Mistakes Early in Marriage Now Coming Back to Haunt

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Reader’s Question

My husband and I have been married for 1.5 years. We were married after a courtship process that is typical for our culture (we are Muslim) where we didn’t really get to know each other, but through a few talks we chose to marry anyway. Our life was absolutely perfect, however. We had our ups and downs, but it seemed like nothing could separate us.

In our cultures, men and woman don’t freely mingle. So having boyfriends or girlfriends is not accepted. Both my husband and I grew up in Canada but in very different environments. He was surrounded by people of the same religion, whereas there were few around me of the same ethnic background. My parents were religious, but I was exposed to other value systems. I eventually veered away from my formal belief system and entered into forbidden areas. I started dating, going behind my parents’ back and lying to them, and when I finally hit rock bottom with my troubled relationships, I turned back to exploring my faith. In the mean time a male friend of mine converted to Islam and in a childish fantasy, we entertained the thought of getting married. But I had already accepted marriage to my current husband whom I didn’t really know at that time. I wasn’t even planning on saying yes to my husband, but after seeing him and talking to him I began to feel something very pure for him. While this was happening, the young man who converted and with whom I had fantasized about marriage asked my dad for my hand and was respectably rejected. The times became confusing as my heart and logic went towards my husband and yet a girlish part of me didn’t want to tell the other guy off too suddenly or meanly. At the same time I still spoke with my first boyfriend and then over the first 4 months of my marriage. Looking back now, I don’t know why I did this. But during this time I also sent and saved emails to my convert friend and signed them with “love” although I didn’t really love him.

My husband left to study abroad only a week after we were legally married. But by that time, my love for him and my trust in his love was greater than anything I’d ever felt. A few months ago he found out about my old relationships by stumbling over old emails, and I told him everything. For the first few weeks it was off and on anger and love. We promised to start fresh, and we would be fine for a few days; then he would get angry again, and this would happen over and over again. I was feeling emotionally drained, and my husband decided to go to the doctor and was put on Celexa. It has been about two months now, and he still has outbursts of anger, there’s no affection from him, and he refuses to forgive me and is verbally brutal at times. He goes back and forth between being very angry to being alright every day. When he’s angry he says very hurtful things, like he wants a divorce and that I’m a cheating liar, etc. When he’s not upset, he still feels the same way but doesn’t hammer me with it. I love my husband with all my heart, and I don’t want to divorce him.

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I had never slept with either of my first two boyfriends or anyone else, yet my husband is convinced that I must have done so and that I emotionally cheated on him. We were officially married in August of 2008, and I corresponded once with one of the old friends the following September. I give my husband right to be angry, but I don’t see how a love so sweet and strong could suddenly change into such hate. What can I do? Is there any way to save my marriage? He doesn’t want to hear it when I say “I love you” or “I care about you and don’t want to lose you” or anything endearing. He knows everything about me that no one else does, and in his outbursts of anger I fear he’ll tell my parents or his parents and other people we know.

Psychologist’s Reply

Without making any statement about the traditions, cultural norms, and environmental differences that seem to be at the root of some of your difficulties, it would seem that there are enough issues needing resolve between you and your husband, especially issues regarding mutual trust and respect, that need to be worked through. Your husband’s willingness to take medication to help with his expressions of anger is worthy of some recognition, but that alone won’t adequately address your problems.

My best advice: work with a counselor whom you find to be compatible with your values, principles, and belief systems. It’s quite likely that at the present time you are struggling with too much unresolved guilt and shame and have too little experience and knowledge about your husband’s issues and character to assess your circumstances objectively. Working with a trained professional can help you sort those things out and lay the groundwork for a healthy relationship.

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