I was forced to marry my cousin and I've been mentally and physically tortured since then.
I want to end this relationship but my family wants me to compromise and live with it. Even Islam doesn’t consider such a marriage legal but I'm still expected to live with my husband.
This relationship has changed me for worse; I've lost more than I've gained - my education, my future goals, and my respect in my family.
I feel wounded and I don’t understand how to pretend everything is fine and move on with life.
Forced Into Marriage
Dear Forced Into Marriage,
Let me start off by saying how very sorry I am to learn about your predicament. In a marriage, a good and loving spouse is a blessing. On the other hand, living with a bad and abusive spouse can be hell. You must be going through hell right now and that too without any fault of your own.
It is a sad fact in our society that many girls are forced into marriages without their consent and preference. And a girl is then supposed to not only stay in her marriage but also make everyone happy in her new home. She is supposed to put up with everything, not complain about her hellish life and bear all the disrespect, all the abuse and all the emotional and physical torture in the name of compromise. Anything less than that and the girl’s family would be horrified and embarrassed that their daughter couldn’t put up with the mistreatment of her husband and in-laws. The sad part is that it’s almost always the wife who’s expected to compromise. The husband can behave as he pleases without any fear of consequences of his actions.
Ask Asad: I fell for a man from a different sect – how do I move on?
I strongly believe that you shouldn’t pretend everything is fine. This marriage has taken a lot from you and given you nothing in return. You have lost your respect, your happiness, your dreams and your goals. You have even lost your basic safety as a human being because your husband is mentally and physically abusive.
You are very brave for admitting to yourself that what you are going through is wrong and for realising that you are no longer willing to put up with your abusive husband.
But before you take the irreversible decision of leaving your husband for good, please ensure that you have exhausted all the other options that could help in resolving this matter amicably and thus save your marriage.
Be very clear with your husband about his abusive behaviour
It might be hard to believe but many of the abusers are not wholly conscious of their actions or rather they don’t fully comprehend the pain and damage which they cause to other people by being abusive. Be sure that you communicate very clearly with your husband about his abusive behaviour. He might be thinking of his treatment of you as his right, that he can say or do anything to you and it should be fine with you. He might think this way because of his upbringing or his way of thinking. Be very clear and very firm with him about the fact that his behaviour is abusive and is causing you harm and he is nothing less than an abuser. Make sure that he understands this.
Try marriage counselling
Going for marriage counselling might be helpful. The therapist may be able to help your spouse in understanding his abusive behaviour, the reasons behind it and the consequences of it. The therapist can make him understand as to how his abusive behaviour is destroying his marriage.
Don’t go at it alone
Dealing with an abusive relationship is not easy. You can’t and shouldn’t be dealing with it alone. Enlist the help of people who are sincere to you and are willing to help you. If this can’t be your parents then try to get support from your friends and those family members that might be willing to help you in this difficult time of your life.
Ask Asad: How can I marry after being sexually assaulted?
Talk to your family
Tell them that you are trying your best to make this marriage work but your husband isn’t by his abusive behaviour. And it has come to a point where you don’t feel safe at all and you are also afraid that the damage caused to you would be permanent – victims of constant abuse in a relationship can suffer from depression, stress, physical illnesses and even cancer. As you are married to your cousin, it should be comparatively easy for your family to intervene and try to sort this mess out.
Consider separating for some time
Sometimes it’s better for couples to separate for some time. This is better than getting a divorce and leaves the window of getting back together again if both feel that things can be worked out. Separation can bring clarity. It also allows couples to cool down, take stock of their relationship without being in a charged atmosphere and realise if they are better off alone or with each other.
Try to become financially independent
In most abusive marriages, abusers believe that they can get away with abusing their spouses because they are financially dependent on them. This is true to a great extent. I don’t know how easy or difficult it is for you but if possible then try to be financially independent. Once he realises that you are not helpless and completely dependent on him, he might start treating you differently due to the fear in him that you no longer need him to support you.
What I have mentioned above are a few things that I believe you should consider before you decide to take a permanent step, such as a divorce. Do keep in mind that divorce is permanent and there is no going back once it has been taken. It’s the finality of divorce and the stigma attached with it in our part of the world that usually makes me counsel couple to only consider it as the last resort and that too if it’s completely unavoidable.
Ask Asad: Should I divorce my cruel husband after 16 years of marriage?
Having said that if you do decide to go ahead and leave your husband then please be prepared for the following.
Be prepared for his reaction
Remember that the phase of leaving is the most dangerous time; he is likely to up the ante. He might become extremely persuasive after you have gone; be prepared for promises and threats, for the relatives and friends to tell you they have never seen anyone so depressed, he really does love you etc. You will need to be strong.
Don’t let people justify your husband’s behaviour
People around you might come up with excuses on your husband’s behalf for his outrageous behaviour; that he is stressed, anxious, had a terrible childhood, work problems, etc. All this is rubbish. He’s doing it because he feels he has a right to do it. This is because he has certain beliefs about women which are fully supported by our culture. He’s a misogynist – simple. Despite what others say, abuse is not due to your husband’s loss of control over his behaviour. In fact, abusive behaviour and violence is a deliberate choice made by your husband in order to control you.
Don’t blame yourself
Don't harbour any guilt for wanting to leave this abusive relationship. Don't blame yourself for not sticking it out. It’s not your fault. Think of it this way, no matter what you do you cannot make your abuser happy and you cannot make him mad, either. Therefore, it’s not your fault if he gets mad at you. You do not have magic powers that control your abuser’s words or actions and no combination of your words or behaviour will result in an end to the abuse.
Ask Asad: Should I marry a stranger just because my parents want me to?
Don’t lose your self-respect
Tell yourself, with conviction, that you are lovable, you deserve respect, you get to decide who stays in your life or leaves and you also get to decide when leaving an abusive relationship is right for you.
Try to pursue your goals
Pursue your dreams and goals. Do what makes you happy. Take up new hobbies. Finish your education and try to realise your ambitions. Try to make yourself secure so that you are never ever again in a situation where someone would be able to abuse you.
I wish you all the best and hope that God guides you in taking the right decision. My prayers are with you!
Asad is a counsellor, life coach, inspirational speaker and a personal-development expert. He advises on social, personal and emotional issues. You can send him your questions for this weekly column at [email protected] with “Ask Asad” mentioned in the subject line and provide as many details as possible.
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Express Tribune.
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