Dear Thelma

I am writing in the hope of finding some help for my mother-in-law. She is facing problems in her marriage. Her husband for ​the past 10 years has had a relationship with another woman and has a son with her.

My mother-in-law is the first wife and their marriage is registered. Only after a long time did she catch her husband red-handed with the second wife. He admitted it and asked for forgiveness, and promised her that it was an accident. This happened 10 years ago.

My mother-in-law forgave him because of his son, but with the condition that the second wife cannot under any circumstances come to my mother-in-law’s house.

Things went on like that for several years until she heard from someone that her husband was going out with another woman (Mrs X).

He has been working part-time at her house, doing gardening and working as a driver for some time. Mrs X is married and has two children and her husband is working in other state.

Mrs X comes from a rich family and has a busy social life. My mother-in-law’s husband lies to her to go out with Mrs X, but she has heard about their meetings from other people. Once, her husband told her that he had to go to Selangor for work but instead went with Mrs X to Pahang. After a relative told my mother-in-law about it, she waited near Mrs X’s house and caught her husband red-handed.

Every time he is caught with Mrs X, he scolds my mother-in-law and tells her that he doesn’t want to live with her anymore and will divorce her.

The family on the husband’s side is not willing to help my mother-in-law. They keep silent on the situation or even just ignore it completely.

What is worse, Mrs X has also scolded my mother-in-law in front of the husband and he just keeps quiet. In fact, he has even threatened to beat my mother-in-law. This has happened a few times.

Recently, the problem boiled up again when my mother-in-law caught her husband with Mrs X. He said he was just accompanying her to his sister’s house to pray. Mrs X’s husband and mother know about this affair but have not done anything about it.

My mother-in-law recently said that she can’t take this situation anymore as her husband has changed.

What can be done about this problem especially to make sure that Mrs X doesn’t disturb my mother-in-law’s family life?

My mother-in-law still loves her husband and wants to live a peaceful life with him. – Red6


Dear Red

What an awful situation for your mother-in-law to be in. To have a serial cheat as a spouse is bad enough. To be verbally abused and threatened with violence is simply beyond the pale.

As you seem to know all about her private life, I’m assuming she’s been very open about her problems. As such, I suggest you be the same and talk to her.

Do it quietly and pick a time when you won’t be interrupted. Also, these conversations tend to be draining and may turn tearful, so make sure that she’s not doing something stressful straight after, such as driving in heavy traffic or going to a formal dinner.

Start by saying you know she’s having a bad time, and that you will support her. Then ask what she wants to do.

Look, this is a difficult and embarrassing situation. If she rebuffs you, take it gracefully and tell her you’re there if and when she wants to talk. It’s important to leave the door open.

If she accepts your offer, discover what your mother-in-law sees as her ideal future. What would make for a comfortable and happy life?

This is not about wishing! You need to be practical and realistic. For example, her spouse has a history of cheating, so if she did manage to get this Mrs X to disappear, would her spouse suddenly turn into a faithful partner? It’s highly unlikely, right? He’d probably just find another woman.

Now, while you and I might kick him out and go for a divorce, your mum-in-law may not. She’s said she still loves him. So resist the temptation to offer a “fix”. Everyone has different needs and so it’s important to discover what works for her.

It is also vital to help her understand she is not alone. Her husband’s family may not want to be involved, but hers may. There’s your spouse, I presume. Also, your mother-in-law will have friends.

As part of your discussion, draw up a list of supporters. Who can she call for an energising walk, and who is good for a fun lunch? The more people who lean in, the more empowered your mum-in-law will feel.

Basically, that should be enough to start planning for effective change. Once she has her needs firmly in mind, it is up to her to take action. However, reading between the lines, your family dynamics appear to be rather traditional. Also, it doesn’t sound as though your mum-in-law is financially independent.

If so, you’re going to have to offer a lot of help that’s well beyond being a listening ear. That may include consulting various experts for information, and if she decides on separation or divorce, finding her a lawyer and helping her to cope as an independent woman. This won’t be easy.

Also, I think she should consider looking into what may happen in later life. If her husband should die first, where does that leave your mum-in-law? You already know of one child from another relationship but are there others? It might be sensible to look into this now and forestall any nasty surprises.

Complex situations need a lot of time and energy to resolve, so do consider roping in professionals. I’d suggest a really good divorce lawyer who can explain all the options and a therapist who has experience of marriage counselling as well as domestic violence and abuse.

My dear, I feel as if I’m offering nothing but hard work. I’m so sorry. You write with a kind and caring heart and you are actively looking for a solution. Those are all excellent qualities. Do look after yourself and if you need, do write again. I’ll be thinking about you.


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