Domestic violence | “Why did not you leave?”

Domestic violence | “Why did not you leave?”

Guest article written by: Benthe

“Why did not you leave?”

This is perhaps the most frequently asked question when someone talks about the destructive, often violent relationship they have been in for months, years, sometimes decades.

Why do people ask this question? Why didn’t I go sooner? I think it has everything to do with the fact that a lot of people – including myself before it happened to me – don’t know what domestic violence really looks like.

A misunderstanding of domestic violence

What is domestic violence? I think years ago I would have answered that question in complete ignorance with: ‘when a man beats his wife’. That was honestly the image I had of domestic violence. A woman who, in an argument gone awry, is suddenly punched in the face by her husband and left with a large black eye. I don’t know why this was my picture. Maybe I had read it like that in books? Maybe I saw it on TV?

In any case, it was an overly simplistic picture: a picture that assumes a sudden outburst of physical violence, a picture that does not take into account a gradual onset, a picture that does not take into account psychological terror, a picture that also unjustly automatically woman as victim and man as perpetrator.

It was a picture with errors. It turned out to be mainly an image that for years stood in the way of my ability to see through my own daily reality.

Love to bomb

I met my husband through the grapevine. He was 12 years older than me, had a smooth conversation and was good with the women. He was quite interesting to me then as a young girl. I loved him. We got into a relationship and he introduced me to his friends as ‘the woman of his dreams’. He was nurturing and romantic. He would cook for me, light candles, write sweet notes and sometimes even bring me breakfast in bed. He was there for me when I needed him and he was protective. I had never felt so special and loved.

‘You are disappointing’

He wanted to live together after a few months. I quickly found out, but moved in with him anyway. We did nice things, but soon cracks appeared and a period of pointing and criticism began. I had to change clothes, wear less make-up, laugh less at his friends’ jokes and stop greeting acquaintances with three kisses. He said he didn’t like my body and that my teeth weren’t white enough. I also didn’t do the housework the way I wanted to. A few months later he even gave the summary: ‘you are disappointing’.

Try a little harder

I felt insecure and at the same time responsible for the image he had of me. It had the man who thought so highly of me, who spoke so highly of me, who loved me so much I knows how to disappoint. I was a setback. I was so terribly sad and at the same time so in love with him that I did everything I could to restore his image of me. I looked in the mirror. I had a good figure and normal white teeth, so I couldn’t really place that criticism. I started to think that my behavior could actually be different, that I could pay more attention to him, that it wasn’t fun for him to give three kisses to acquaintances either, that I could also learn to iron a little better. I did my best to live up to his expectations. The bar was high, but like a good dog that jumped, I managed to hit that bar. Happy. I could relax again. I had done well.

However, the bar never remained at the same height for long. The moment I tapped the rod again, it was immediately lifted back up by him. And a little higher. And a little higher. I tried my best, but it was never good enough. I hadn’t closed the hole on the left until I had lost another stitch on the right. I had a constant feeling of failure.

There were also good periods in between, but the sense of responsibility and supreme preparedness had gotten under the skin and did not disappear. And he made sure I couldn’t relax into it either. Expectations were high. The consequences of failure were unbearable for me. The connection would then be gone, I was no more, I would hear it endlessly or I would be ignored. All I wanted was to avoid it and feel “together” with him. The good phases that presented themselves in between were for me proof that it was still possible to have it right together. If only I didn’t cause trouble. But I had to work harder and harder to avoid that accusation.

Pushing boundaries

It was a relationship with two sides: walking on eggshells on one side, doing fun things on the other, building a life together, getting married and starting a family. The moment we were expecting a baby, he became even more critical and started pushing boundaries to condition me. I suspect a feeling of ‘she won’t leave me now anyway’. It went from criticism and directions to sometimes swearing, to a lot of swearing, to a lot of swearing. “Kiss bitch.” ‘Whore.’ I could tell him I didn’t like it, but then he made it right. It was like in the car: if I said I “loved that song on the radio”, he would immediately change the station, and if I said I “loved that song on the radio”, he would turn up the volume extra loud. I made it worse by pointing out my likes and dislikes. I survived better by not saying anything about it. I also had the responsibility of a baby to keep things calm. I swallowed and was silent.

There was – over a long period – a lot, all gradually involve some physical violence. Sometimes there was a push, some pulled, pulled my hair or pinned me against the wall. No, none of that nice, but I wasn’t beaten, was I? And I may have gone on talking or arguing too long. You don’t go for a push or a pull, do you? “There’s something everywhere,” I told myself. I became a rock to put things in perspective and focus on the good. I got so good at it that I could deny the negative aspects of our relationship. On the surface, that is. Because somewhere deep inside I knew it wasn’t right.

No more denying

The balance between good and bad moments was increasingly lost. The violence increased, both psychologically and verbally and physically. Where in the past a whole discussion was necessary for a small outburst of violence, giving my opinion was now enough for serious physical violence. No, still not punched in the face, but squeezed, punched in the arms, knocked against the wall, knocked to the ground, food thrown at me. He wouldn’t let me cry. I wasn’t allowed to talk about it either. I only got back from him in the days after that “it was my fault” or “I remembered it wrong” or “it didn’t happen”. I doubted. Often. Even despite the bruises. ‘Am I going crazy? I’m not making this up, am I?’ Sometimes I thought so. Sometimes I said it. But that also made the situation worse. ‘You’re unstable as hell. You are hypersensitive. It’s time you got help,’ he would advise.

It wasn’t until the last six months of our relationship that I realized I was a victim of domestic violence. I was referred to it by my doctor. And even though I had been at it for years, I was really shocked by this conclusion. “But I’ve never been punched in the face,” was what I said. ‘I am intelligent and highly educated’ was what I thought. As if it had anything to do with it.

I started collecting information and came across the website of the foundation Het Verdwenen Self. Everything I read there awakened so much recognition in me. Everything started to fall into place. The information I found there helped me realize what I had gotten myself into. And also helped me stand firm when my ex would make me doubt again. I wasn’t crazy, it wasn’t my fault.

The shame was too great to tell anyone. The fear of all the advice because ‘you have to leave him’ was something I expected but wasn’t ready to hear yet. I also knew I had to go. But I couldn’t yet. I wasn’t ready to take the plunge. I was not ready for all the misery that was to come. I was not ready to raise our child with divorced parents. I wasn’t convinced that I wasn’t the problem.

I withdrew and vowed not to do anything that might provoke an outburst of violence: don’t give my opinion too much, don’t talk too long, don’t join the discussion. And yet it didn’t stop. The violence did not abate. It only got worse. In the end, it ‘only’ took me a few serious incidents of physical violence to realize that no word, sound or attitude on my part could have turned the tide. I wasn’t the problem. And then I was ready to go: Not even for myself at first, but for our 8-month-old child, who I didn’t want to grow up like that.

Why I didn’t go

The outsiders often only hear about the latest incident. I often hear people say, “if my partner hit me once, I’d be gone”. Yes, maybe me too, if I was still clear-headed, if my compass had still worked properly, if I hadn’t become disoriented, if I was still mentally close to myself, if that blow would come ‘out of the blue’ come if that battle had no further history. But domestic violence (often) doesn’t work that way.


Why didn’t I go?

Because I was walking around with a wrong image of domestic violence. Because for a long time I did not feel like a victim of domestic violence. Because the violence creeps in so gradually. Because the ‘shock’ of a punch to the face doesn’t come. Because there is a lot all a lot of mental abuse. Because I had begun to doubt my own reality. Because I thought it was my fault. Because the relationship wasn’t all doom and gloom. Because I wanted to keep my family together. Because I was afraid of the hole I had to jump into. Because the abnormal had become normal.

This is the first time I am writing about my past. I am writing this blog because I think it is important that as many people as possible realize what domestic violence looks like. I hope that people who happen to be or happen to be find some piece of recognition and recognition in my story. I would like to refer victims seeking more information about psychological abuse to The Vanished Self website. As far as I’m concerned, the real information can be found here in the information jungle. In addition to the website, the books by Iris Koops are very helpful, and Het Verdwenen Eigen has built up a network of 30 specialized professionals so that they can link victims to a suitable therapist. In addition, this foundation offers targeted information and training to professionals.

I also hope that outsiders become aware of what domestic violence looks like so they can better anticipate and respond to it. I hope that professionals will be able to better understand the dynamics of domestic violence and not only focus on the tangible, visible, physical violence, but will also pay special attention to the invisible suffering, to psychological violence, coercive control and intimate terror.

Domestic violence is not just a slap in the face.


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