'My husband abused me for years. But when I cheated, society turned its back on me'
One woman, on her road to recovery, shares her experience with abuse, infidelity, being alienated from her children, and her struggle with mental health
When I was 19, I fell deeply in love. And much like a Bollywood movie, we had to fight to be together.
My parents hadn’t heard the best things about my then-boyfriend’s mother, and were afraid to send their daughter to a home where she won’t be treated right. I even had a run-in with her before I got married, and we broke up for a while. But *Karan convinced me that he would stand by me, and “I am marrying him, not his family”. So, we got married in 1999, and moved to Dubai in 2000.
The emotional abuse started soon after. One instant – he was throwing plates, and even smashed a ketchup bottle because I wouldn’t apologise after having an argument. He was livid, but I refused to budge. I had done nothing wrong. But when he threatened to call my father, and tell him how useless his daughter was, I gave in.
To an extent, aggression and conflict was the norm to me. Living in a joint family, my father and his brothers would often be at loggerheads, leading to aggression and fights. I’ve also witnessed my mother being verbally abused by my grandparents.
Gradually, my husband’s controlling nature showed up even when we’d go out with friends. Seeing the red flags, they would urge me to stand up to him. But ever since I was a child, my response to aggression, violence, and conflict has always been clamping up and shutting down. So I became submissive.
When we became parents, his behaviour took a turn for the worse. From controlling how I spent my salary, he now began interfering in things like when I’d go to the salon. “Weekend is the only time you have to spend with the kids, and you want to spend it there?” he’d ask, though I probably only went to the salon once a month. It became such a point of contention that I started colouring my hair at home.
With conflicts about how to parent, the verbal and emotional abuse became more frequent. He pushed and slapped me when things became heated, it was rare, but it did happen. Thankfully, the children weren’t subject to the physical abuse.
Why didn’t I walk out? Because divorce wasn’t an option for me. I had fallen in love with this man, and fought to be with him. I thought I could make it work, but gradually, all of this started taking a huge toll on me.
Being yelled at constantly, being told I was a bad mother, and how I was stupid and didn’t deserve professional respect, I began to feel more alone than ever. I began cheating on Karan.
I craved for affection that my marriage didn’t offer, and that’s the need that these relationships satisfied. It felt good to be respected and loved again. Every single time I was in a relationship with a man, I fell in love. When it would end, I’d be left heartbroken again.
I recognise that I was wrong, cheating wasn’t a solution. I didn’t have the courage to do the right thing.
When my husband found out about my extramarital affairs, the abuse became worse than ever before. He would lock me in the bathroom for hours, and interrogate me about the men I had been with. And I, too. was riddled with guilt. I had caused him so much hurt and strain, that I was more determined than ever to fix things.
But as the news of me cheating on Karan spread, I was alienated. People began cancelling play dates with our kids. And their behaviour towards me changed visibly. Society is very unforgiving when a woman does something wrong. It doesn’t have the same standards for men. It took people no time to point fingers and turn their backs on me, but when I would tell some friends and Karan’s family about the abuse, they didn’t believe me.
Things got so bad, that at one point, I was lying in bed, and he was on my chest with a knife in his hand. That’s when I finally confided in my family about the abuse. My parents took me away for a bit. But when I felt better, against everyone’s advice, I decided to return to save the marriage. I didn’t want my kids to have a broken home.
I quit my job to work on our marriage. At the same time, Karan got diagnosed with cancer. After his diagnosis, I stopped fighting back entirely. But that took a major toll on my mental health. I was suicidal, began self-harming, and my anxiety got so bad that I started having panic attacks and seizures. My speech was affected, and I’d begin to stammer.
My brother flew down to Dubai on the pretext of getting me treated, but actually to take me away from the abuse. I didn’t leave till Karan’s chemotherapy was over, and all his scans were clear.
After I came to Mumbai, I brought up divorce with my husband, and that’s when he began trying to cut all communication between my children and I. They are just 12 and 13, and don’t have their own cell phones, so my only way of contacting them is through landline or via email, which they can access on their iPads. My calls get disconnected and when I asked my children if they received my emails, they’d deny seeing them.
My daughter doesn’t want to talk to me anymore. She has begun hating things about herself that people say she got from me.
This Mother’s Day was particularly bad, so I sent my husband a message on Whatsapp asking him if I could talk to my children. He let me speak to them for all of one minute, but once we hung up, he blocked me on Whatsapp. My husband doesn’t realise that what he’s doing is called parental alienation, and it can badly affect our children’s mental health.
As for me, I have been working on getting better since I came back in 2019. Because of the stress and anxiety that came with the abuse and the guilt of cheating, I had begun to dissociate with reality and even had moments where I couldn’t remember what happened.
But today, therapy, medication, art, and Buddhism are helping me take one day at a time. I have recently begun to seek legal help as well, which will hopefully unite me with my kids.
For now, I am happy knowing that my kids are healthy and safe, and with each passing day, I’m trying to forgive myself for what I did, and also working towards standing up for myself.
I’m still struggling to face the world. I wonder what they think about me and my infidelity, and if the world will be as unkind to me as my husband and his friends were, or will they try to understand and give me a second chance at life.
*Name changed to protect privacy
– As told to Nikhita Arora