Dear Thelma,

I am 36 years-old and married with two kids. I married my husband 10 years ago, shortly after I had broken up with my then boyfriend. I broke up with my boyfriend because he was cheating on me.

My husband is the same age as me. After we got married, I found out that he has a serious gambling problem. He frequented gaming arcades and ended up in debt. He told me all kinds of lies – he lost his wallet or got robbed – to hide his addiction. I helped out with the family’s finances.

After my second child was born, my husband found a job that paid well. However, he continued with his gambling.

He complained that I could not accompany him to the pubs for drinks. Well, I needed to sleep by 9 or 10pm as I had to wake up early the following day.

Then he started contacting his ex-girlfriend and another lady friend. After his drinking bouts in the pubs, he would call either one of these girls and chat with them. Sometimes he went on dates with them. He also told them that I am in contact with my ex-boyfriend and that the second child is not his and looks like my ex!

Whenever he got drunk, he would break things and chase me out of the house. But the following day, he would apologise and ask me to return home.

One day, I couldn’t take it anymore and I left him. After three months, a relative stepped in to mediate for the sake of the kids.

I was persuaded to return home, which I did. I found that my husband was a changed man. However, after a few months, he was back to his old ways. I found pictures of women and their contact numbers in his phone.

I stayed on for the sake of the kids. They are six and eight years old.

Once a week, my husband will be out the whole night and only return home the next morning. When I queried him about it, he said as a man, he needed time out with friends. I have tried talking to him, pleading with him, crying, but he would not change his ways. In fact, he blamed me for everything that went wrong.

He has hurt me deeply. I feel so lost and lonely. I need someone who loves me and cares for me. But I am not getting such support from my husband. He does not seem to care about my feelings or well-being. Yet he does not want to divorce me.

He often complains that I am stressing him out and trying to control him. Am I being too controlling? He does not allow me to go out and visit friends or relatives on my own. He would insist on accompanying me. His mother is an OKU and she is living with us. I have to take care of her, with help from the maid. I have to cook for his mother every morning before I go to work.

It looks like he needs me to take care of his mother. That is why he does not want to divorce me. I hardly see him. We don’t go out during weekends too. What should I do in this situation? – Miserable Wife

Dear Miserable Wife,

It is important to recognise a few things about your husband’s behaviour.

Gambling is a problem. It has been identified as a problem big enough to require professional help. Some countries around the world realise the severity of gambling – they recognise it as a form of addiction – and have implemented laws and policies that outline the responsibilities of various parties involved, and also offer incentives for sufferers to seek and get help.

It is important to understand that gambling is a problem that cannot be solved with advice from concerned parties. More serious interventions are necessary to address the problem.

Secondly, some of the behaviours that you have outlined – what your husband does – is characteristic of abusive behaviour.

He goes out with his ex-girlfriends or other women, and he blames you for it. This shows his lack of ability to take responsibility for his own actions. It is also a form of emotional and psychological abuse.

Abuse is not limited to just physical abuse. While someone may not beat or hit their partner, it does not mean that they are not committing abuse.

Perhaps he does not know how to communicate his frustrations, but repeatedly and purposely saying hurtful things for the sake of causing pain is also a form of abuse. When you know something hurts a loved one and yet you do it over and over again, this is considered as abuse.

Finally, his not allowing you to move freely is a sign of abuse. Abusers characteristically want to control those they abuse. They limit or monitor their movements. They cut people off from their sources of social support and connection. They need to watch over any conversation that the abused person has. They isolate the abused person. Your husband complains that you control him, when in fact it is the other way round.

Your “controlling” behaviour revolves around not wanting him to go out with other women. Many people may think this is reasonable.

Once a week, he stays out the whole night and returns home only in the morning. His “right” as a man does not negate his responsibilities as a husband and a father. It also does not override basic rules of kindness and respect. To leave pictures and messages on his phone – which he knows you will find – speaks of chauvinism.

He may have expectations of a traditional marriage where the wife is obedient, does her duties without complaining, and does not question his behaviour. Well, he has his share of the bargain, too, if he wants that kind of a marriage. “Tradition” is often used as a means to control others instead of being a standard for people’s own behaviours.

If your husband really wanted your company, would he not do something to help accommodate you and your schedule? You have a full-time job, look after your children and home, and help look after his disabled mother. Does that not warrant a tired person who needs her sleep? If he wanted you to accompany him on a night out, could he not help with some of the care-giving work? Could he not go out with you on weekends when you may have the benefit of sleeping in the next day?

That he deliberately lies about you to others – the women he is trying to gain sympathy from, nonetheless – is an indication that he does not respect you. And he blames you for any infidelity he may have committed or might commit in the future.

It is hard to advise you on what to do. The question should be: what do you want to do? You know your husband best and only you can answer these questions.

This is something that requires your husband’s full co-operation to address. Firstly, he needs to get help for his gambling problem. Secondly, he needs to acknowledge that his behaviours are hurtful and that he needs to change them. Do you think he is capable of doing that?

The first thing you have to do is look after yourself. You are going to need all the support you can get. Speak to your friends and family. Let them know that this is beyond “staying together for the children’s sake”. This is a complicated issue which involves you and your children’s well-being. You will have to make decisions based on what is good for you and your children, and not about what others want or think.

Get information. Contact the Malaysian Mental Health Association to find out options to get help for addiction. Contact women’s groups to find out what your options are should you decide to leave your marriage. Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) and the All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) offer telephone counselling services. Trained personnel will be able to help you understand what to expect. It may not be a bad idea to speak with lawyers to understand your rights.

Armed with this information, you will be better able to make a decision on how to move forward. Whatever you decide, it is your decision alone. No one can judge you for it. You are not a bad person for opting to leave the relationship.

Mind you, staying in the relationship does not make you a good person. You will have to decide for yourself if the “sacrifices” you make, or will make, are ones you can live with. But be sure you have all the information before you make that decision.  – Thelma

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