letter, it appears you are financially secure, so you should be able to source professional mental health support. If I've understood correctly, you can reach out to charities for help. These typically work with women but many welcome anyone who is suffering.

My first stop would be the All Women's Action Society (Awam) in Petaling Jaya. Call them at 03-7877 0224 during office hours. As the letter you sent me is excellent, call and ask if you can e-mail it before your first appointment so you can be off to a good start.

Look, you are in a pickle and it's no wonder you're depressed. Please get a support group together for yourself. Make a list of your friends and family, and figure out who you can lean on for whatever is needed. When we're upset, even the simplest matters can seem monumental tasks, but you can ask your counsellor to help you.

And above all, don't despair. It will take work but you will get to a better place.