Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1346, (25 - 31 May 2017)
Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Issue 1346, (25 - 31 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Marriages from hell

Salonaz Sami watches a TV series that invites viewers to sympathise with women who kill their husbands

 Marriages from hell
Marriages from hell

“Marriage is like a watermelon — you never know what’s hidden inside,” goes an old Egyptian saying, and it is true that we may get into marriages expecting they will last forever but somewhere down the line things begin to change and forever is no longer. We may think that the grass is greener on the other side, only to hit reality and discover that it is not. In many societies, once you realise your marriage is not for you, you may take the decision to file for divorce and face the consequences.

However, this is not necessarily the case in Egypt, where many women are stuck in toxic marriages that they can’t get out of. Whether for reasons of financial dependency, the shame of a failed marriage, family pressures or for the sake of the children, the end result remains the same. They almost unconsciously go about their daily lives like robots, while hiding their frustration and unhappiness away, choosing to remain in an abusive, empty or loveless relationship over taking the right decision and calling it quits.

In a recent TV series, Hagar Gohanam, or “Hell’s Stones”, various frustrated women take the decision to kill their husbands. The series shocked viewers with its opening episode in which three seemingly harmless wives plant a home-made bomb in one of their husband’s cars, sending them off to meet a horrible fate. Can one sympathise with these women when one considers their marriages, however?

First comes Zeina played by Syrian actress Kenda Alosh who has what may seem from the outside to be a perfect marriage. In fact, however, her husband is a controlling type who does not allow her to finish her education, denies her the right to drive or leave the house, and takes all the major decisions while casting her aside. Besides having a daughter and being financially dependent on her husband, Zeina is not the confrontational type and is a typical example of a woman used to living in the shadow of a man.

“She is a woman who thinks her life will fall apart without her husband, while in fact she has no life to begin with,” psychologist Nadia Abdel-Samad told Al-Ahram Weekly. Many women have identified with Zeina’s character. “This is not just about financial dependency, but also emotional dependency,” explained Abdel-Samad.

“Some women are raised thinking they are inferior to men, believing the old saying that ‘the shadow of a man is better than the shadow of the wall’. They may think that they cannot make it on their own,” she continued. “Feeling trapped and unable to leave an obviously failed marriage is a state of mind, however. Once you try and realise that you can everything changes,” Abdel-Samad said.

But sadly in a society that stigmatises divorce and marginalises women, this is not an easy thing to do. “Women like Zeina are painfully aware of their situations, but have made the decision to stay in a loveless marriage,” she said.

Meanwhile, in the series Zeina does not manage to kill her husband, who turns out to remain alive. But during the brief period she spends thinking he is dead, a change comes over her. She becomes an active person who goes to the gym, practices yoga, and takes proper care of herself and her daughter. “She is a totally different person when she thinks he is out of the picture for good,” Abdel-Samad said. “She discovers that she can make it on her own.”

The second character in the trio is Safi played by Sherine Reda. All she wants is a baby, yet her chronically depressed husband fails to give her one. When she discovers that she is pregnant a month after killing her husband, she loses the baby in a reminder that what goes around comes around. Safi’s character is also a Christian, which makes it even harder for her to get a divorce from the Church. Unlike Zeina, Safi is outgoing and has her own career, yet she is also stuck in a miserable marriage.

“The harmful effects of such depression are not limited to the patient,” explained Abdel-Samad. “Being married to a severely depressed man will surely affect the wife as well,” she added. “Depression in an intimate relationship will break communication and social patterns, thus affecting the relationship.”

If your partner has been diagnosed with depression, you need to understand that you need help as much as he does. You need the support of your family, friends, therapist or anyone you can trust. “My husband has been depressed for as long as I can remember. Withdrawn from life, he goes to work, comes home, sleeps, and repeats the cycle the next day,” explains Sherine, a Cairo wife who watches the series.

“We are not intimate in any way. He refuses to go anywhere with me and is basically shut down all the time,” she adds. Her husband won’t admit his illness, won’t go to see a doctor, or take medication. “I feel selfish sometimes when I think of getting a divorce, but I am living in hell. Don’t I deserve a life too?” she sadly wonders. “If I stay, I know I will get depressed, and if I leave he will most likely try to kill himself.”

Last but most certainly not least in the series is Horeya, the brains behind the trio played by Arwa Gouda. She is the one who plans everything while her friends simply follow. She has a physically and verbally abusive husband. Not only does he cause her a miscarriage, but she also becomes physically damaged and is thus never able to become a mother. To add insult to injury, shortly after her husband’s death Horeya discovers that he was a con man who cheated people out of their money and was married to her best friend in secret.

“Emotionally abusive men are manipulative and controlling. Many of them are raised by abusive fathers who have distorted beliefs about women and marriage,” explained Abdel-Samad. “They only see things from their perspective and deliberately refuse to look at things form another perspective,” she added.

“It was the last day of the Ramadan and also my sister’s wedding day. We had a fight and as usual he punched me in the face. My eye immediately swelled up and turned blood red,” said Radwa, a Cairo wife, speaking to the Weekly. “I had to go to the wedding, however — it was my own sister — so I took my daughter and went to wait for him in the car. He came down and then he started bragging about how he had trashed the apartment,” she added. “You will be happy to see the nice work I have done when you get home,” he told her.

“The next thing I knew, I was grabbing the wheel lock he puts next to the handbrake and smashing the car’s window,” she said. Whenever her husband got angry, he broke things. But considering the fact that she had been cleaning the house for two days straight, while also taking care of their infant son, she snapped at this latest episode of destruction. “Breaking the window was not the best thing to do, but I was fed up,” she said. “Imagining the mess I would find when we got home, I wanted to hurt him, and his precious car was the only thing he cared about so it was a no-brainer,” she added.

A wife’s self-esteem can be battered along with her body, but a husband can also kill his wife’s spirit without even raising a hand. “Abuse is a cycle, not a once in a while thing,” explained Abdel-Samad. “The husband may calm down and may apologise and promise not to do it again, but somewhere in the back of the wife’s mind she knows it is only a matter of time before he strikes again,” she said.

Although they might appear strong and confident on the outside, many abused women have low self-esteem. “Some of them may develop what we call the Stockholm Syndrome, a mental disorder that causes the abused person to develop an emotional bond with their abuser,” explained Abdel-Samad. In such cases, the abused wife will reject family and friends trying to help her, while finding reasons for her husband’s abuse. “Some women may even feel that their husband’s abuse is somehow their own fault,” she added. But the moment you are verbally attacked or physically bruised by your husband that is the moment to leave.

As scary as it was to pick up and leave, Radwa took the decision, for her and for her children’s safety, to file for divorce. “When children grow up with an abusive father, they run the risk of experiencing the same in their future relationships,” added Abdel-Samad.

In the last episode of the series, viewers are shocked to find that the bomb the women made didn’t work and that the explosion was actually caused by another bomb made by a terrorist group. They are also shocked to see Zeina crying for her husband, the man she tried to kill after he got shot. When he comes back from the dead, her husband has become a different person, less controlling and more tolerant, causing Zeina to fall in love with him again.

Unfortunately, many Middle Eastern men see apology as a sign of weakness. They may think that if they apologise their wives won’t respect them. “Women don’t require expensive jewellery or continuous outings, but they feel most loved by small gestures of love and affection,” explained Abdel-Samad.

“People have a misconception that marriage changes a person. Sometimes it can, but only if the person wants to change. Marriage is a serious commitment, not a problem-solver. If you notice bad qualities in the man you are about to be committed to, think about marrying him carefully,” advised Abdel-Samad.

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