I have been in an abusive relationship for 5 years. My husband cheated on me, neglects me and beats our child. He has started improving a little bit, but I am going through severe depression and panic attacks because of his behaviour. He blames me for what I am going through. Everyone says I’m being ungrateful. Would it be a good idea to leave or shall I wait to see if he changes?– Anonymous
I got married in 2015 and live in India. On our wedding night, my husband didn’t even talk to me. He said he was exhausted and wanted to sleep but he was on his phone all night. The next night, I tried to talk to him again, but it was the same thing.
I asked him what his problem was, and he said he needed some time as he was not ready for marriage. He said his parents forced him to get married. I gave him some space. The only time he would be with me was in bed and he would never pay attention to me or even speak to me after.
Three months later, I discovered he was a porn addict. He watches porn and filthy movies a lot. He was always out and never spent time at home. I tried to speak to his family to learn more because he wouldn’t let me discuss anything with him. His sister said he’s always been like this and they knew he was behaving wrongly. His family encouraged me to have kids, they said that men will be responsible once they have a family.
In the third month after marriage, I got pregnant. I found out the truth about his past in the fourth month: he was in a relationship before we got married and he was still speaking to the same woman! He wanted to marry her instead, but she was not Indian or Muslim.
Every time I tried to talk to him, he blamed me for his mistakes and got angry at me for looking at his phone. His parents also supported him and told me I was ungrateful because he did help with the kids sometimes.
We have two children and he never took care of me during my pregnancy and whenever I get sick. He beats up my eldest child when he throws tantrums. Last year, I caught him talking to another woman and he threw me out of the house. Since then, I don’t say anything to him anymore.
Now we have been married for 5 years and I have asked my parents multiple times to help me leave but they have refused because they said the kids will suffer. Since I’ve stopped saying anything to him, his behaviour has improved. He is more tolerant towards the kids and has started taking them out. He will take the kids to his parents’ place when I want to nap, before he would never let me even lie down.
But now I am done with him, I don’t feel anything for him. I have done everything I can and gave him everything, but he cheated and was busy in his own world. Whenever I question him about these activities, he says that he is like this — I can leave or stay. I told him the only reason I am with him is the kids. He hasn’t been so bad since then, but still here and there the insults go on. I am suffering from severe depression and going through panic attacks because of him. I am really confused; everyone says I am being ungrateful for wanting to leave now that he is changing.
However, because of the severe effects on my mental health my family is willing to help me now. I want to leave, but because the kids are attached to him, I’m not sure. After putting effort in for years maybe things can change and is it really worth the chance? Would it be a good idea to leave or shall I wait to see if he changes?
You clearly have been going through something extremely hard and I have a feeling that what you have told me is not even half of it. Before I get into this, I want you to know that your feelings are valid and your problems are not your fault. It sounds like you have tried hard to make your relationship and family work, but you have been opposed at every opportunity. I am sorry you are going through this; it is a very difficult situation.
Despite all your problems and the clear mistreatment you have been experiencing, your in laws and family have called you ungrateful. Unfortunately, in many cultures and toxic families, if you experience mental health problems or express a desire to do something that they don’t approve of, you are called ungrateful. No matter what your circumstances, you are expected to be happy with a roof over your head and a husband by your side — no matter what that husband is like.
This is a harmful way of thinking and can be very damaging to a person’s mental health. I wrote more about this in my post on mental health in the Muslim community. In my experience, when people say that they are depressed, so many people will tell them to pray and read more Quran. Be grateful for what they have. While that is not wrong, it is not enough. The situation will not change unless some action is taken.
Take care of yourself
With regards to your mental health, I think you would benefit very much from therapy. Especially in relation to your panic attacks. I am not sure how accessible that is to you, but you are experiencing a very difficult situation — whether you stay in this marriage or not. It’s important for you and your children that you maintain your mental health to get through this time in your life. You need as much support as possible.
But I understand that not everyone has access to mental health services. If you are not able to find therapy, try to build techniques and healthy coping mechanisms in your life that will help you get through this situation. Read what you can on depression and anxiety, the more you understand and learn about coping mechanisms, the better you will feel.
You need to take care of yourself in whatever ways you can; it is not selfish to feel the way that you do. Most people would not have been able to deal with this abusive and toxic behaviour, so well done for keeping things together for so long. You are not ungrateful, you deserve a happy life where you are loved and respected.
In terms of your marriage, no one can tell you what to do. You know yourself and your situation best and only you can make the right choice for yourself. What I can tell you is that your husband’s behaviour is unacceptable and extremely toxic. If you haven’t read my post on toxic relationships already, I would suggest you have a look. I think you will see quite a few of them in your relationship.
It is unfair that his parents forced him to marry and this is a problem that is really common in Muslim communities. Parents pressure their children to marry people they don’t want and are denied marriage to the people they actually want to get married to. However, that does not excuse his behaviour towards you and the abuse he is carrying out on his family. He has a duty towards you and your children as husband and father. You have been fulfilling your duty towards him despite what he has put you through.
Will he change?
The main issue from my perspective here is: will he change? You are having second thoughts now because he has improved. But are these improvements good enough? He is spending more time with his children — I would say that is one of his main jobs as a father. This is something basic that he should have been doing already. Has he stopped hurting your kids? Is he treating you better? Has he shown he wants to fix your relationship?
The porn addiction and cheating are also concerning. I am not going to look at it from an Islamic perspective, as I think it goes without saying. Sinful or not, excess consumption of porn can really ruin a relationship. Over the years, it seems to have been become more of an issue between married couples (from my experience).
I don’t know what his level of consumption of pornographic material is or whether he is actually addicted, but excess consumption of pornography can be harmful to a person’s health while also harmful to a relationship. If he actually has an addiction, he needs treatment for that or will need to find a way to deal with it. This is something that upsets you and a boundary that he needs to stop crossing. He has disrespected you time and time again.
What about the cheating? Whether he was cheating physically or not, it seems you have caught him carrying on a relationship with his previous girlfriend. Again, another sign of disrespect and toxicity. However, I used to think that if cheating occurs in a relationship, the relationship should end. I thought that cheaters could never change. But this is not true, I believe everyone is capable of change. That is: if they want to change and if they are willing to put in the effort. You can assume most people won’t change unless they show a real commitment to make a change. Is he willing to end the relationship and stop talking to other women?
The main question as I said above is: is your husband willing to make the effort and repair the marriage? Marriages can survive cheating and infidelity. However, for the marriage to survive the cheater must be open, honest and willing to rebuild the trust and work on themselves (through therapy or other forms of self improvement). The injured party must also be willing to forgive and to salvage the marriage. Marriage therapy can be really helpful in situations like these, but both parties must want to make the relationship work.
Your husband has to start by taking responsibility for the harm he has caused you. He cannot continue to gaslight you and blame you for the pain you are experiencing. Has he shown any signs of addressing your problems apart from maybe taking the kids out once in a while? Has he stopped hurting your eldest child? Has he apologised for his disrespect? Can you ever forgive him?
Things to consider
From what you’ve described, your husband sounds toxic. It sounds like he is not willing to compromise and make you happy. The changes you mentioned seem very small and the damage he has done can never be repaired. But I don’t know him and he may very well be trying to change, change does take time.
Before making a decision, it may be helpful for you to have a serious conversation with him (if this is possible). Tell him everything you have written here and tell him how you feel. Find out if he is willing to become a better man and husband. Ask him if he is willing to change and work on your marriage and to stop the abuse. That conversation should give you the answer you need.
How a toxic marriage can affect a family
You probably already know this, but there are studies that confirm remaining in an unhappy marriage can affect children negatively. Sometimes more so than a separation. Conflict in a marriage is linked with a lot of negative outcomes in children. Both internal (anxiety, depression) and external (aggression, “acting out”). They also perform poorer academically and do not develop strong interpersonal skills. A toxic relationship can also affect your own health. Being in a state of constant stress and depression is very bad for a person’s health and can actually shorten your lifespan.
Separation will be difficult for you and your children, so of course you need to consider the position carefully before deciding. Make a list of every pro and con of the relationship. What are good reasons to stay in the marriage and what are good reasons to leave? Think about your kids, are they growing up in a healthy household? Will they be more harmed if you stay married or if you leave? Can you eventually be happy with your husband if he changes? Think about how sustainable the situation is — can you live like this until your children grow up?
Whatever you decide, make sure you get as much support as possible. Talk to your family and tell them what you need. If you have any friends you can speak to, reach out to them. Having a strong support system is really important in times like these. Whatever you can do to support yourself, do it. Make sure you are practicing self care. Have a look at my posts on self care and managing anxiety. Do what you can to take care of yourself and your mental state, especially if you don’t have access to therapy.
Worship as self care
As I mentioned above, along with everything else that you are doing, don’t forget to keep praying. Faith can really help especially in times like these and when you are unsure what to do. I always suggest if people are facing a big decision that they are confused about is to pray istikhara. I’m sure people have told you this already, but I thought it would be good to mention this for others who may be reading. Worship is also a form of self care. Keep your faith in Allah and trust that He will help. When I am going through a difficult time, I try to remember this aya:
And whoever puts their trust in Allah, then He alone is sufficient for him (65:3)
You know what is best
In any event, whatever path you take, do not feel ashamed. Do what is right for you and your children. Other people may make you feel bad, but you know what is best for your family. Think about what you really want — if you could have a magic wand to change your situation, what would you change?
If you do want to leave, make sure you prepare yourself and you plan. It’s important that you build a strong support system and have a plan to make the transition as smooth as possible. There are a lot of resources out there, perhaps even some organisations you can contact locally.
If you decide to stay, also make a plan and set some boundaries. What kind of life do you want for you and your kids? What can be changed to make things better?
At the end of the day, a healthy family needs a healthy marriage. A healthy marriage requires mutual respect, love and trust. It is possible to build this into a relationship, but it needs a lot of strength, time, patience, generosity and kindness from both parties. Do you think your relationship can be repaired?
Anonymous, I hope you know things will get better. You have made it so far and you can get through this. I know you are in a lot of pain and it seems like it won’t end but it will one day, inshallah. You sound like a really strong person who loves her family and is doing her best. You deserve a happy life and a loving home. I pray you find it.
I’ll leave you with a toxic relationship quote or, actually, just a general relationship quote that applies to most of everything (and a good one to keep in mind):
“The moment that you start to wonder if you deserve better, you do”
I wish you all the best.
Until next time,