Dear Thelma: Husband lives off her, and demands she supports his mistress too

"Dear Thelma" is a relationship advice column that appears in The Star, a publication that is part of the Asia News Network.

My ex-husband and I were together for 19 years, and married for seven years. We have a daughter aged five.

He was the only man I have ever been with. We met at university.

In our initial 13 years together, I was fully supporting him. I paid for everything, from rental to utilities to gym membership.

It wasn't until a few years back that he paid for daily expenses like dinner and his petrol usage, as I also had to take care of our daughter's daycare expenses.

His housewife mother - from the start of our relationship, when I was 20 and he was 21 - had always emphasised that I should be the one paying the bills because my family is better off than his.

The truth is our household incomes were just marginally different.

After graduation, I earned more than him since he had put off working.

I had the disadvantage of living under his mother's roof for one year upon graduation.

That year, I was so used monetarily and physically. The more I gave and did, the more was demanded of me.

I was the breadwinner for almost two decades. As he was not the "house chore type", I did all the chores and took care of our daughter.

Since my university days, his mother had conditioned me to take care of her son, like a second mother. She instilled this mindset into him, too.

My ex-husband and I mostly argued about finances and household chores.

But we were very close and could talk about everything under the sun. We shared a lot of laughter together.

He admitted that his mother's "reasoning" was illogical and she had gone overboard, but said that she did it out of love.

In the last two years, we fought a lot due to our growing differences in thinking and our nature of work, as well as my ex-mother-in-law's meddling. It reached the point where I was suffocating.

She would stay with us every weekend and impose her opinions about everything.

She's always scheming to milk me for things, and if anything goes wrong for my ex-husband, she blames me.

My ex-mil knows her son owes me lots of money and I'm paying for everything in the house. She said she didn't want to over-pressure her son.

In January 2017, I finally had enough. I was burnt out.

I put my foot down on her demands that I wear the pants and the apron. I had been like a single mother to two kids, my ex-husband and our daughter.

All this took a toll on our marriage. We were constantly fighting in 2018 and even mentioned divorce.

But as time went by, our fighting grew less; by end March this year, we were able to talk like before.

And suddenly he was helping out with chores and voluntarily paying for stuff.

But on April Fool's day, my ex-husband confessed that he had been having an affair for the past year. She has since given birth to their baby girl.

Throughout April and May, my ex-husband brainwashed and put me down. He also coaxed me into being the giving "first wife", saying I should accept and be generous to the "second wife", like a sisterly-wife thing.

His demands were outrageous and sickening. He said he intended to keep both "wives". He said I should obey and give in to his demands.

I felt like I didn't know him anymore. The other woman has a five-year-old son and was going through a divorce from her husband when she and my ex-husband "fell in love".

He also started brainwashing me into feel guilty for being the "push" factor, driving him to have his affair.

I felt so low with all the pain, remorse and put-downs; tearing up was a daily affair.

In mid May, my emotions slowly settled, after the initial shock and denial.

I was no longer confused, and I started to gather my wits.

Earlier, I did not want to make any rash decision on my marriage and was trying to seek alternatives.

But with the betrayal, deception and hurt, I told him I wanted a divorce.

He said he will continue to stay with me six days a week, and one night at her place, just as he had been doing all this while.

He also urged me to play along so that everything would be rosy, especially if his mother popped by.

Then there's our financial situation: He owes me lots of money.

Over the years, his debts have snowballed to RM80,000. On top of that, there are RM210,000 in property investments - without my name on them.I am also paying his credit card debts and loans.

His car ownership and loan are still under my name as he could not get a car loan. But he services the instalment payments.

He is disorganised, lackadaisical, aimless, lacks discipline and perseverance, and carefee.

He's also a hoarder; it drove me mad. Yet he is smart and charming.

I can accept it if we divorced due to internal reasons.

He could have just come clean when he started seeing the other woman. But no, he decided to continue to use and live off me.

We are now serving the decree nisi period. I have refused him entry into my home and he insists that I've gone overboard.

I was foolish to have trusted him completely.

I am now 40, an introvert, with no family in KL. My siblings live overseas. I am open to relocating.

I'm no longer crying at work.

Retrieving my money will be a battle I need to constantly remind him of, despite it being captured in our divorce papers. I have full custody of our daughter.

In co-parenting our daughter, we have agreed on visitation terms.

Right now, I feel I am somewhat hanging and don't belong, and questioning everything in life.

I want to pick up the pieces of my life and start anew, and to be in a better position to guide and care for my daughter.

Anxious and uncertain

Dear Anxious and uncertain,

I'm sorry to hear you've had so many troubles.

My first thought is a practical one. If your lawyer hasn't already told you, you can get free financial-support service from Bank Negara's AKPK's Debt Management Programme (

They are excellent, very sensible, practical and not judgy. Again, your lawyer may have done it all already but do ask her if you should go over for a chat.

Next, a marriage is about partnership: it's not about acquiring a slave.

You've been put through the mill and it will have affected you deeply. I think you will find it helpful to talk to a mental health professional who is well-versed in abuse.

Explore the main issue: emotional abuse.

First, understand how abuse cycles work. Typically, a person is first frightened by displays of anger or scolding. This makes them think, "I'd better not upset them."

Then the abuser will use emotional abuse to strip the victim of their self-esteem.

They say things like, "You're not as clever as you think" and "You're ugly". They also make you feel guilty.

At the same time, they make sure you're isolated. They tell you not to see your friends, and they make it hard for you to see your family.

And if you do go out, they text you a million times to spoil the event and they make your life hell when you come back.

If you protest, they gaslight you. That means they say things like, "I never said that" and "You're just too sensitive."

They keep you down and helpless with other strategies too: they make sure you have no money, they load you up with "woman's work", and they maltreat the people you love - like your kids or pets - if you step out of line.

The combined effect is that you're beaten down, too sad and tired to protest or put up a fight.

You end up wondering if you're crazy or if perhaps you've done something awful.

The truth is that they're awful and you're not doing anything wrong.

But it can be very hard to see that when you're trapped in the cycle.

So, go and talk to a therapist and unravel all the things they've done to you.

Look at how it affects your behaviour right now, and start making changes so you can go back to happy, healthy you.

As you have a daughter, you'll have to protect her from these people's poisonous behaviour, too.

At the same time, reconnect with your family and friends. Find happy people who love you for yourself.

If it means moving, do so. Frankly, the further you get away from those people, the better.

Consider that they'll try and fight you every step of the way.

Think of it as temper tantrums; bullies always scream when you take their punchbag away.

So, protect yourself by talking it over with your lawyer and letting her do the communicating for you.

You've had a tough time but you're out of it now. Getting away took great strength and bravery. You have what it takes to move on.