South Asian Couples: An Example of Verbal Abuse

I said cold water,” barked Shweta. “Looks like your hearing is going already.” Kishore took the glass to the freezer to add some ice.

“If you don’t take pour out some water first, it’s going to spill,” she said disgustedly. “You shouldn’t even have water in the cup to begin with. How do you not know this?” Kishore continued to fill the glass slowly, seemingly unaffected by Shweta’s constant commentary. He brought the water back, left it in front of her and went back to eating his soup, which had now turned cold.

“Your soup is cold,” she said rather coldly herself.

“That’s ok,” he said quietly, reading his paper while he ate.

“You can’t eat cold soup. Go warm it up,” she demanded.

“I don’t need it warmer,” he replied calmly.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with you. You’re impossible you know that?” she attacked. “First you don’t know how to fill up a glass of cold water. Now you don’t know how to eat soup properly. You’re such a child. I have to do everything for you.” She got up and started to grab his bowl which he allowed her to take. He knew better than to anger her further by pushing back what he wanted.

Shweta didn’t realize how hot the bowl had gotten and reached into the microwave with her bare hands. It was too hot to hold and she dropped the whole bowl on the floor.

“What a mess!” she yelled, frustrated. Kishore got up to help her and she screamed, “Just stay away from here. I don’t want you creating more problems.” She bent down to clean the soup from the floor and said loudly, “If you had just gotten up like any normal person and warmed up your soup, this wouldn’t have happened.”

“You’re right,” Kishore agreed handing her paper towels. He felt responsible for the situation his wife was in and believed his wife was correct in what she said.

Just then, the phone rang.

“Hi, beta,” Kishore greeted his son, Vinay. “I just made Mummy drop some soup so I’m helping her clean it. Can I call you back in two minutes?” He wasn’t being sarcastic or pretending to support his wife or trying to cajole her. He truly believed that he caused the situation and genuinely felt guilty.

Shweta grabbed the phone. “This was your fault, you clean. I want to talk to my son,” she said in a huff. Speaking to Vinay, she said, “Your father makes my life so difficult. He can’t do one thing right and complicates everything!” Vinay had become used to hearing her mother complain about her father. In fact, this was one of the nicer things she had said about him.  Vinay had learned not to get in the middle of his parents’ arguments. “It’s their issue,” he’d tell his sister when they were younger, “stay out of it.”

“I’m not sure what you and Papa are getting Ruchi for Christmas but I already got Ruchi the new Wii game she’s wanted. So you can get her something else,” Vinay explained.

“Ok, beta. Thanks for letting us know,” Shweta looked upset but tried not to let Vinay know. Little did she know that growing up in the house, Vinay could predict exactly what would happen next.

“I should get going,” Shweta said, “Papa is messing up my kitchen. He really can’t do anything right can he? Please promise me you’ll be nothing like him.” Vinay remained silent as he always does when he hears his mother berating his other, sometimes more favorite, parent.

“Ok talk to you soon. Bye,” his mother said, not noticing that Vinay never agrees with her when she rants about her husband.

She yanked the mop from Kishore’s hand and started furiously cleaning the floor. She didn’t say anything for a minute and Kishore knew that she was really angry. He braced himself for what would be a verbal attack that would last several minutes.

“I don’t know why I married you. What did I tell you 800 times? Call Vinay and tell him that I already bought the Wii game for Ruchi. Did you bother to do it? No. Because you’re an idiot. You make my life miserable. Now I have to return the gift and buy something else. Do you know how busy I’ve been at work? And the malls will be so crowded now. Do you have any idea how much harder you made my life?”

Kishore, feeling terrible for not having done what his wife had asked of him, offered to help. “I can go to the mall and get something else. I know you have a lot going on.”

“So you can ruin something else?” Shweta yelled. “Knowing you, you’ll probably get Ruchi a hammer for Christmas or something. You have no idea how to shop for anyone, let alone for girls. I don’t understand how one person can be so flawed. I don’t know why I married you. It’s not too late maybe I should leave and still live a happy life for the next 15-20 years.”

“Don’t say that,” Kishore pleaded. “I’m sorry. I’ll do better next time, I promise.”

“I don’t even want to see you right now,” Shweta said curtly. She put the mop away and sat by her computer in the office. “Such an idiot,” she whispered under her breath.

About half an hour later she emerged and said with a smile, “That movie you’ve wanted to watch is playing tonight at 6:30. Do you want to go?”

“You want to go to a movie with me, even though you’re mad at me?” Kishore asked carefully.

“Mad at you? For what?” Shweta asked innocently.

“Just now, in the kitchen. You were mad about the soup and Ruchi’s gift,” Kishore said, confused about why she didn’t remember.

“Oh that. That was nothing. You’re so sensitive. I can’t believe you’re still worried about that,” Shweta brushed it off as if nothing had happened. Kishore was left wondering if he really did make believe how bad that argument had been and made him feel. He remembered it being really hurtful but if she was so nice and kind right now, perhaps he did take things too personally. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as he thought. He didn’t know what to think but since his wife was offering to spend time together, he decided to trust her that it was all in his head.

cycle of abuseShweta and Kishore had been married for over 30 years and the pattern was very familiar to him. Most of the time he tries to do anything and everything to avoid upsetting Shweta. If he does one thing she didn’t like, she became very upset, called him names, blamed things on him and criticized everything he did. He called her a particular, detail-oriented, focused woman who sometimes needed to nag him. He had become so used to it that he didn’t hear it anymore.

What Kishore didn’t realize is that name calling, belittling, embarrassing him in front of others, criticizing, etc. are all signs of verbal abuse, a type of emotional abuse. Abusers like to maintain control over their victims and do so by manipulation. Sometimes they “forget” what had happened to make the victims doubt what they remembered. Other times, they behave like Shweta, dismissing the situation and making the victim feel as if they are crazy for making such a big deal about it. It leaves the victim feeling unsafe and insecure but because they love the abuser, they choose to rely on the parts of the cycle when the abuser is being kind. This makes it harder for victims to stand up for themselves and break the cycle of abuse.

Victims of domestic verbal abuse can be men, women or children. Most often they suffer from depression, anxiety, stress, high levels of physical illnesses, low self-esteem and often have a past history abuse as well. Children who grow up witnessing domestic abuse learn that the abusive cycle is normal and expect that in their future adult relationships. They will either find a partner who is abusive, or they may become the abuser themselves.

Verbal abuse can often escalate to physical and sexual abuse. If you or someone you know is in a verbally or emotionally abusive situation, please contact a professional to help you remove yourself and your children safely from the situation. For a list of domestic violence service providers, please visit our resources page.

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