In the last two decades
of my clinical practice as an individual and marital therapist, I have helped
dozens of battered wives who suffered physical, sexual and emotional abuse from
their abusive husbands. We had to send them to emergency department of the local
hospital to get medical care and then to women’s shelter for their safety.
Unfortunately many of them went back to their controlling and abusive husbands a
few times before they had the courage to finally leave.
I have also met
dozens of couples in which both spouses were abusive and frequently got involved
in shouting matches, slamming doors and throwing things. They lived in the war
zone until neighbors or children called the police and they were separated or
they received separation counseling from us.
abusive husbands and abusive couples I have also looked after half a dozen of
abused husbands. These husbands who were kind human beings and loving fathers
were emotionally abused by their dominating and controlling wives. These men
were too embarrassed and ashamed to share their pain even with their dear ones.
Their suffering remained a secret for years, even decades. Since abuse in many
men is far more emotional than physical or sexual, they generally do not come to
the attention of police and mental health professionals.
The first abused
man I met in my practice was a black man from Trinidad who was a successful
business man and a well respected soccer coach of his community. He weighed more
than 200 lbs while his wife was barely 100 lbs. When she got angry she would
spit at him and bite him so hard, she would leave teeth marks on his skin. After
one of these attacks he had to go to the hospital to have his wound sutured.
After he was in therapy for a few weeks, I encouraged him to call the police the
next time he was abused. Finally when he called the police, the officer
handcuffed him, not realizing that he was the victim. Later on the officer
apologized and took the wife to the police station.
In the last few
decades more and more police officers and mental health professionals are
realizing that in our communities there are many abused husbands who are still
leading a life of secrecy. Since there are no men’s shelters it is difficult for
these men to get professional help.
As we evolve and
the social consciousness of the communities is raised, the more we realize that
abuse of power has no gender. We need to help the victims whether men or women,
husbands or wives, as we would like to see our children and grandchildren grow
up with healthy role models rather than abusive parents in dysfunctional
husbands I had treated before were either white or black men. This year I met my
first Asian abused husband. He is a Pakistani Canadian. After a few months of
therapy and gradual improvement, I asked him if he would share his story. He
readily agreed for an interview and gave me the permission for his interview to
be published, hoping that it would help other abused husbands. I have changed
the name and some details to respect his and his family’s privacy.
“I FELT AS IF I WAS AN
INSECT BELOW HER FEET”
SOHAIL INTERVIEWS SALMAN
Dr Sohail; Can you share
with me what was your life like before you met your wife?
Salman: Before I got
married I was leading a happy and healthy life, physically as well as mentally.
After finishing my high school, I did my B. Sc, then M. Sc and finally my Ph.D.
My family was very supportive and I was quite motivated to be successful in my
life. My parents gave me a lot of love and affection. My parents had an arranged
but a happy marriage. They loved each other and I never saw them fight or argue.
Dr. Sohail: For how long
were you living in Canada before you got married?
Salman: I came to Canada
when I was a teenager and was living in Canada for 15 years before I got
married. I had an exposure to both cultures.
Dr. Sohail: How did you
choose to marry a woman from Pakistan?
Salman: I dated Canadian
women but it did not work out. I had a dream to marry a woman from my own
culture. So when my brother got married in Pakistan, he brought a video of his
marriage and I saw the picture of his sister-in-law. She looked the girl of my
dreams, so I decided to marry her even without meeting her.
Dr. Sohail: How did you
arrange your marriage?
Salman: I went to
Pakistan and told my parents that I wanted to get married. They showed me a few
girls but I did not like them. Finally I told them that I liked my brother’s
sister-in-law. They told me she was 12 years younger than me but that did not
matter to me. I was 32 and she was 20 when we got married. After marriage I
sponsored her and a year later she joined me in the US where I was working at
Dr. Sohail: How long
after the marriage did the problems start?
Salman: For the first
few months I did not notice things as it was the honeymoon, but then I realized
that she had a bad temper. One day she got so angry that she walked out of the
apartment. When she came back ten minutes later, I saw her red face from the
peek hole of the door. She was really upset. I still remember the expressions on
her face. They scared me and I decided that day not to upset her ever again. I
did not know what she might do in anger. That was the turning point as I let my
Dr. Sohail: What
happened after you let your guard down?
Salman: She wanted
everything her way. It was her way or the highway and I followed her every wish
and every command hoping to make her happy but she was never happy. I had to
work hard and fulfill her wishes. If I did not listen to her she would pick up a
hanger and start hitting me. She became abusive and with passage of time it
became worse. In the beginning I thought she was just joking but then I realized
that she was serious. After physical abuse she also started abusing me verbally
and degrading me. She said all kind of things to emotionally abuse me.
Dr. Sohail: What kind of
Salman: She would say
‘You are ugly. You are useless. Look at such and such guys, they make lots of
money and take care of their wives. You should eat their SHIT”. The angrier she
got, the more she started ordering and controlling me. She counted to three and
I had to obey the order like a child. If I did not follow her orders the
punishment increased. She isolated me from my family and friends. As time passed
she became more and more controlling and domineering and I became passive and
confused. When she became mad she asked me to stand in the corner.
Dr. Sohail: Did you
follow her orders?
Salman: I do not know
why but I did follow her orders. It seemed as if she was the queen and I was the
slave. Maybe worse than the slave, I was the dog. It was a confusing time in my
life. I did not understand why she would treat me so badly and at night time she
would make love to me. Now I realize that it was the reward she gave me at night
time for being her slave during the day time.
Dr. Sohail: For how long
did that abuse last?
Salman: For too long.
Nearly fifteen years. Then she went to work on a ship for 9 months last year to
punish me and the kids who were 14 and 9.
Dr. Sohail: In fifteen
years what was one of the worst abuses?
Salman: One evening she
became so angry she asked me to take off my clothes all except my shorts and
then go out and stand in the cold. I went out and stood in the drive way. Then
she told me to go across the road and stand there for 15 minutes. I was so
embarrassed. I was afraid the neighbors would see me. Luckily it was dark and
nobody saw me. The worst part was that she did that in front of her parents.
They tried to stop her but she did not listen.
One other thing
that hurt me a lot was when she swore at my parents and disrespected them. That
broke my heart.
Dr. Sohail: Any other
Salman: Once she got so
mad, she did not let me out of the home for nine months. I was pretty much
housebound. She controlled all the people I interacted with. She enjoyed
punishing me. She got a perverse pleasure in hurting me.
Dr. Sohail: Who
suggested you should get help?
Salman: I had suggested
to my wife that we need to get help but she refused. She believed there was
nothing wrong with her. Then one of my friends who had benefited from
psychotherapy with you encouraged me to attend sessions without my wife and I
agreed and came to see you. I realized that my wife, like her sister, wanted to
take revenge on men and their husbands were part of that revenge game. I was the
sole target of her revenge. When she called me an insect I felt as if I was the
insect below her feet.
Dr. Sohail: How did you
feel when you first came to our clinic?
Salman: It was the
luckiest day of my life. I realized psychotherapy was a powerful thing. It
changed my life. It was amazing when I was in focus and group members heard my
story patiently --they were so caring and compassionate. I had been waiting to
receive some compassion from my wife but I never got it. And there were
strangers in the group who were listening and supporting me. It was amazing. It
helped me to heal and realize that I was being abused like abused women. I was
leading a dangerous life. I could step on a minefield anytime and have
disastrous results. You told me that she suffered from a personality disorder,
so I went on the internet and read about all the personality disorders and I
thought she suffered from Histrionic Personality Disorder. She laid a number of
traps for me.
Dr. Sohail: For example?
Salman: For nine months
she left me and children and went to work on a ship to punish me. When I became
stronger in therapy and started confronting her she told me that finally she had
realized she loved me. I was so touched that I went to meet her on an island
where her ship docked. That is when I realized that she had a boyfriend on the
ship and wanted me to meet him. We waited for hours but he could not make it.
Gradually it dawned on me that I was being abused ---- that she was manipulative
and I was naďve. She was away for nine months and I was left to look after my 14
years old son and 9 years old daughter. She did not care at all. She made us all
suffer but she had no sense of remorse or guilt.
Dr. Sohail: What made
you decide to end the relationship?
Salman: In therapy I
gradually realized that I had been abused for years. When she came back, I had
cleaned the house but she ran in her finger along a table and scolded me for the
dust she saw there. She showed me the dust and said, “Is that how much you value
me?” By that time I felt strong and confronted her and said, ”If you do not like
it, you clean it.” She was shocked to hear my reaction. That day she realized
she could not dominate or control me anymore. She spent only two hours with her
children who were waiting for her for nine months, and went to see her friends
to brag about her boyfriend. The next day I found her pictures having sex with
her boyfriend. She had tried to delete them but I found them and printed them to
show them to her. After seeing her pictures, I could not believe my ears when
she said, “Don’t I look good in those pictures.” Then she tried to hug and kiss
me and tell me that she loved me but I did not fall in her trap. I had come to
realize that the game was over. I said to her Talaaq (Divorce) three times
according to our tradition and ended the marriage. That was the end of it. I was
no longer in her trap -- I was a free man. I felt strong and free and
independent. It was all because of the therapy and support I received in this
Dr. Sohail: For how long
have you been living with your parents now?
Salman: Nearly four
weeks. It was hard for me to move out. Not because of my wife but because of my
children. Now she is planning to rent an apartment. So after she moves out I
will move back with my children.
Dr. Sohail: What was the
worst thing happened before you moved out?
Salman: She made me
write a letter to her lover on face book the first day she came back because her
English was not very good. So I wrote a friendly letter for her to this guy. Now
I regret that I wrote the letter. That just shows you how much power she had
over me. Now I am out of the marriage. My lawyer is preparing a separation
agreement. I feel free and I am not controlled by her anymore.
Dr. Sohail: What is your
advice to other men who are in abusive relationships and are controlled by their
Salman: They need to see
a psychotherapist to get professional help and find ways to leave the trap. They
also need a circle of friends who will support them. Abusive wives isolate men
from their families and friends. Some men are so embarrassed that they keep the
abuse a secret and suffer for a long time. I was so lucky to get help. Now I
cannot believe that I stayed in that marriage for so long.
Dr. Sohail: Thank you
for sharing the story. I am hopeful it will help other men who are suffering. It
will inspire them to get help.
Salman: I do not have
words to thank you. I was at the end of a dangerous cliff when I came to see
you. You saved my life.
Dr. Sohail: You are more
than welcome. I am glad I could be of some help.
When I asked
these abused husbands why they stayed with their abusive wives for so long,
their responses were not much different than the responses of abused women. They
“ I loved her too much”
“I hoped she would
I could not leave my
It was not financially
feasible to have two households.”
“I believed I would not
find another woman.”
“I could not tell my
family and friends that I was abused.”
“I felt guilty as I am
“I would be a failure if
I left her.”
When one abused husband,
who left his abusive wife after a few months of therapy, was asked in group
therapy, ‘What changed during group therapy?” he responded, “Therapy helped me
realize that my marriage failed, I did not fail.”