I quickly got up from my chair as I heard a loud thud and a door slamming shut across the hallway from my apartment. I looked out and saw my neighbour sitting in the corridor, bursting into tears.
As she clenched her fists and rolled up into a foetal position, it looked like she was ready to pass out any second. It was obvious that her boyfriend had assaulted her.
“Why don’t you give her some water? Make her feel like someone cares. Everyone is so selfish in Dubai as you know!” my husband suggested to me.
My hands shaking, I reached the shelf for a glass and hurriedly filled it with water. I hesitantly opened the door of the apartment just a crack, carefully trying not to make my neighbour feel as though I was intruding.
“Are you alright, do you need something?” I asked her. She shook her head as I motioned at her to drink some water. As I shut the door of my apartment, I noticed her boyfriend come out and pull her up by her arm, forcing her to leave the building even though she could barely walk.
I vividly remember the conversation I had after the nerve-wracking incident with my husband, who I had married only a few months ago. We were both concerned and couldn’t believe what we had just witnessed.
“How can anyone do something like this to their partner and intentionally inflict harm upon them?” He nodded in agreement and the rest of our night carried on quite uncomfortably since we were both worried about the fate of our neighbour.
Little did I know that the man I had married was going to do something much worse to me.
What she had gone through was physical abuse, which is apparent. Everyone can see it. But what I was about to go through was emotional abuse, which is much more subtle. I didn’t even realise what was happening until much later.
We all think we are hopelessly in love at the beginning of a relationship and nothing in the world can stop us from being together. But as time went by, it became clear to me that my ex-husband had extreme narcissistic personality traits.
The worst part is that he didn’t and will most likely never realise what he did wrong.
Idealise, devalue, discard. These are the three most common traits that a narcissist has. And that’s exactly what my ex-husband did in an extremely twisted, clever way.
When we first met in my last year of university, things were very different. He impressed me with how intelligent but down to earth he was. After I graduated, he proposed. Things were shaky at first since my parents weren’t welcoming to the idea of meeting someone I had chosen to be my partner. They were reacting like many Pakistani parents would.
They reluctantly agreed to meet him, and eventually things went smoothly. Both families were happy and on good terms. My parents were eager for me to get married as early as possible, as typical Pakistani parents prefer.
Right after the wedding, we flew to Dubai where he was living. The small, studio apartment wasn’t what I had dreamed of, but I shoved that thought aside. The most important thing for me was having an understanding with my husband and a supportive relationship in every possible way.
Things were fairytale-like in the beginning, as the ‘honeymoon’ phase usually is. But a few months later, they started to go downhill.
Suddenly, his interest in me began to fade. Our physical relationship and even the slightest things like the conversations we used to have began to take a sharp turn. Some days would pass by normally but most were nightmares.
The biggest problem was that he had an explanation for everything. For instance, I would ask him why he would frequently go on walks alone, sometimes late at night. He would give me long explanations as to how all intelligent people like Einstein, Newton, and even prophets used to spend solitary time to think about the world and why we are here.
I used to think it was a Pakistani norm that having alone time after marriage is considered odd and every single activity has to be done together, so I would just nod in agreement to his answers.
Since his passion for photography suddenly reignited, I encouraged him to pursue it. But I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that he would spend weekends meeting random women who he was in contact with online to photograph them for free.
His answer was that photography was his passion and he wanted to continue pursuing it, even without being compensated. He would say that it was just to get him back on track since he felt he had lost the skill. “Why are you only photographing women who are barely wearing anything?” I asked him. Because he didn't know how to photograph men, he would tell me. Once again, I let it go.
He even had an excuse ready for why our physical relationship was in shambles. He claimed that he used to be alone as an only child. It was challenging for him to even share the same bathroom as someone else.
Being private with his phone and laptop came with another set of answers. These gadgets were the siblings he never had and felt a close attachment with since there was nobody else to hang out with during the long, lonely days at home in Karachi.
That’s how I was sucked into his manipulative world.
He even managed to convince the therapist I somehow talked him into going to. When I talked to her individually, it seemed that she understood my situation perfectly. But after a one-on-one session with him, she concluded that things would be fine and seemed very satisfied with how he is as a person.
And that is the most odd thing about people like him. They are so convincing and likeable that if you only know them superficially, you can never pinpoint exactly what is wrong. People around them don’t realise they have a problem because of how well they carry themselves in front of others. And this is a lot more common than one would think.
When I first met him, I saw a confident, dedicated and passionate individual. But now I feel I had actually confused his superiority complex and self-obsession with healthy confidence.
His obsession with being successful and undermining others were warning signs that our relationship won't be very different. Another red flag was that there was a serious problem with how he responded to criticism of his work. For him, his work in communication design and photography was sublime.
One day, I merely pointed out that one of his photographs was excessively saturated and the editing could have been better. He blew up on me, saying I didn’t know what I was talking about since I was not a professional in the field.
He had strung me along the entire time till I realised what was going on. It took me some excessive stalking through Instagram – not surprisingly the same platform we had first connected on – to realise he was being flirtatious with other women and even seriously involved with one of them.
When I started realising what was going on and questioned him, he started to lose interest in me. An entire week went by with us living apart because I was suddenly not willing to listen to his excuses. After a major fight, he told me to leave, which I did. He refused to allow me back into what was our home because he needed “time to process everything”.
The game was over for him since I wouldn’t consent to or entertain his control over me. So, he went out to fulfill his ego with a new victim who he had started seeing while we were still married. The pictures and videos I found of him with his girlfriend were proof enough for me.
When I confronted him, he had yet another list of excuses ready.
That’s when I decided to leave him because I knew the situation would only get worse. But it didn’t go according to how I had planned. Instead, he forced me to leave because he thought we needed a “break from our relationship.” It was just another trick out of his mind-games playbook.
I had to debate a thousand times in my mind if I wanted to leave him or not. I was still too scared to take this step because a part of me still loved him. As difficult as it was, I knew in my heart that I had to do it. No matter what opinions the rest of the world had, they would never fully understand the misery I was being put through and the constant conflicts going through my mind on a daily basis. I finally decided I didn't have a future with this man.
While he was at work, I packed all my things and walked out the door without ever looking back. It was the most rattling, nerve-wracking and stomach-wrenching decision I have ever taken in my entire life. But it had to be done because I knew my life would only get worse had I stayed in this marriage.
I had fully trusted my ex-husband with my entire being and I couldn't comprehend why he would lie and manipulate me. It took me a long time to process what had happened and why. I would constantly be questioning why he had gotten married to me if he only wanted to play these mind games.
Once I realised who he truly was, I felt as though I was going through a roller-coaster ride of emotions. I went through phases of anger, hurt, and resentment. Eventually, I had to accept that this is how he was as a person and it wasn't going to change.
For the women who are in abusive relationships, just know that it’s never too late to end it. You are entitled to your own happiness, and nobody else is in charge of that or can understand it better than yourself.
We live in a patriarchal society that doesn’t accept divorce with open arms. People also tend to think there isn’t an actual issue if there is no physical abuse involved. Emotional abuse is not taken seriously enough. So many women out there are living in misery because they are either afraid to confront the situation or their families refuse to see the abuse.
But really, ask yourself: is it worth suffering your entire life because log kya kehngay? I don't think so.
Were you or are you in an abusive relationship and want to share how it has affected you? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org