WHY WOMEN STAY IN BAD RELATIONSHIPS
Are they suckers for punishment? We ask women who stuck it out.
“My husband couldn’t hold downa job, and treated me like an ATM” – Kaye*, 33, project manager
“He was manipulative and I didn’t realise it” – Veronica*, 31, sales agent
“Here’s the thing about me: When I like someone, the logical part of my brain shuts down, and I become blind to red flags. I think that’s why I stayed with my lazy, ineffectual husband for as long as I did.
Kyle* and I met when I was just 21. He was charismatic, confident and good-looking, and I was attracted to him. But for a long time, our relationship stayed platonic as he didn’t seem keen. To my surprise, he made the first move after things didn’t work out with his then-girlfriend. We dated for three years, and got married when I was 27.
Kyle had big dreams of being his own boss. He tried to open a company, but things never took off. So he resorted to shortterm projects to get by. His finances were erratic, and borrowing money from me became the norm. But I was so trusting, and loved him so much, that I believed him when he said he would pay me back.
I ran the household and covered all our expenses and the mortgage. He never made monthly contributions, and when we got our flat, my input was vastly disproportionate (I paid $150,000, he put in just $17,000). Whenever money came in from his work stints, he would spend it freely. In fact, he spent money so freely that I had a $20,000 credit card debt at one point. Occasionally, he would buy me gifts, but they were never anything that I truly liked or wanted.
And that was another major thing. Aside from his irresponsibility with money, he didn’t put any effort into our marriage. He never helped with the housework even though he was at home all day, insisted we get a second dog despite my objections, and even the small things – like carrying grocery bags into the house – were too much effort for him. He also showed no interest in remembering the things I liked. Once, when I was ill, he bought me fishball noodles for breakfast, even though it was a dish I hated and would never order. I gently corrected him and told him what I preferred, but the next day, the same noodles appeared again. When I asked why he was so thoughtless, he blamed the hawker instead, insisting that the latter had got the order wrong.
I tried to tell myself it didn’t matter that my husband didn’t know what I liked. There was plenty of time for us to get closer. But I realised how wrong I was when a friend whom I had only known for a couple of months nailed a present she got me – a wallet that was the exact brand, style and colour I liked, without me having to say a word. That made me realise it was not about the length of time you’ve known someone, but how much effort you put into understanding what makes them tick.
After six years of tolerating his bad habits and with little hope of things getting better, I was at the end of my tether. I looked haggard, I cried every night, and felt so burdened. By September 2016, I gave him an ultimatum: He had six months to clean up his act, and in that time, we would move into separate rooms. Despite this, nothing changed. In fact, I discovered that he had blocked my parents’ numbers and changed my contact name in his phone to ‘Ex-Wife’ (we shared an iTunes account, and changes in one phone book can be seen on the other person’s phone). Even so, I still made the effort to take him out bowling and for a meal on his birthday. But when my birthday came, not only did he not bother to plan anything, he even picked a fight with me in front of my mother.
After more fights over Christmas and Chinese New Year, it was clear that my ultimatum had had little impact on him. In May last year, I asked for a separation and for him to move out. I’m relieved that I made that decision. Since we separated, I feel I’m back to the fun-loving, outgoing person I once was. I go on solo trips and spend more time with my family. I’m now saving up to open a cafe of my own – this dream was put on hold for years because Kyle squandered all my savings. I still hope to get married again and start a family.
I see now that I completely let myself down by staying with Kyle. It took me a long time, but now I understand that it’s okay to love yourself and put your needs first. It doesn’t make you a selfish person.”
“My husband proposed after just three months of dating. When we first met, I was 25 years old and had come off the back of a physically abusive relationship. In contrast, Dave* treated me like a princess. Finally, here’s a good guy, I thought. Even so, the speed of the proposal shocked me, so I didn’t take it seriously at first. But it wasn’t a joke to him, and he began to talk about us having a baby together. Reassuring me that our unprotected sex was safe (I naively believed him when he said he had calculated my fertility periods – looking back, I obviously trusted him more than I should have), I eventually became pregnant. He was thrilled, but I was devastated. I come from a very traditional family, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to explain this to my parents. Despite his protests, I scheduled an abortion, but before the appointment could come around, I miscarried.
The miscarriage was traumatic. I lost so much blood that at one point, I started hallucinating. Dave and his dad took me to the hospital after I fainted in the toilet at his house, and when I woke up after surgery, Dave proposed
again. I know it sounds crazy, but I accepted. Even though he had got me pregnant, I was touched by how devoted he was during the miscarriage. He did not leave my side, and even helped to clean me up, without caring if he got his hands messy with blood.
While recovering after I was discharged from hospital, Dave and I started looking at homes. But he would pick properties that were way out of our budget – while I’d lived in HDB flats my whole life, he was accustomed to living comfortably in landed property. He even made comments like: ‘If we have to stay in an HDB flat, then I’ll have to get a country club membership.’ He said such things even though he was only holding down a part-time sales job. In the end, we compromised. We chose an Executive Condominium within our price range, and bought it in six months.
Even before we got married, I sensed a change in him. In the beginning of the relationship, he was attentive and affectionate. We would sit on his porch and talk for hours about our hopes for the future. But after the engagement, he started to become a different person. Instead of spending quality time together, he would take me furniture shopping on my days off – which I found ridiculous as we hadn’t even moved into our home.
Though his behaviour set off alarm bells, I still married him. I think it was partly down to the fact that we had bought a flat, and that I’m very loyal – almost to a fault, according to my friends. It also didn’t help that there was so much on my mind – recuperating from the miscarriage, house-hunting, and then planning the wedding. Life was so hectic that I didn’t take the time to pay attention to all the little ways he was changing. I convinced myself that things weren’t so bad, and I could still make it work. There was time for him to change.
But after we got married, the problems became clearer. In the three years of our marriage, I felt so lonely. At the time, I frequently travelled for work, so I would normally look forward to coming home. But after getting married, it was the opposite. I felt lonely in my own home even when he was there with me. When I tried to initiate conversation, he ignored me and turned his attention to his laptop instead. Our sex life was almost non-existent. The few times it did happen, it was perfunctory. This cost me my confidence. I couldn’t recognise the man who had been so devoted to me when we’d started dating.
We had many arguments about our flat. He was incredibly proud to be a home owner and constantly compared himself to his wealthy friends. He had all these material wants, and spoke of buying a Mercedes. Yet, he changed jobs six times in the three years we were married, which meant that I had to shoulder most of the expenses. It became an obsession, and he would make unnecessary cosmetic changes to our flat. I remember that at one point, I had just $500 in my account. Even then, he told me he had hired contractors to fix a mirror in our home – which I had to pay for. It was incredibly frustrating.
Towards the end of our marriage, my love for him dwindled. When he finally got a stable job and started travelling frequently for work, it crossed my mind that he might have a mistress, but it was telling that I didn’t even feel any jealousy. The last straw came when we had an argument and he grabbed my arm in anger. My mum was there and witnessed for the first time how he was treating me. She encouraged me to leave him, saying she feared for my safety and that he wasn’t treating me right.
When I told my husband I was divorcing him, his first reaction was to look around the flat for a long time. It was clear that his immediate concern was losing the property that he loved and was so proud of. He cried when I moved out, but I could tell they were crocodile tears. I’d stayed in the marriage because I had thought that as a wife, I should try to do my best by him. With hindsight, I was too giving. I tried my hardest to support him, but it only enabled his behaviour.
It’s been four years since we split, and I’m counting down till we reach the Minimum Occupation Period of five years so that we can sell the flat. I believe that a couple needs to help each other become better people. But my ex taught me only about material desires. Before I met him, I’d led a simple life and didn’t think of the cars and watches he was obsessed with. The silver lining is that I’ve become more resilient, and more financially responsible.
I’ve left my previous job and now work in retail, in an area I always wanted to go into. When we were married, Dave had deterred me from this because it would mean an unstable income. Now that I’m calling the shots in my life, my self-esteem is back, and I’m more independent. I don’t need to depend on anyone else.”
“I can’t leave my boyfriend – even though he’s been to jail twice” – Jasmine*, 26, admin assistant
“My boyfriend is the only man I’ve ever been in a serious relationship with. We met when I was 16 and he was 17, and we’ve been together for nine years. It sounds romantic, but our story is far from a fairy tale.
As a teenager, Ron* was always in trouble. He drank, smoked, and got into fights. Four years into our relationship, things between us were strained. Ron spent a lot of time with his friends, and I was tired of never being first in his life. When he was arrested and sentenced to jail for his gang activities, I thought that was it. It was time for me to move on and see other people, and that’s what I did.
But when Ron was released after five months, he fought hard to get me back, constantly reaching out to me and promising that he would treat me right this time round. In the end, I broke things off with another guy I was seeing at the time. During the year that I took to get over the relationship, Ron continued to contact me. I was eventually won over by his effort and patience, so I agreed to give things another go. I figured that I’d reached the point where I would never be as comfortable with anyone else as I was with him. Things were far from smooth sailing, and we continued to have fights and misunderstandings, but we always found our way back to each other. Ron often told me that he would never find someone better than me.
When Ron was arrested again last year for a drug offence, I was shocked and disappointed. I had no idea that he had been using drugs. He was in prison for six months, and is currently in a halfway house, where he will have to stay for another six months. My friends and family have been telling me that I need to leave him, but I feel that I can’t abandon him. After all, Ron’s parents divorced while he was in prison, sold the house, and now his mother lives in a shelter. That means he won’t even have a home to go to when he leaves the halfway house. His friends have deserted him. He has nothing and no one left, except me.
I’m hoping this will be a turning point for him, and he will understand that he has to be a responsible adult, get a stable job to support his fractured family, and stop taking things for granted. I know he is determined to turn his life around, and I truly believe the new Ron is worth the wait. I’ve also told him that he needs to prove that he can provide for us – if not, there’s no future for us. I admit that I’d rather be with a man who is motivated by my love, rather than someone who is already rich and successful.
Of course I am aware that my relationship with Ron is far from ideal. And there’s no guarantee that he will not lapse into his old ways. But I’ve made the decision to stick it out with him. I can’t explain it other than to say that I love him, and I’m certain he loves me too. And at the end of the day I believe if there’s a hope that you can work things out together, then you should.”
*Names have been changed.
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