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Dear Doctor Life Advice
I am 32 years old and married to a man who is 14 years older than me. My parents divorced when I was a year old and my father re-married soon after to a woman who never cared for me. When I was 19 years old they forced me into this marriage. My husband beats me a lot under the influence of his family. Three years ago I got involved with my friend who cared for me and respected me. When my husband found out, he beat me severely and our marriage is now even worse. Recently, my husband has found a new way to abuse me. He fantasizes about my younger stepsister while having sex with me. He calls out her name aloud and is never ashamed of saying he wants to have sex with her. Whenever he fantasies about her, he is all loving and caring but when he’s not, he abuses me and calls me a whore. I don’t like to be abused and used as a sex toy. My husband always finds ways to make me feel ugly, down, bad and worthless. He abuses me whenever he gets a chance. I live in a country which doesn’t allow divorce easily. I will be asked to leave my kids, which I can’t and my life will be made hell by my parents as well. I don’t have any support from my family at all. I don’t know what to do. I was already deprived of mother’s love and always thought I might find love in a husband but I am empty. Can u suggest what I should do?
I am so sorry you are going through this! Let me start by saying that I never think it is alright to stay in an abusive relationship, so I’m going to focus on trying to convince you that you have some options. I want you to consider the following:
Start by finding out if there is anyway to improve this relationship
I honestly don’t think there is a way to improve an abusive relationship. I am afraid that your husband will beat and abuse you for the rest of your marriage because he can, and there is no reason for him to stop. Having said this, maybe he doesn’t know any better, and maybe there is a way that you can help him see the error of his ways. Perhaps, if he’s religious, you can get the help of a religious figure in your community. Perhaps you can ask him to go to couple’s therapy. If you live in a culture where the elders have any power, maybe you can get the elders to talk to him. I don’t know where you live, but look at your culture and see if there’s any form of authority that would help you. I don’t have a lot of hope in this area, but you never know.
You are not as alone as you think
In any abusive relationship, the abuser starts by isolating the victim and telling them that they have no support. The abuser will also put you down as often as he can, so you will feel stupid, weak, and you start believing that no one will ever help you or care for you. You obviously think this is so and believe you don’t have anywhere to turn to. You need to start working on not believing what your husband tells you. This can be difficult as he is constantly putting you down, but you must try to think differently.
I don’t know your family, but I can’t imagine that your father and stepmother would be happy if they found out that your husband is acting in a predatory way towards your stepsister. This may be a good place to start, by telling your parents and your sister about your husband’s behavior and fantasies about your sister. Then perhaps they will be more willing to help you.
Even if you are right and your family does not support you, you have other options. I don’t know what country you live in, but I know that in the majority of the world, there are organizations that work with battered women. You obviously have access to the internet as you wrote this email to me, so I strongly encourage you to do some research on finding what organizations around you are available to help. All of these organizations are very careful in not putting you in more danger than you are, so they will work with you in secret and will find ways to help you that I can’t think of without knowing you better. Some of these organizations in the United States even shelter the battered women and their children so that the abusive husband can’t find them and harm them.
You certainly ARE capable of making very difficult decisions
You say your country makes divorce really difficult, but your parents divorced 31 years ago, which means it’s not impossible. Again, you need to try to separate facts from the lies that your husband may be feeding you. Many countries in the world are more progressive now than they were 30 years ago, so divorce may be easier now for women than it was when your biological mother went through it. Is it really true that you will be forced to leave your children, or is that what your husband is telling you? Also, what does “forced to leave” mean? Does it mean that you will never see them again until they are adults, or does it mean that your husband will get primary custody and you will get to visit them?
When it comes to your children, whatever decision you make will hurt them. Consider what message you want to give your children. As long as you stay in this marriage, you are telling your sons that it is OK for a man to beat and belittle his wife, and you are telling your daughters that it is OK to stay in a relationship where they are being abused. If you leave your children, then they will feel abandoned, but hopefully they will learn that abusive relationships are not OK. Ultimately, nobody can make this decision for you, and I have no right to judge you if you decide to stay in this relationship because you cannot leave your children. I am only saying that there are many women who indeed made the decision to leave their children to get out of an abusive marriage, and that is OK as well. Many of these women fought whatever system they were in, and managed to eventually get their kids back. Some of the women had to wait for the children to become adults, and then they re-formed a relationship with them. I still hope that some of these organizations for battered women will help you find a way to keep your kids, but I have no idea if that is the case where you live.
When it comes to your fear of what your parents will do if you leave your husband, you say they will make your life hell. What does that mean? Will they beat you and belittle you and rape you the same way as your husband does? Your life is already hell, what can your parents possibly do that would make your life worse than it already is? Also, again, if you can find an organization to help you, you may not need to turn to your parents at all.
You are not as trapped as you think
This section is to reiterate that you always have options. You may have two very bad options (staying vs. leaving) but you still have these two options. An abusive partner always makes you believe that you don’t have any other option, and that is simply not true. Remember that you are choosing to stay in this marriage because you are afraid of the consequences of leaving. If you choose to leave, then you will have to face those consequences. Just know that if you can survive this kind of abusive marriage for over 13 years, you are also quite capable of surviving whatever happens when you leave this marriage.
There may or may not be a third option as well that I haven’t thought of because I don’t know enough about your situation. In a lot of countries where divorce is frowned on, the mother of the children can find an excuse to stay married but live separately from her husband. For an example, perhaps you have a relative in another part of the country that you can go live with without divorcing your husband and your kids can visit as often as they want. I know many marriages in which the mother and the children live in a separate place than the father so the kids can go to a special school, or something similar to that. It may be worth looking into. If your husband is also abusive towards your children, you may want to consider taking your kids out of the country for a trip or for school, and then asking for amnesty in that country. Again, the point is that you should look at all options that are available to you.
I am really sorry that you are going through this. The world is full of relationships in which one partner is severely abusive. Please know that you are not as helpless, alone, or trapped as you think. Learn to trust in your own strengths, to look for help wherever it is available, and make a decision on what to do once you are aware of all of your options.
Best wishes to you,
Doctor Life Advice