Yesterday I met with a friend of mine who has recently been married and was experiencing verbal and emotional abuse by her textbook narcissistic husband. I noticed that my first impulse was to tell her to placate him and take a husband-pleasing stance to diffuse the situation. I caught myself in that moment and wondered why I blindly fell into the position that most Pakistani women fall into; where we are conditioned to hold in our true feelings and be a version of what we imagine our spouses want us to be.

We are taught in the ‘book of marriage’ that has been written by our grandmothers and passed on to our mothers and now to us that we need to compromise and be tolerant and every marriage is work but work that is our responsibility only. We are conditioned to believe that this is proof of our good upbringing, strong values, and a testimony of our high moral compass and will buy us a permanent badge of an ‘ideal wife’.

So no matter how educated we are or how progressive our families are, the burden of keeping a marriage stable and successful falls on us, and the message is loud and clear. Don’t have a voice. Take everything with a pinch of salt. Have gratitude. Remember that the man is superior even if a few are saying that out loud.

So, even when my friend was showing the abusive messages sent by her husband, I had impulsively surrendered to the inter-generational position of keeping an appeasing stance and trying to gratify his narcissism. I reflected on what drove that impulse in me and I realised that it was sheer fear that I was perhaps experiencing on her behalf and my fear rooted in ‘what if the situation gets more escalated. What if he leaves? She will be blamed.’

I believe I responded from a place of an introjected value that I have given space to in my unconscious over the years and so my habitual reaction was that it’s my friend’s responsibility only to repair this rupture and make the marriage work.

Luckily it came to my awareness at the moment and so I advised her differently. I encouraged her to keep her voice knowing how difficult it is when all the societal voices are so loud. I suggested to her to be herself; the self she knew before she got married. To have stronger boundaries and not engage in this place of defending and explaining herself time and again or she will be trapped in this cycle for years to follow. I explored with her what her fears were and they mirrored mine, and perhaps every other woman’s fear in our society.

If there is any advice I want to give to young single women, based on my years of experience working with many women in difficult marriages where the husband’s abusive actions are physical, verbal, emotional or all of the aforementioned, is to keep their voice in the marriage from the get-go. To maintain their sense of self and not lose it for a relationship that they are made to believe is the only key to a successful life.

So many of my clients are women who never kept their voice but were fortunate enough to find it after a few years because of personal growth opportunities or because their situation ended up being beyond their window of tolerance and so they continued in the marriage but became more real and not an idealised version of a woman this society projects on them. They realised that leaving a marriage is a daunting experience and if it’s not on the cards, they can at least find a true sense of self within that unhappy relationship and focus on their journey.

So keep your voice. Be yourself and change for yourself but not in the name of compromise or tolerance for your partner. A compromise in a marriage is going along with life choices like supporting your spouse in financial matters for example. Tolerance and compromise aren’t holding your silence when your spouse is hurling abuses at you for crying out loud. Don’t lose your voice for the red flags that you know are hitting you right in the face. Protest those red flags. Raise your voice.

The marriage might survive. It might not. But remember that sooner or later you might find your voice. So rather than losing it and then finding it, try to keep it so that you don’t suffer.

No relationship in this world is worth losing our sense of self to and living a life that is not true to us. Making a relationship work takes two.

Keep your voice.