By Ghadeer Ghloum
KUWAIT: Behind closed doors of married couples, a silent epidemic may be hiding in the shadows. Spousal bullying is a lesser-known form of abuse that leaves its victims with deep scars, stripping away their self-worth and personal autonomy and toxifies marriages. To assist victims to break free from the chains that shroud their suffering, Kuwait Times confronts this terrifying truth and shines a light on the darkness of spousal bullying through the lens of lawyers and psychiatric specialists to protect readers through knowledge and help couples understand the fine line between spousal bullying and normal arguments.
International lawyer Bedour Al-Rasheed, lawyer and human rights activist Nivin Maarafie, US licensed clinical psychologist Dr Juliet Dinkha, couples and relationship consultant Basma Al-Hashimi and psychologist and therapist Jumana Mohammad share their thoughts on this topic.
Kuwait Times: Does the law in Kuwait criminalize spousal bullying?
Rasheed: Law 16 of 2020 for Protection Against Domestic Violence and its explanatory memorandum issued on 17/9/2023 is a gamechanger for families and Kuwait. It urges all family members and allows anyone who witnesses any form of violence, whether sexual, verbal or financial, to report it, even if they are not personally involved. This is a leap in awareness and the importance of protecting the human entity, which elevates the individual, family, community and the state. The law defines domestic violence as any form of physical, psychological, sexual or financial mistreatment, whether through action, refusal or threat. It is a crime under the domestic violence law.
Maarafie: Spousal bullying is considered a criminal offense under domestic violence laws, particularly if there is evidence to support it. The case is referred to the public prosecutor’s office under the category of misdemeanor, as domestic violence cases are within the jurisdiction of the public prosecutor’s office for investigation. The legislature allows the victim to present evidence of being subjected to bullying within the marriage, which falls under the criminal aspect.
Kuwait Times: How does the law in Kuwait protect victims of spousal bullying?
Rasheed: Law enforcement in article 14, including the police and specialized investigative teams, are responsible for taking the necessary actions upon receiving complaints and directly referring them to the protection center. If any government employee attempts to coerce the complainant into withdrawing the complaint, they shall be punished with imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years and a fine not exceeding KD 250, or either of these penalties. It is important for individuals to protect themselves by setting boundaries, respecting themselves and acquiring legal knowledge by reading the new domestic violence law and knowing their rights. Knowledge is power.
Maarafie: It is possible to file for divorce if there is evidence. Types of bullying can include physical and appearance-based insults, comparison, imposing cosmetic procedures or standards, slandering and attributing certain characteristics, demeaning in front of children or grandchildren or in public, all of which can result in punishment for the spouse, such as fines or imprisonment, depending on the severity of the bullying and whether it involves physical harm, as well as the specific circumstances of the case. The victim can protect themselves by filing a domestic violence complaint with the public prosecutor’s office, where the case will be investigated and the spouse will be held accountable. I advise the victim of bullying to try to remain silent and not say anything that could be turned against them, while also attempting to gather evidence that proves the bullying they have experienced. Then they can resort to the courts, which is better than engaging in a back-and-forth and exchanging accusations.
Kuwait Times: How can couples differentiate between spousal bullying and regular arguments?
Dr Dinkha: Bullying involves repeated patterns of harmful behavior that are more intense and severe compared to typical arguments or disagreements. It often involves an imbalance of power, where one spouse consistently dominates or controls the other through manipulation, and is characterized by a desire to harm, belittle or control the other person, while arguments and disagreements usually stem from differing perspectives or needs.
One has to evaluate how the interactions make them feel. If you consistently feel fearful, humiliated or emotionally drained after disagreements, it may indicate bullying rather than a healthy conflict. A healthy argument involves respectful communication and empathy for each other’s feelings, whereas bullying involves name-calling, insults or dismissive attitudes. If anyone is feeling bullied or intimidated by their partner, I suggest seeking help of a therapist. The level of emotional and psychological harm spousal bullying can cause can reach severe depression and even suicidal thoughts.
Kuwait Times: What could be the reasons behind one spouse bullying the other?
Mohammad: Low self-confidence may lead to breaking down the psychological well-being of their partner and belittling their abilities in an attempt to convince themselves that they are superior. Suspicion of infidelity may lead to sexual bullying, for example, to make the other spouse lose trust and stop their own infidelity, and attempting to gain attention by imposing their dominance through vicious bullying. It is worth mentioning that often bullying occurs under the guise of joking.
Kuwait Times: How can a bully get rid of such characteristics?
Hashimi: Most psychologists attribute adults’ problems to their childhood, the circumstances they grew up in and the events they experienced. However, this does not prevent the person from developing and improving themselves. In my opinion, a bully or any person with psychological problems of any kind is someone who needs to release what is inside them of negative feelings and emotions. (Change, of course, comes if they feel that they have a problem and need to change).
It also does not mean that the other party should treat them, tolerate them and wait for them to change for the better, because, each case is different from the other and has its own uniqueness and circumstances. We must also take into consideration that each person’s tolerance and reactions are different from the other. This means that a person may have experienced many problems in their childhood but have overcome them in some way and is mentally healthy and has a healthy marital relationship, while another person who experienced the same circumstances may suffer for long periods and be unstable in dealing with the marital relationship due to their childhood trauma.