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ABUSED HUSBANDS

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.

        Alongside 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 families.

        The abused 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”

                DR 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 that time.

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 guard down.

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 things?

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 abusive incident?

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 clinic.

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 wives?

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 said,

“ I loved her too much”

“I hoped she would change.”

I could not leave my children.”

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 quite religious.”

“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.”