“My Family Says They’ll Disown and Shun Me If I Divorce My Husband”

I am a 30-year-old Asian woman in the middle of a divorce from my husband; we have no children. I have a great career and my master’s degree, and I work with the at-risk children and youth; on paper and to my community, I have a perfect life (just missing the children). In my culture, I am considered a very old woman to not have any children, and the pressure is extremely high when I am at any family gatherings. My mother, sisters, and extended family believe I should be happy and start a family with my husband and stop talking about the divorce.

I got married very young — at age 17 — and I haven’t felt happy for a long time. My husband has physically abused me, has cheated on me, and is currently very emotionally abusive. During our separation, I met someone who makes me feel happy again. He is not as well-educated as my soon-to-be ex-husband nor does he bring in more income. My husband has promised to change and has begged me to give him another chance. My mother has let me know I will be disowned by my social community (family and extended family) if I go through with the divorce from my husband. Everyone ignores the fact that he was physically abusive to me, that it left trauma and scars behind, and that I’ve been depressed for 14 years.

My question is: What do I do in this situation and who do I choose? My husband offers security and financial stability for the future and is willing to work out our past whereas my current partner offers me love and happiness, but our financial stability will be difficult as he does not earn enough. In this option, my family and social community will also disown me for divorcing my husband and I will be shunned. What is your advice on relationships that involve such cultural expectations where the consequences of defying them are so high? I feel like I will lose everything after the divorce, but I am so unhappy. Am I being selfish? Am I being stupid? Thank you for your time. — How Do I Choose?

For starters, not wanting to be perpetually unhappy in your life isn’t a selfish desire. It’s healthy and normal, and I’m so sorry that there’s any shred of doubt for you that this one precious life you have is exclusively yours to build how your soul asks to be nourished. But this precious life you have IS exclusively yours and it’s meant to be lived in a way that brings you meaning and joy. What concerns me the most about the questions you’re asking isn’t the difficult and heartbreaking decisions you’re facing – I know you will meet that challenge even if it means grappling with a sense of loss and grief, the extent of which most people don’t ever experience; what concerns me the most about the questions you’re asking here is that you believe your choices are among other people – your estranged husband, your new partner, your family. You’re not even on the list among people to choose for yourself. It’s like you don’t exist if you aren’t in relation to someone else. It’s like you exist only as a supporting character in someone else’s life.

I’m sorry you’ve been conditioned to devalue yourself – to believe that you aren’t enough on your own, that you can’t even survive without the support of a man (with a good income!) even despite your accomplishments and career of your own. I’m sorry you’ve been oppressed by expectations that aren’t aligned with who you are and what you want. And I’m very sorry that these expectations have maybe prevented you from even discovering what it is you want.

But you know what you don’t want. You don’t want to be in an unhappy marriage. Unfortunately, you’ve been told that leaving your marriage will get you disowned and shunned, so you would be trading one source of unhappiness for another and that’s going to cause pain. The difference is that there’s a much bigger potential for a happy and satisfying future beyond being shunned, versus the potential for a happy future in an abusive and dysfunctional marriage. There are tens of thousands of modern-day accounts of people finding happiness outside the confines of the oppressive expectations set by their family and community of origin, even despite the towering consequences of leaving them. Accounts of people finding happiness and fulfillment inside abusive relationships or forced parenthood are harder to come by.

I think you know you can’t stay married to your husband. I don’t think you yet know that you can withstand the consequences that will come from divorcing him. And how could you yet? We never can be sure of our own strength until we need to summon it. But the thing is, you’ve been developing your strength all these years, like adding kindling to a small-burning fire. You haven’t noticed because it’s happened slowly over a long period of time, but the fire in you is roaring now, and it’s the fuel you need to withstand the consequences of choosing yourself.

Choose yourself. Live within your own means. See what it’s like to financially support yourself. Find a good lawyer who can win you the best divorce settlement you’re entitled to. Continue your relationship with your new partner if you want, but spare it from the expectations you’ve had to live under. Don’t go from one dependent marriage to another. Depend on yourself for a while. See what you are capable of. Choose yourself before you ever again choose someone else. After you show up for yourself, you can choose others with a freedom you haven’t experienced yet, and that freedom empowers smart choices that will help build a life that will nourish your soul.

Follow along on Facebook, and Instagram.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.


  1. Everything Wendy said. Also,people that want you to place them and their opinions and how others might judge them for your actions,don’t truly love and care about you. Choosing them would be horrible for your mental,emotional. and physical health…just a continuation of the abusive you have already suffered. Go forward, not backwards. If you are shunned, create your own hub of friends and support.You can do this!

  2. I meant they want you to place what they want, above yourself.

  3. LisforLeslie says:

    In general, I try not to advocate violence, but I believe that if you tell someone that a loved one physically abused you and they tell you that you have to remain married/ in contact with that person, you are entirely justified in slapping them extremely firmly across the face. Like full on backhanded slap. And the only response to the resulting look of shock, betrayal and hurt would be “Look at what you made me do. You shouldn’t make me upset like that.”

    Wendy is right – as much as your choices are rock and hard place – the only way you are going to be free is to leave them all behind. Your safety and mental health should be sacrosanct and your family would rather you be unhappy so they can present a false facade at your expense.

    1. One issue that no one has explicitly considered in their replies is that you have what you call an “Asian” family where you have (most likely, it seems) grown up with a sense of self that is tied to your obligations to your family members and your obligations to them. The idea of doing what you want for yourself, might seem selfish or foreign by some Asian standards of filial obligation. Yet, in a wider US cultural context, you need not necessarily (and are not expected to) put the preferences of your parents and family above your own. Your family might feel alienated, but you can find social support for acting in your individual best interests. That won’t make you a bad person, even if your family think that is the case. You need not remain with your abusive husband to be a good daughter.

  4. Ronald W Skinner says:

    It’s a no cost, easily said action, for your husband to promise you that he’ll change. It’s empty words. If he truly wanted to change, he would have already changed. He’ll say anything to get you to stay, then he will systematically destroy your ability to leave him in future, by destroying your financial independence. He has probably cried to your family and community to put pressure on you to stay. Don’t give in. It will get worse if he and your family persuade/force you to stay in this bad, unhappy marriage to an abuser who cheats.

  5. Golfer.gal says:

    I recommend the book “Why Does he Do That” by Lundy Bancroft. I was incredibly fortunate, as I was leaving my abusive partner after more than a decade together and as I badly wanted to have kids and was approaching the later years to be able to do that, that my friends and family were overall very supportive. And it was still unimaginably hard, the worst time of my life, and the most financially and emotionally difficult time I’ve ever had. I can’t imagine tacking on losing my entire community. But I can tell you without a shred of doubt that leaving is the right thing and the only choice if you want to stay alive and gain happiness eventually.

    This book helped me immensely. Lundy is a renowned expert in abusive and angry men and his explanation of both why they behave as they do, and what it really takes for them to change, helped me realize what I needed to do. Please read it before making any decisions and start surrounding yourself with people who will be supportive and helpful outside of your family and cultural community. It’s a hard time and I truly wish you all the best in the world. Wendy is right, you deserve basic joy and safety in your life.

  6. I just want to emphasize what Ronald said. Your husband has no intention of changing anything. I’ve heard the same story dozens of times from other abused women. When he’s faced with losing control of you, he will say anything to get you to stay. And he may even make efforts that look promising at first, to lull you into a false sense of security. But abusers have one goal and one goal only — to control you. And once he knows you are considering leaving him he will do whatever he can to make you more dependent on him. Sabotaging your birth control. Jeopardizing your job. Isolating you from people who might help you if you leave. Or just beating down your self confidence until you no longer believe you can survive on your own. Please don’t fall for it. You are not obligated to give second chances to someone who has intentionally harmed you. You are only obligated to protect yourself.

    I would also recommend you contact a domestic violence hotline (in some way that your husband won’t find out) so they can help you stay safe and point you to resources that can help you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *