Why won’t she leave him?
November 21, 2016
I woke up to frantic messages from her. Same old. He had called her a whore. Again. He would beat the pulp out of her. He would f*** her mom too, while he was at it.
“What do I do, Ifath?”
I almost wanted to howl with frustration. It’s not like this was the first time I’d woken up to a series of agitated texts from her. It’s not like this was the first time she’d told me that he swore at her every opportunity he got. It’s not like this was the first time he had insulted her. It’s not like this was the first time she had told me he cracked jokes about her dark skin tone and complained to his friends about having a “black” wife. It’s not like his family hadn’t harassed her and threatened to burn her passport so she couldn’t fly back to Qatar to her family.
It’s just that I was confused. Last night, in a fit of anguish, she had told me she wouldn’t talk to him again. That she was done. This was it – the last straw. She was out of this relationship. She was going to speak to her parents and get a divorce. She wasn’t going to let him get away with this behavior.
But she did. Over and over again.
It’s not her fault that she still loves him. It’s not her fault that she relents to his tender apologies and passionate declarations of love after his lengthy durations of vile and outrageous remarks. It’s not her fault that she believes him when he convinces her that he only abuses her because she’s an immoral wife. It’s not her fault. She didn’t know he would turn out this way.
When her parents began hunting for potential suitors for her, she was skeptical about the outcome. Until, in typical arranged marriage fashion, his parents sent a proposal to hers. They were looking for a daughter-in-law, and they thought 19-year-old Ayesha (name changed) would be the perfect match. When she started talking to him over the internet in an attempt to know him better, her initial uncertainty began to fade. He was honest, caring and respectful. And he slowly but surely became a crucial part of her life, someone who would bring her eternal happiness and fulfill her dream of being married to the quintessential knight in shining armor. He was who she wanted, who she thought of day in and day out, and who she would pray for in her darkest moments. So much so that she ignored her parents’ concerns about his lack of education and the incompatibility between their families. She also ignored the red flags: His unusual bursts of anger and the foul, derogatory language he used intermittently. So she implored and cajoled her parents into allowing her to get married to him.
Her marriage was like a dream. She sent me photographs of them gazing at each other, the happy large family photo, the groom carrying the bride photo, the first date photo, and the romantic bike rides around Mumbai photos. I was elated. My friend, who had battled depression and anxiety ever since I’d met her in school seven years ago, was finally happy.
Or so it seemed.
Then those messages started. The ones where she told me her in-laws taunted her about her skin tone. The ones where she said her husband had stopped supporting her. The ones where she said it was a struggle to please her new family. And then the last message saying she could not stay in that house anymore. That she had to file a police complaint against them for harassing her, and that she had to come back to her own family in Qatar.
Initially, she refused to tell me what happened. She didn’t want to be one of those wives who gossip and defame their in-laws and husbands. She was hoping all these complications would go away and she could go back to her prince charming, who wasn’t so charming anymore, nor anything prince-like.
When he erased all her hopes of ever living a healthy marriage, she divulged her stories of emotional and psychological abuse to me. She told me of the times he’d secretly taken photos of her just to prove to her how “dark” she truly is, the times he’d call her father up and accuse him of being a pimp, of the times he’d accuse her of going back to Qatar just so she could sleep around with other men without him knowing. She told me of the times he’d ridicule her family, of the times he’d tell her she’d been a disappointment to every single person she’d ever cared for, of the times he’d send her “Islamic” videos of men telling women that they need to obey their husbands and never get upset even if they thrash, abuse, insult or disgrace them.
And you know what was the worst? That she thought he was right. That she thought that the meager amount of love he gave her was what she deserved. That she thought she deserved to be yelled at, that she deserved the profanity, that if she hadn’t become gloomy and distressed whenever he badmouthed her, her marriage wouldn’t have fallen apart. It was all her fault. Every little bit.
Not being able to help frustrates me. It hurts me that I can’t understand. I can’t understand how some women deal with so much turmoil but would still rather stay with their abusers. I can’t understand how they think the other person will change or that things will get better. I can’t understand how they don’t recognize the abuse. I can’t understand how these women still continue to love their abusers.
I am ignorant about these issues. I may never understand. I may never understand why Ayesha goes back on her word after making up her mind with so much determination the day before. I may never understand why she never listens to my advice after soliciting it every single day. I may never understand why she still hopes he will change, and that if she somehow magically “fixes” her appearance and her attitude, he will love her just like he allegedly used to before their marriage.
I have read studies that show some women do not leave because they are afraid of what the abuser will do to them if they do leave. Or because their abusers have made them needy, insecure and isolated from others. Or that they’ve seen other relationships in the past that were shaped by abuse, which makes them believe this is the norm. Or, like Ayesha, they love their partners and believe that they will change.
It helped me put Ayesha’s situation in context. It helped me to realize that I must be patient with Ayesha. That she will need my love and support in order to someday escape the abuse he inundates her with.
My phone buzzes relentlessly. “Ifath, I don’t know what to do.”
“He’s doing it again.”
“I need you to be there for me.”
I am there for you. I just wish that is enough for you.