Trapped in a cycle himself
In 2010, the couple sought counselling at a faith-based centre. The sessions were unfruitful. ‘During our private sessions, I told the counsellor of all the accounts of his abuse. Yet my ex-husband said that the counsellor concluded that there’s nothing wrong with him or with our relationship. Domestic violence is not supposed to be tolerated.’ Having a way with words, her ex might have sugar-coated or plied the truth.
Two things happened that year that did exact change in Sandra’s ex: his parents went back to their home country with the intention of retiring, and he started attending alcohol recovery support groups. Finally, the man who was loved and held in high regards by their common friends was consistent with the man at home. ‘He began behaving well, and treated me with respect. We read a Christian book on the meaning of forgiveness, and we started to pray together again as a couple. We set up healthy boundaries and checked in with each other.’
But like the ephemerality of an adult glow worm’s life, this period of change was short. Six months in, his parents changed their mind and returned to Singapore to be with their children, who were filial and respectful of them. ‘Around this time, he began sneaking behind my back. He would come home drunk again.’ The incremental progress they had made in their relationship came undone.
In June 2009, Sandra’s former husband organised a birthday barbecue for her at their condominium’s facility. What was supposed to be a joyous occasion devolved into shouting matches between her in-laws, which Sandra did not comprehend as they spoke in their mother tongue. Their incipient anger they kept at bay, for they were in a public setting. When they retreated to their home, at the instruction of his father, Sandra’s ex told her to sequester herself along with her daughter in the room. From the slapping sounds to staccatos of yelps let out by her in-laws and the cries of her nephews and nieces, even behind closed doors it took little imagination to guess what was happening. Suddenly, the explanation for her ex’s abusive nature became clear. ‘The men in his family, from his father to his brother, beat up their wives.’ It was a learned behaviour; her ex was a product of his environment. ‘He could only act on what he had learnt, and give only what he had received.’