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The Star / Asia News Network
Sunday, Jun 25, 2017
"Dear Thelma" is a relationship advice column that appears in The Star, a publication that is part of the Asia News Network.
I am married and have a two-year-old boy.
My husband has a second wife in another country. The problem is, my husband is hardly ever home. He claims that he is busy at work. I found out that he has many girlfriends.
I suffered a stroke more than a year ago, but I am recovering well.
I am working now to support myself and my son because my husband does not provide for us. He hides us from the world.
Even his mother does not know that we are married. He beats me too. I thought he was a good person, a good father and a good husband but I was sadly wrong.
I have asked for a divorce many times because I cannot put up with my husband’s lies and cheating ways.
However, he accused me of wanting to desert him just because he is broke.
Deep in my heart, I still love my husband and I want my son to have a complete family. What is your advice?
– Helpless Mum
Dear Helpless Mum,
The main issue in what you have highlighted is that your husband beats you. He also hides you from the world. While the beating may be a clear sign of abuse, the latter may not be so obvious. It seems like he is trying to isolate you from the outside world – your friends and family – and make you completely dependent on him.
Of course, this is only speculation. If the other things you said about him were true, then he could just be trying to make sure no one sees you and connects you with him. This could serve to save him in the web of lies he has spun about himself. You seem to be his little secret.
So before you decide what you want to do, you will have to understand the circumstances of your relationship. He abuses you. He does not provide for you. He is leading a life of lies – that he cannot inform his family about you and is married to someone else is a fact you cannot run away from. He now has more responsibilities.
What is his legal status? Are you legally married here? Will he leave you tomorrow to return to his home country? What will happen to you when he does that? If he is seeing other women, what is his relationship with them like? Are you at risk of contracting diseases if he has unprotected sexual contact with these other women?
Being a good husband and father is more than just providing for the family financially and being a family together. It comes with responsibilities.
Now, your husband may change. He may find a more stable job, and become loyal to you and stop mistreating you. What is he going to do about his other wife, then? How is he going to manage that responsibility? What are his obligations to her? Is he compelled to provide a home for her? What about the children?
This situation is more than just about you and your son. There are other innocent people involved. Can you expect him to divorce his other wife? Yes, you can.
Can the other wife expect him to divorce you and return to his home country and look after her? Yes, she can.
Hence, your status is perilous. You are the one who is facing instability and lack of security. Your future is the one in question. So you have to make decisions for yourself and your child now. You do not have to think about anyone else.
You love him, and that may not change. But the decision you have to make now surpasses love. You need to be smart about this.
Your first priority should be security for you and your child. You will need to get some legal advice. Speak to women’s groups – such as Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) and the All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) – to find out what is at stake, and what are your rights. You can also find out from them what you can do, and what your options are. The counselling that you get from these organisations can also help to build your self-esteem and confidence.
You need to secure social support. While you may not have the blessings and support of your husband’s family, you can turn to yours. If you cannot find support from your family, get friends to support you. You cannot do this alone.
If you are going to seek divorce, and your husband does not want a divorce, there are ways around this. Getting legal advice will help you understand what is involved. Again, the women’s rights organisations can help connect you with this information.
Relationships are not just about love alone. It is also about honesty and openness. More importantly, it is about treating each other with respect and dignity. Ask yourself if you have these in your relationship. If you do not have it, then love alone is not going to be enough to sustain you through this relationship.