The stereotype is that Muslim men beat their wives. But I was the one being abused and for years I didn’t even recognize my ex’s behavior as abuse. Once I did, it was really hard for me to connect with help. I couldn’t reach out to people in my community, and most shelters are set up to care for women, not men.
It started in 2000 when my ex and her family targeted my family, looking for money and connections. They were stuck in a prairie town in Canada and got introduced to my family in Maryland through mutual friends. My ex’s mom started calling my mom and “love-bombing” her. I heard my mom laughing on the phone every day, and it made me curious.
I had been born in Pakistan and came to the U.S. when I was 4 years old. I did well in school—I now have a master’s degree—and when I was young I skipped two grades. As I got older, being two years younger than my peers meant I had trouble socializing. When my ex and I started talking she was always praising me—she would send messages listing 10 things she liked about me, for example. She sounded great, and after about a month my family and I went to visit her family in Canada. At the time I was 29 or 30 years old.
After meeting in person only three times, we were engaged. She seemed perfect. We were married in 2001 and her abuse started right away. But I didn’t realize what was happening.
Abuse Goes Unrecognized
My ex took financial control. She moved to Maryland and transferred to her company’s Washington, D.C., office, which meant I had to quit my job and move to D.C. She told me that she would manage our money so I didn’t have to worry about finances. Within a month of moving, her parents came to visit and didn’t leave for several months. I was making six figures and my ex was giving me an allowance of $100 a week for gas and food. I didn’t know where our money was going—it turns out it was going to her and her parents.
I had two businesses—a hair salon and a consulting firm. With checks from them and an income tax refund, one month I had deposited $50,000. Two weeks later she told me we didn’t have enough money to pay our mortgage. I didn’t know what she was talking about. She was funneling off all the money into her own bank account. She acted like I needed to make more money.
She monitored my phone and computer. On our wedding night she gave me a new cell phone. I found out later she was tracking who I was calling on that phone. At one point her brother gave me some CDs of Photoshop. And, along with Photoshop, I had unknowingly installed a key-logging program that tracked everything I was typing and sending it to her brother.
She limited access to my family and friends. We moved to Michigan in 2004 and started a family. Our daughter was born in 2005 and our son followed in 2007. We would visit my ex’s family, but not mine. I would call my parents on Sundays and she would rush me off the phone. And all of my friends were her friends’ husbands—I didn’t have any friends of my own.
I didn’t realize how much control my ex held over me. One day, a group of guys was hanging out and one of them said to me, “You’re the most controlled person of anyone I know.” I thought, “I’m happy. I’m living the American dream. I have two little kids, I have a big house, a timeshare in Mexico, two BMWs. What is he talking about?”
I spent a year and a half soul-searching. I talked to a minister—I didn’t want to talk to anyone in the Muslim community because everyone knows everyone else and they gossip. I started seeing a therapist who suggested marriage counseling. My ex said if I made her go to counseling she would take the kids to Canada and I would never see them again. She and the kids had dual Canadian-American citizenship, while I only have American citizenship, so the threat was real.
By 2009, I was considering divorce and feeling conflicted and terrible. I decided to drive to Maryland to talk to my parents. My receptionist—who my ex’s brother had secretly sent to apply for the job—asked if she could ride along so she could see her brother in DC. That turned out to be a setup. As soon as we left my ex told everyone I had left her for the receptionist. I lost all my friends.
Once I filed for divorce, my ex hired an expensive lawyer and she ended up getting everything she wanted. I tried to kick her parents out of the house and it ended with me moving out instead. I lost both businesses. She got all of our assets and all I got was the debt. I had nowhere to go. During all of this she was attacking me and screaming at me. When I touched her shoulder at one point her family called the police. They arrested me and put me in jail. No one would believe this because I’m a guy, but basically, she raped me, just to have control over me.
Looking for Help
Because of the stereotype that Muslim men beat their wives, and the prevailing belief that domestic violence is only a man beating a woman, it was a struggle for me to reach out for help. I couldn’t turn to my friends since she convinced everyone that she was the victim. When I tried to tell people she was abusing me, they would laugh at me.
When I finally called the National Domestic Violence Hotline, I still thought domestic violence only happened to women. I told them I was a man but I didn’t know where else to turn. I was in terrible shape. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I had anxiety and PTSD. They spent 20 minutes convincing me that what I was experiencing was, in fact, domestic violence. They referred me to First Step, a Michigan domestic violence agency.
I don’t know how many men even know they’re being abused. A lot of times people are so busy walking on eggshells they don’t realize that they are with an abusive partner. And when they do, there’s nowhere for men to go. There are shelters for women, but I believe there are only two for men in the entire country.
The Road to Recovery
Our divorce was final in 2011, and we have joint physical and legal custody of the children, though it’s two thirds with her and one third with me. We still battle over the shared custody—it’s a continuation of the power and control she likes to exert.
Recovery has been a long and painful process. I went to First Step for counseling—they are trained trauma counselors. They were like a breath of fresh air. At that point, if someone told me the sky was green I would have believed them—I was so gaslighted and confused. I felt like my entire world had shimmered and disappeared. I was living in a false reality she put there with her gaslighting, and when that got stripped away I was devastated.
I also went to a Muslim-run agency. They understand the dynamics of the community, and how important religion is to me.
Support groups are helpful, though they can be challenging for men. When my social worker invited me to a support group she had to ask all the women in the group if it was OK first.
It helped me to read the book, Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft, even though I had to cross out “he” and change it to “she.” Things started to make sense. I didn’t know why my ex was attacking me when I was trying to leave. But she wanted her power and control. Another book that was helpful was A Primer on Evil by T. Park.
Financially, I’m recovering. When my ex kicked me out of the community I lost most of my clients. I’m finding other groups to bring me business. My family has helped me. I’m getting back to where I was before. My kids are very happy when they’re with me, and we have a lot of fun together.
This article originally posted on domesticshelters.org
Sunday Survivor Series is a bi-weekly blog series highlighting survivors of domestic violence and their success after abuse.