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Thu, Jan 12, 2012
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Torn by family obligation and infidelity: Part 2

This article is a continuation of an excerpt from the book Nightingale Songs. Read the first part here.

"ANGIE" (cont'd)

From the hospital, Angie went straight to the police to take out a Personal Protection Order (PPO). That same night, Tom called Angie's mother to tell her what had happened. He told her that Angie had a boyfriend and something compelled him to admit to his mother-in-law that he himself had been visiting prostitutes in Geylang.

When Angie learned of these sexual infidelities, she accused Tom of having double standards and would not forgive his violent reaction to her tryst. Desperate to find a way forward, Tom sought advice at their church. Together, Tom and Angie agreed to try to resolve the matter with the help of a professional marriage counsellor.

Angie wanted out of the marriage. Reflecting on her affair, Angie says, "I realized it was not sex I was after, just conversation and companionship. Although I admired Tom professionally, I had never really loved him and our relationship felt stilted. It was emotionally unsatisfying." Angie and Tom attended almost 10 sessions with the counsellor but could not come to a win-win solution. Tom adamantly believed they should stay together. He expressed remorse and pleaded for her to make a fresh start. The counsellor, whose Christian faith did not advocate divorce, encouraged them to find a way to keep their marriage intact.

From that time on, Tom turned to the Church for support and guidance, promising to stay faithful and to turn over a new leaf. Angie applied for a Deed of Separation but Tom refused to sign it. Though the violence ceased, broken trust and respect continued to haunt their relationship. For some time, Tom had a private investigator follow Angie. He suspected that she was continuing to see her boyfriend and openly explained he needed evidence, should it come to a divorce proceeding, to make sure she would not get custody of the children.

In the face of this stalemate, Angie has no plan of action. Even if she could, she would not consider marrying her boyfriend as he still lives with his mother and is not mature enough to become a stepfather. No life-boat awaits Angie and she has no incentive to jump ship, not with the threat of an ugly court battle hanging over her head.

Angie's friends think she is unable to make a clear decision and act upon it because she grew up with controlling parents who have directed her entire life, including deciding whom she should marry and when. Angie thinks they might be right but does not know how to change herself.

She feels powerless and malleable, her life like a chain of reactions to undesirable situations outside of her control. For fear of losing her children, Angie now keeps her inner rebelliousness in check but pays the personal cost of living an untrue life.

Despite their unresolved problems at home, Angie and Tom have a surprisingly functional business relationship. The tuition centre provides a good income and Angie loves her work with the students. Ironically, she feels she can encourage and support her students to grow in ways which she cannot do herself, building their sense of self-esteem and personal agency.

"I would like to have the courage to be able to break away from my husband. I have the financial means but not sufficient will. I fear most of all the loss of my children should it come to a divorce. At the same time, I worry that the children will suffer irreparable emotional damage by growing up in an alienated home environment," Angie explains.

"I feel sad that my most significant relationships have been based on conditional love. Tom wants me to stay with him but, after what happened, I feel our relationship will never be free from an underlying threat of violence.

"I worry that he could snap again if things do not go his way. I have thought about moving, with my children, to my parents' home. They are well-off and would certainly do anything for their grandchildren, but to live with my parents again would be very difficult for me."

Also, despite all they have been through, Angie does not want to make a decision that would separate her children from their father. She wants them to grow up as individuals who can think for themselves and be able to make decisions based on their own feelings and desires, secure in their own sense of right and wrong.

Angie believes that women should seek help immediately if they find themselves in a violent situation. "On the one hand," she points out, "women worry about the social stigma of being in a violent relationship or of getting divorced but they often fail to recognize the importance of prioritizing their own safety and happiness."

Angie knows all this now but feels, as with her petition for a PPO, her wisdom has come too late, the damage has been done. She thinks that if she had been able to stand up for herself early on, if she had been able to ignore her mother's threats of being disowned, she would never have married the wrong man in the first place. Now they have two children together and no way forward without causing more pain for everyone involved.

This story is an excerpt from the book Nightingale Songs, published by Marshall Cavendish.

In Nightingale Songs, Singapore-based counsellor and mental healthcare professional, Kendra, speaks to survivors of abuse and the professionals who help those impacted by violence in the home. The diversity of stories reflects Singaporean society, illustrating that this social problem is not limited to one class or ethnic group but crosses all boundaries of race, religion, education and socio-economic background.

Nightingale Songs is available at all major bookstores at S$18.60 (excl).

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