Hidden emotional abuse in a marriage (no scar, no swollen eye!) often goes unnoticed. This normalises the insidious violence, and can cause the affected women to hide things from their spouses.
A few days back, on one of the parenting forums on Facebook, a woman had posted about how she asks the courier delivery man to come some other time with her online shopping parcel if her husband is at home at that point. The post was penned in a humorous tone, and it generated quite a few laughs on the group, with many other women mentioning that they related to it.
This made me wonder: what makes wives hide seemingly trivial matters of their daily lives from their husbands? Is it a fear of being mocked at? Is it the apprehension of being reprimanded for doing something “against the husband’s wishes”? Is it a pre-emptive action to avoid a confrontational argument? Or is there more to it?
On the face of it, it may all seem harmless and might also provide fodder for umpteen marital jokes. But, if one scratches the surface, there is a deeper and complex layer hidden beneath which brings out the ubiquitous insidious violence in a marriage that is largely left unaddressed in our society even today.
30-year-old *Shikha Tiwari is a housewife who has a frenzied and gruelling daily schedule. She is up at the crack of dawn, and is on her feet through the day tending to the needs to her children and other family members, rarely getting any shut-eye in between. Her husband is an opulent businessman who dotes on her, but is also the one who calls the shots at home.
When I broached this topic with her, she revealed that she hides some of her shopping escapades from her husband because he thinks it is a waste of “his” hard-earned money. On probing further, she explained “He thinks that he buys me gifts anyways and I should not waste money in any kind of shopping. But, sometimes a small purchase gives me happiness and I end up indulging in it without letting him know so as to not upset him. I don’t argue with him on this because after all, he is the breadwinner at our home so he should be the one who can decide how the money is being spent.”
I am certain that Shikha’s situation is the story of a number of housewives because they are financially dependent on their husbands and are made to believe that they cannot take decisions about the household finances as they are not the ones getting the booty home.
But, do we ever ponder over the unfairness of this mindset? These women are equally contributing towards the family, by looking after every other aspect of their homes even though not financially, and hence, should be equally involved in the economic decisions. They also have the right to decide what they want to purchase not just for the homes, but also for themselves.
The ideal approach should be to sit together and settle on a feasible approximate budget for the expenses and to have an open discussion with each other about additional expenditure rather than seeking “permission”.
Exercising financial control over spouse is a classic case of insidious violence which is not a healthy sign in a marriage. Unfortunately, this is not just restricted to housewives. Quite a few financially independent women also think it is fine to let the man of the house decide what they should do with their money. Hail patriarchy!
What is even more alarming is that insidious violence is not just prevalent among couples from typical patriarchal backgrounds, but even modern, educated women from open-minded families tend to give in to their controlling spouses without even realizing it.
*Jaya Sharma is a 36-year-old woman with a flourishing corporate career in the IT field and comes from a liberal family. Her parents always encouraged her to be independent and she was raised in a gender neutral environment. She is married to her college sweetheart since ten years but in what would seem like an equal, harmonious marriage, she keeps an important aspect of her life veiled from her partner.
“My husband does not approve of my girl gang because some of them drink and smoke. During the initial years of my marriage, we had lots of arguments on this but eventually I realized that he will not get it. So, I started hanging out with them without informing him.” When questioned about whether she feels dominated because of this, she responded in the negative. “No why should I feel like that? It is not like he is an abusive husband. He allows me to work and we share a great bond. If he does not like my friends, I cannot do much to change his views because he is doing it for my good anyways.”
Jaya’s situation will resonate with many too. According to research, disagreement over friends is one of the most common factors leading to marital discord. Not letting an adult choose friends and enforcing one’s opinion is emotional abuse. “I want you to do as I say because it is for your good” is the typical way to exercise power over someone.
Don’t approve of your spouse’s friends? If yes, then you keep distance. It is fine to discuss concerns about someone with your wife but even after that, if the woman decides to continue the friendship, it should be her call totally. And this applies to both genders. It’s a mature and responsible adult we are talking about here, not a child who needs to be mollycoddled or provided with guidance.
The above examples are not the only kind of issues wherein a woman is compelled to hide something from her husband. I was surprised to know from *Vanita Ghate, a 42-year-old woman, that her husband is blissfully oblivious of her promotion and salary hike at work.
She disclosed, “I do not talk about my work related achievements with him because I do not want him to feel distressed as he has been going through a rough patch professionally.” Do men have to ever think about “causing distress” to their wives in case it is the other way round? I bet you not!
Then there is the recently wedded, young and vivacious 26-year-old *Anita Thomas, who confided in me about not having a satisfactory sex life. “I would like more foreplay but am scared to let my husband know that I am not happy with our sex life. He thinks he knows exactly how to make me happy on the bed and I don’t want to burst his bubble. I fear the repercussions of hurting his ego and hence, hide my real emotions and fake it”, she says.
Putting up a facade during sex is certainly not an uncommon occurrence among couples but it is sad that women have to worry about hurting the ego of the husband and end up faking pleasure. This happens because patriarchy propagates the notion that a woman’s job is to gratify her husband on bed and he has a “right” on her body. Conversations around female sexual desires are anyways considered hugely taboo even today by general public because of which most women actually believe that they should suppress their sexual needs.
The perilous reality of our society is that most people lack awareness and often think of domestic violence in terms of physical abuse because it is discernible and easily identifiable. But this is just one form of domestic violence.
Many, including several victims, do not recognize that controlling behaviour in the name of love and concern, sexual and emotional abuse, intimidation, using male privilege and economic abuse are all forms of insidious violence which we seldom talk about or recognize. It slithers its way surreptitiously to gradually obliterate the self-confidence, self-respect and mental peace of the victim, and more often than not it is too late by the time realization dawns.
Can it really be a healthy relationship in which one partner is forced to hide matters, small or big, from the other? Something to mull over!
*Names changed to protect the identities of the women.
Header image is a still from the movie English Vinglish
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