"My husband couldn't hold down a job, and treated me like an ATM." - Kaye*, 33 project manager.
“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 short-term 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 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 know 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.”
"He was manipulative and I didn't realise it" - Veronica*, 31, sales agent
“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 bough 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 home, 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 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.”
Why women stick it out
Women give a bad relationship a second chance for many reasons, and one of these might simply be low self-esteem. “In dysfunctional relationships, a person tends to have an underlying insecurity of wondering if she is deserving of live,” says Neo Eng Chuan, principal psychologist at Caperspring. In Veronica and Dave’s case, the fact tat he was so affectionate and attentive in the early days of their relatiionship doesn’t help. “When a partner responds in a way that makes this person feel like she is desired, it’s overwhelming. It becomes unthinkable to pull away.” adds Eng Chuan. Add that to Veronica’s history of dating men who treat her badly, and Dave’s attention would have been a welcome salve to her wounds.
Eng Chuan also suggest that women like Veronica “place a very high value on committed high value on committed relationships, and believe that there is nothing that can’t be worked out.” Such women might also be anchored in the belief that if they keep at it, things will improve. Joel Yang, psychologist and founder of Mind What Matters, says: “They feel that if they are consistent in their behaviour, and if they continually try to be a good wife to their husband, things will get better.”
The fear of losing years, effort and money when ditching a relationship is another major factor why some women give their men a second chance, adds Eng Chuan. This might be the case for someone like Kaye – whose years of unrequited feelings for Kyle before they got married added up to almost a decade’s worth of emotional investment.
Then there’s the fear of being accused of not being a good-enough partner. Whether it’s Veronica telling Dave he should stop redecorating, or Kaye making Kyle pay for his share of the bills, Eng Chuan makes the point that putting a foot down might pave the way for emotional blackmail. “No one wants to be accused of not being a good wife, and to hear statements like ‘You can help me, but you are not willing,” he says.
And perhaps the most compelling reason why these women stay is the idea of “Learned helplessness” – where no change happens despite them voicing their desire for certain things to be fixed. Maybe their husbands make excuses, promise to put in more effort (then promptly forget about it), or just ignore their wives’ unhappiness. “These women end up feeling that whatever they say does not matter because they have already told their partner their behaviour is not okay – but no real change happens,” points out Joel. The result of that is a resigned acceptance that this less-than-ideal situation is their lot in life.
*Names have been changed
Text: Clara How/Herworld