I am not a perfect wife. I try to be one. I learnt to cook, I looked after our children, I catered to his every need. But still, I’m not good enough. My former husband – let’s just call him Zack – was unforgiving. He would pick every single fault of mine and he would belittle me as his wife. The sad thing is, I believed him. I believed that I am useless, that I must be a better wife. But I did not know what else I should do. Did I not feed the children, do the laundry, iron his clothes, clean the house and attended to his sexual needs? I was even silent every time he raised his voice. I am what you would call “isteri yang taat” or an “obedient wife”.
Zack, despite his high education (he holds a Master’s degree), is still very much a traditional man who believes that a woman’s place is at home. He sees himself as the “raja di rumah” (king in the house) and expected me to serve him dutifully. Whenever he returned from work, he would expect dinner to be ready and served. He kept telling me to dress nicely to receive him at home. And he would make hurtful comments at times that lowered my self-esteem. “Go and exercise, you are gaining weight!”; “You smell of grease, go and bathe!”; “Why are you not smiling at your husband?”; “Don’t let me say the talaq (utterance of divorce)!” – these words were really hurtful. Especially the threat of divorce.
I was afraid of divorce because I would not want to lose custody of my two children. Besides, he would be able to hire a lawyer to say that I had been a rebellious wife. He would say things like “Jangan jadi isteri yang nushuz!” I had no idea what nushuz is, but I learnt from listening to ceramah agama (religious lectures) that it means rebellious. A rebellious wife will not enter heaven. But what I was going through was hell. I kept telling myself to be patient in order to enter heaven in akhirat (the otherworld).
And so, I hung to the hope of heaven and I tolerated my condition in order to not lose my children. But deep down, I was suffering. Zack did not harm me physically. But he caused a lot of emotional pain and trauma through his words. He treated me like a slave and not his own wife. He was not like this in our early years of marriage. But he changed about 5 years ago. He started to be controlling and less caring. Was it me who caused his behaviour to change? I don’t know.
Zack kept telling me that heaven lies at the feet of the husband. He said Islam demands that a wife submits to her husband. I was confused. He was not religious. In fact, he seldom prays at all. But he kept saying “Islam kata” (Islam says). I do not know where he gets these ideas. But I was not able to refute him. If Islam says so, who am I to dispute? If he is lying, God will punish him. So, I kept quiet and did not dispute his words. We hardly talk to each other like normal husbands and wives. We would talk only when it comes to family issues like our children’s progress in school or when there is something he needs from me, like sex. Even then, he expected me to just listen and not contribute my ideas. I think he thinks lowly of me. After all, he is well-educated while I am only a housewife who knows nothing about the outside world. Well, to some extent, it’s true.
My whole world revolved around the house and our children. After we got married, I became a full-time homemaker. I had no friends – partly because Zack did not allow me to go out of the house to socialise. Eventually, I lost contact with my friends. I did not even have a Facebook account because Zack would not allow me to. I was living in a cocoon. And it was suffocating. But I adjusted. I wanted to be the perfect wife. My late mother used to tell me that my husband is my imam (leader of the family). My role is to obey and follow.
Last year, I found out that Zack had an affair with another woman in his workplace. It hurt me a lot. I felt betrayed. I had been an obedient and dutiful wife to him. Yet, he was philandering outside. It occurred to me that I had been naïve all along. Zack admitted to the affair only after I confronted him. I had accidentally seen his text messages on his handphone. At first, he was denying it and scolded me for checking on his messages. Again, he accused me of being a bad wife. I cried for days after that and refused to cook or iron his clothes. In his feeble attempt to make peace with me, he admitted to his affair. It caused my world to crumble.
After Zack’s admission, I got in touch with an old friend of mine. I cried on her shoulder. She advised me to seek help from an Ustaz. I was reluctant at first but I eventually met the Ustaz. He was kind and explained how Zack had been abusing religious concepts like nushuz. The Ustaz also explained that while Islam acknowledges the role of the husband as the head of the family, the religion also demands that a husband performs his responsibility. Marriage is not one of domination but must be based on love and compassion. I was relieved to hear all this. I realised that Zack had been manipulating my emotions all this while. And he was using religion to make sure that I obey his whims and fancies while he leads a life of freedom outside our marital home.
My friend assisted me in speaking to a marriage counsellor. Eventually, I found the courage to file for a divorce. Thankfully, my two children chose to live with me and Zack did not contest for their custody. I found out that he had plans to marry the woman that he had an affair with. I found it in my heart to forgive him. But the pain of living in hell with the promise of heaven kept haunting me till today. I have to tell myself to remain strong. I find solace by attending regular religious classes now. “God will not change our condition until we change ourselves,” my Ustaz reminded me. I am determined to live a happy life. God wants me to be happy. And I must continue to pursue that happiness here on earth as well as in the hereafter.