Why does marriage equal compromise in Pakistan?

Published: October 27, 2014
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Would you rather spend the rest of your life in misery or would you demand that your mind and heart deserve happiness? PHOTO: FILE

I’m a 24-year-old woman and I am divorced. Yes, you heard right; I’m a 24-year-old divorced woman in a Pakistani society.

I got divorced because my husband was suffering from depression, was taking pills without any proper prescription due to which he also had erectile dysfunction. He insisted that his pride and ego were more important than getting treatment and ensuring a healthy marriage. When I tried explaining the benefits of acquiring treatment he became abusive, leaving me with no option but separation.

Our society, however, does not believe I made the right decision. Yes, it is easy to sit behind a computer screen, in the comfort of your own house and say society has progressed and we are more open to divorced women, but the reality is that we are not. Our society, whether we like to believe it or not, judges a woman for leaving her husband; no matter how ill or abusive he may have been. It believes that in order for a marriage to work a woman must consistently compromise on her life, her ideals, her aspirations and that’s okay. It is more than okay; in fact, it is the foundation upon which marriages in this part of the world seem to evolve and not being able to forge this level of ‘commitment’ (read compromise) is considered a sin.

The unfortunate bit is, despite the circumstances in which I left my husband and even though I had spent a large amount of time trying to make it work, asking him to get treatment and taking care of him, the blame for the failure of the marriage, for society at large, rested squarely on my shoulders. I was not informed about my ex-husband’s illness before marriage; neither him nor his family thought it important enough to be mentioned, yet I should have compromised? Yes, I understand that his parents could have been trying to protect him, but would they have done the same thing had their daughter been in my position? Did my parents not have the right to know? Do I not have the right to know what I am getting into? Why am I to be blamed?

Husbands’ have certain duties towards their wives too; marrying someone is not the equivalent to having a maid or personal assistant in the house. It is the ability to have, respect and love a friend who will now live with you forever. A person with whom you can share all your secrets, share your burdens, your happiness and sadness, and to know that this person, the one you chose to marry is your equal and will help you through life so long as you help them too. So then why does marriage equal compromise in Pakistan? Husbands are not ‘supposed’ to sit back and bark orders at their wives, they are not ‘supposed’ to use her body as a baby-making machine, they are not ‘supposed’ to tame her. She is a person too. And please do not tell me Islam has anything to do with our culturally-distorted version of marriage. Islam, on the contrary, teaches men to be respectful towards their wives, in every situation and circumstance.

He told me about his depression a week after we got married. I remember the way he had said it, he blurted it out in an extremely nonchalant, matter-of-fact kind of way, not realising the impact his words were having on me.

“I have had depression since the past eight years and I have been taking pills due to which I might not be able to consummate the marriage.”

When I asked him, with tears streaming down my face, why he didn’t tell me this before the marriage took place, all I got out of him was,

“I thought you would get angry at me.”

Angry at him? That is the reason I was given for not being told about something as big as this.

Throughout the short time that we were together, however betrayed I felt, I tried to get him to go to a psychiatrist. I tried everything, love, hate, anger, and I prayed to God all night to make my husband understand that I was not his enemy and that it is all for his own good, but every time I tried, I got only one answer,

“If you want to live with me, deal with me as I am, otherwise I can give you a divorce, and I will tell the world it is my fault.”

And it shocked me to my core every single time, because he talked about divorce like it was a walk in the park, like our bond didn’t matter, like he didn’t care if it did.

If this wasn’t bad enough, his mother obviously supported him and in an attempt to justify their silence stated, ignorantly, that ‘it really is no big deal’ and that ‘80% of the population is depressed anyway’. When I argued, I was blamed for not being a supportive wife and even ‘aggravating’ his condition. Since the conclusion of our marriage, my ex-mother-in-law hasn’t spared a single person from hearing the ‘heartbreaking tale of her son’s marriage to an unsupportive selfish girl, who was only after his money’.

Although, my family and close friends have been exceedingly supportive, there are still times that I’ll hear people whispering about me and my life; arguments about whether I did the right thing or not, and then harsh statements about how anyone ‘in their right minds would get separated over such a petty issue’. But I believe I speak for all women out there when I say it is not easy to be a divorced woman in a Pakistani society. It takes a lot of courage, strength and determination to stand up for your own rights, especially when it comes to marriage. A divorcee is not someone with a lot of ‘attitude’. She is not any ‘kind of person’ she is just a woman who is fed-up of being a door-mat. A divorce is not an easy process, emotionally, mentally or physically; don’t burden her with societal pressure too.

To all the people pointing fingers at divorced women, I say this, think about what would happen if your husband was abusive, if he made an unforgivable mistake or if he never cared for you. Would you spend the rest of your life in misery or would you demand that your mind and heart deserve happiness?

I believe they do. And I believe that no women should ever suffer, even the tiniest bit, for a man who does not care about her.

Natasha Khan

Natasha Khan

She aspires to be a writer someday and hopes to change the world through her words. Currently, she writes on human and women rights.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sara

    You are strong and amazing and beautiful. You did the write thing of getting out of this abusive relationship that was one-sided. InshaAllah you will find a partner who will be loving and supportive and your friend for a lifetime. You are young and have your whole life in front of you. Stay brave :)Recommend

  • zainab kahlon

    thanks for sharing..exactly the same happened with a best friend of mine.your blog will console herRecommend

  • TheStoryGoes

    This is sad -and it’s so freaking common! And it’s fed into the minds of little girls from a young age (women equals compromise. Divorce equals shame) that they grow up to be women who don’t know their worth, can’t muster the courage that you had to escape a marriage the way that you did. If only I could give you a supportive hug, I would. Stay strong, Natasha.Recommend

  • Hammad Mian

    After how long did you decide to give up the relationship ?Recommend

  • AAQ

    the thing is in our society a woman is judged by the ability to make her marriage work-bus thats what people think is the definition of a good woman and the most pathetic part is most of the time women themselves are making this judgement and judging other women and disparaging them for not making their marriage work! And then the same type of women brainwash their daughters into doing everything it takes to make their marriage work even if it involves letting go of your self-respect and thus the chain continues. Recommend

  • Natasha

    Firstly my ex did not just abuse me when I asked for treatment, it happened on a very regular basis. Secondly, it was not hitting rough patches, it is about the fact that he deliberately hid it and then would not get treatment. He was taking pills wasn’t he? He could have consulted a doctor before that, but he was taking them all the same. He was not even pining his hopes on the marriage, he told me numerous times how his mother made him marry me. I would have taken the blame, had I done something wrong. I would have at least married him on my terms had i known before, but you justifying it does not make sense, because you don’t know the abuse I went through, and saying abuse is normal is just the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. It was not about happiness, it’s about trust, love and sincerity. And it’s about men compromising just as much as women.Recommend

  • Dr kokub

    Hi Natasha
    Hatts off to u gal… ; the prb in ur case was dat k ur husband was nt agreeing to go a Dr….. Yes psychiatric illnesses r very common dese days but day r treatable too…. In our soo called educated n modern soceity dese prbs r stiill considered mythical n effects of super natural thgs….
    May u find the peace respect n success in life that u truly deserve
    Ameen
    Recommend

  • Nobody

    Nothing in our religion says anything about prioritizing the husband’s family over her own. That’s Southeast Asian cultural nonsense. My priority (after my own household) between the two homes will always be my parents just as I’d expect my future partner’s to be his (after his own home). Expecting this from girls/women is utter rubbish and further perpetuates the stereotype that the girls parents are essentially the subservient party in the equation. Not true and not okay.
    Cheers.Recommend

  • Huma Khan

    Natasha, you are a role model for all the women out there. You make women in Pakistan and even muslim girls settled abroad proud. thumbs up!!Recommend

  • Sparrow

    Spot On!Recommend

  • Mudassar Nawaz

    Brought moisture in my eyes ; how can am someone be so callous and asympathetic ? My sincere most prayers for you , I hope something good awaits you ahead in life ! Stay positive ! Recommend

  • Anonymous

    I can totally relate to your story. My cousin passed through the same phase but the difference is that the guy demanded haram means from the girl claiming that they are halal and not giving her physical right. She tried a lot for a sufficient period of time and than finally decided to part ways. But the guy’s family doesn’t agree to that. According to them their son is perfectly fine and blaming the girls mother for all of it.Recommend

  • Arooj Najmussaqib

    Natasha.. there is no harm in it. And you have nothing wrong. Infact its an honest decision of your life you have made. I congratulate you and support you fully. Respecting the relation is very much important by both persons. Single one cannot lag it till the end. Furthermore, I appreciate your right decision at RIGHT TIME, unfortunately, in Pakistan or in other countries as well, Women spent much of her early life trying to compromise. And when she realized that its of no use, then she is left with no option except to COMPROMISE.
    Stay blessed and remember life is beautiful and your Lord has given you the oppurtunity to live it with happiness.

    Arooj Najmussaqib
    Clinical PsychologistRecommend

  • Gp65

    The kind of women who outsource upbringing of their kids to ayahs would do so even if they stayed at home. They might then keep themselves busy with kitty parties. In any case neglecting children – whether you work outside the hme or not, is surely not something that anyone approves or appreciates. I would like to believe that such women must be in the minority in Pakistan just as they are in India.

    In US where I live and where ayahs are simply not an option for most, I see that most working mthers are also quite focused on their children’s upbringing.

    Recommend

  • Xyz

    So you think it is ok to deceive a person and ruin their life just to get what you want?Recommend

  • Xyz

    @Bob a person is willing to accept challenges, be supportive and loving through worst circumstances as long as the relationship is honest and based on trust. When one breaks that trust and indulges in deception then they cannot and should not expect love and support in exchange.Recommend

  • Xyz

    If the guy was impotent he should have told her the truth about his condition before the marriage. By hiding that he played a very cruel trick on her. She had every right to walk out on him. And then on top of that he abuses her when she asks him to find a solution to that?

    Whatever bad situation the guy may have been he had no right to drag her into that misery without even telling her so. That’s totally unfair and unjust. Why would she owe someone anything after he deceives her to be a part of something that she never agreed to?Recommend

  • Arsha

    It’s ok to divorce in any situation as long as it is transparent, fair, and unexploitative. What he did to her was exploitation pure and simple. People Divorce cause they fall out of love or the lose the mutual attraction or they can’t have kids etc etc
    I.e. They are unable to fulfill their aspirations from the marriage. I think all that is perfectly ok. We all have one life and we should get the best out of it but that does not mean you lie or deceive or abuse. That is totally not acceptable.Recommend

  • Ahmed

    By the way, all depressives do not suffer from erectile dysfunction neither are the same symptoms always found in one person. Some might over function even.Recommend

  • SN

    You don’t even get the point.

    She was betrayed, lied to, and the consequences of it were something she didn’t have to bear for 10-20 days, it was for her entire life!

    This is not merely a gender issue that men like you on this forum should take it to their ego. Its about being fair, open and truthful. You have NO right in this world to marry someone by deceiving them and no matter the justification you might give, if the foundation was based on a lie, you do not deserve good things to happen to you, regardless of your gender.

    The point is, she DESERVED to know.Recommend

  • Anshul

    It’s not courage. Men who are abusive or violent towards their wives or cheat in a relationship usually have low self esteem and deep insecurity. Also boys who grow up in abusive households are seen to repeat the same behaviour with their wives or children. A mature, secure man with high self esteem would not resort to lowering his own humanity by deceiving or victimising the physically weaker ones even in the middle of arguments or quarrels.Recommend

  • x

    That is entirely irrelevant. In any case, like she said a husband not disclosing his illness to wife prior to marriage is also wrong and for many, would be a deal breaker as well. What if you married someone who had cancer but did not tell you/?Recommend

  • x

    Please don’t ever justify yourself to anyone who has the audacity to say he only hit you when you asked him to get treatment but he wasn’t abusive in general. Some battles we can’t win and some mindsets we can not change. may you find the peace and happiness you deserve. Thanks for sharing your story, Prayers and love.Recommend

  • x

    I am from Pakistan. Even among our educated, well off, globe trotting families and even for educated, financially independent and liberated women, divorce is tossed around like a frisbee, an easy threat used to subdue women. My cousin and his mother emotionally and verbally abused his first wife and used divorce as a threat until one day he did divorce her, they did with that the second wife too. now he is on his third wife and the first time he screamed at her and threatened her with divorce she said “divorce me please. I am just 26, this is my first marriage but your third so if we get divorced, you are the one society will label not me”. These are the ‘victories’ women enjoy here. Or maybe this is how our men evolve, in their third marriages when they realise they too have their reputations at stake just like the wives they threatened did.Recommend

  • x

    Medicines are also used to mask symptoms temporarily even if the couple is speaking and meeting which they do in arranged marriages here.Recommend

  • Sabyasachi

    Natasha..rarely have I come across someone of your courage and conviction.Recommend

  • Maha Kamal

    Thank you for writing about this very important issue! Fully support your stand and want to salute you for your bravery. It’s not easy withstanding social pressures and writing about your experiences, but this is a conversation that definitely needs to be had in our country!Recommend

  • Hafsa

    I’m so sorry to hear what you went through, I think you made the right decision though. On a side note, is it possible that your ex-husband was addicted to watching online pornography? Erectile Disfunction is very uncommon in young men, it only happens when these men view online pornography. Also, depression is another result of being addicted to online porn.Recommend

  • _letmebefree__

    I am Pakistani, but live in the States. I think in the US, it is often beneficial for the kids to go to preschool. The kids here in preschool take music classes, play sports, learn Spanish, etc. and the workers are required to have certifications. Even though my mom was a stay-at-home mom, she would send me to preschool because staying at home all day with just one person is not good for social and speech development (we don’t have densely populated neighborhoods or cousins nearby for kids to play with). Kids are much happier in preschool, and this option enables a woman to work part-time or do a master’s degree while still being with her child most of the time.
    However, in Pakistan, the option of high-quality accredited childcare is not there and honestly, I would be really scared to leave my child with an ayah. All the ayahs I have seen are uneducated, speak a weird dialect, and don’t have the same ideas about childrearing. If I was to work 9-5 in Pk, I would be really concerned about the quality of my kids upbringing in their formative years.

    Unfortunately, this puts many women in a bad position because: a. their higher education gets completely wasted and b. since they are so financially dependent on their husbands, there is more pressure for them to sacrifice no matter what. I am guessing that the poster is from a wealthy family where her coming back is not a huge financial burden, but when you think that the average Pakistani makes $2/day, it totally makes sense that marriage equals complete submission in Pakistan (and any other country with the same situation).Recommend

  • _letmebefree__

    hey Natasha, you are still young especially in the expat Pakistani world where girls tend to get married around 26/27. You are lucky this did not happen ten years later, where you would have the additional worry of declining fertility, “market value”, etc. You are still young and you can still change the story in the remaining pages of your book. I am 30 years old, single, I do look way younger and get rishtas from people 25ish but you know, even in the most liberal countries, the truth is that every single culture does prefer a younger woman. I wish I had taken advantage of this right out of university. The fact is that a younger woman does have a greater quantity and usually quality of choices than an older woman. So don’t dwell on the past, toss his memories in a closet, and step forward with a renewed zeal. I hope in the next sixty months, you can settle your life and find happiness again.Recommend

  • Maulana Maulvi

    Islam tells husbands to be kind to their wives, to give them their due rights. Shouting at one’s wife just because of depression is no excuse. Please do not listen to the society. You are a good and a brave woman. Please pray regularly and read how Islam guides people during such situations and trust me, you will feel satisfied. I am sure that you will find a way out, In sha Allah.Recommend

  • taq

    Many conservative mindsets will take it wrong, but you took good decision.Recommend

  • Hiba

    I am very very impressed by the decision you made and i cant express how happy i am to hear that women have started to take a stand for themselves and they realize their rights!!! You know what honestly i believe even if you stayed with him for his money EVEN THEN you werent the one to be blamed because its the husband’s responsibility to support his wife financially or any other manner. And it might sound very harsh to some people and most of them might disagree with me but if you wouldve used him for his money at least today you will be even more satisfied when people pointed finger at you because then you wouldve thought at least they are speaking the truth about me and their comment wouldnt burn your heart and fill you with grief. Such men really deserve such treatment. My father always say ‘evil in the society never ends until you work positively to stop it’. Burai ko jeb tek roka na jae teb tek burai nahi rukti. You and every woman in this world has a right to take her own decision and has a right to choose her path of happiness! The people who blame you or point fingers, you should go and ask them ‘were you here with me when i was with that guy and i wanted a shoulder to cry and share my grief or when i was sad?’

    Recommend

  • Adnan Mujib

    Hats off to you. May Allah bless you with beloved husband Ameen!Recommend

  • Momin

    Your decision was totally correct. The guy and his family are absurd! How is this fact “not a big deal”! Our society really needs a revamp! Inshallah all will work out.Recommend

  • faryal yousuf

    perfectly said thumbs upRecommend

  • Ahmed

    This is the exact story of my sister. The article and your comment are 100% perfect reflection of what happened to my sister. The fraudster was a Canadian citizen and some 32 years old when he married my sister. The man said he “never” knew he was impotent !! After one year of torture and torment, although he came to Pak for only 2-3 weeks in 12 months, we filed for Khula in the court but the smart trickster had a backup plan with Paki embassy in Toronto who provided him with a back-dated divorce deed for few hundred dollars to prove in the court that he already had divorced her.Recommend

  • SIDRA ZAHOOR

    You are such a brave soul…I can totally understand your pain and feeling that you have been through.
    Just one advise: Let go and move on in your life… Such person does not worth to be discussed.Recommend