“A very special man. Enthusiastic, sympathetic and my father’s new business owner. Alone, he moved from Randstad to Friesland. My father took him on his tow to learn about the area and their common hobby: sailing. I became curious about it. Everyone thought he was so special that I wanted to get to know him. Immediately there was a certain chemistry, a gentle tension.
My brother had died before that and I wasn’t feeling well. Robert* threw himself like a knight who wanted to help me. He is a strong and successful man who serves on boards of trustees and boards. In fact, it was very good that such a strong man cared about me. In no time have you been madly in love.
Within a year we got married and moved about 100 miles from my family. Without realizing it, Robert isolated me. He got into an argument with my parents, whom he accused of tampering, and preferred not to receive visitors. My friends weren’t very good. It collapsed very slowly, so I ended up losing almost everyone else.
My dad used to visit, but he was so offended that he didn’t come back. If your husband says all the time and gives examples that your family and friends consist of tough, autistic Frisians, you automatically begin to believe that. Anyway, I didn’t argue with that. Robert was so controlling that he kept me under his control. He knew how the world worked, and what was best for me and us; As long as you listen to it carefully, everything will be fine. And I believed it.
Everything went very quickly. We were only together for eight months when I got pregnant. I started to see his real face more and more. Sometimes it can suddenly bite hard and fiercely. And in a small disagreement he said contemptuously: “Is that what you want? Are you going to let our relationship end like this? It was so scary that I took everything to myself. Yes, I made a stupid comment or I was talking to a friend of his for a long time. Yes, of course he had every right.” He’d get angry about it. And no, I didn’t want to leave him. I really wanted to believe we were a good couple. They both had great jobs, a beautiful home, and a baby on the way. Everything was just fine, right?
Before Tom was born, I could still get over Robert’s bad mood. I was resilient as hell. But once our son arrived, I ended up in a hell on earth.
Robert thought I was a bad mom and said all his friends could confirm it. “Put it away, to a boarding school. Or give it to a family that’s happy with it.” Talk about Tom as “something rotten he doesn’t want.” If Tom cried, I wouldn’t be able to pick him up. If I did, Robert grabbed my ring and pulled me away. He asked him to keep his life as it was. Not with a child who disrupted everything and cost money. It made me so nervous I withheld money for diapers and washed Tom’s pants before Robert found them. When I knew he was coming home, I checked that everything was fine. The house is clean, everything is tidy, Tom is calm and satisfied, I wear the clothes he likes so that there is nothing to make him explode.
Of course that didn’t help, Robert was pissed off anyway. continuous. When I tried to appease him, he no longer considered me the kind, gentle woman he had married, I had grown too old. When I asked him how I should do something, he thought I was acting insecure. If I took the lead, I should have asked first. It was never good I became numb, the shadow of the independent woman I once felt, numb. I wanted to be free, but I didn’t know how to do it. I also did not dare. The worst part was that the verbal and physical abuse was not only directed at me but was also directed at Tom. He was grabbed very violently, leaving him bruised. Shake back and forth, hit. He was hung on his diaper for so long when Robert was bothered to wear corduroy.
I wanted to ask for help, but I didn’t know who. The line with my friends and family became thin. Nobody knew what was going on in our house. I was ashamed that I could not be a good wife and mother, because I let the violence happen. Worst of all, Robert threatened me that if I left I would never see Tom again. He is a strong man who knows who are in high positions. I didn’t dare to risk it. If I stay with him, I can at least protect Tom to some extent.
kicking and screaming
I was much appreciated at work, while Robert kept burning me to the ground and then pretended to be my savior – something wasn’t right, right? I called five of his ex-boyfriends. Five women were all indoctrinated, isolated and abused. Then I knew it wasn’t my fault and saw that Robert was holding me in captivity. Not me, but he was the problem. His girlfriends encouraged me to leave. This had no future, it was only going to get worse. And that it was.
On a cold winter day in 2016, Robert called me to work. He was angry because “this kid” had spat on his “sofa”. He’s done with him and Tom is fired. Tom was four years old, and he was a defenseless child. What father would do such a thing? I let everything fall out of my hands and ran home. There I found Tom huddled outside. In blue pajamas from the cold. I went in with him to sit by the stove to warm him. A basin in hand, but when Tom caught another wave of nausea, I wasn’t fast enough. Robert was angry. He dragged me to the ground by my hair. He kicked me and screamed and tried to strangle me. For the first time I resisted, screamed everything together and groaned.
I locked myself in a room with Tom and the next day, when Robert went to work, we left. On the way I called my parents to see if I could call them. It is possible. Of course you can. We were welcomed with open arms. When we got to my parents’ house, Tom closed the door and said, “We’re safe here, Mama.”
Pictures of the bruises and injuries on Tom’s body, and statements from Robert’s former companions, all my accounts and reports of what happened, all gave me sole custody. Robert said that he was not himself, that he did not mean it that way, that he was sick, that he had been examined by a psychiatrist and that he was fine, and I don’t like it anymore. I felt powerful. This man will never touch me and my son again. At first there were still visits to neutral territory, but at some point Robert completely lost interest in Tom. That was fine for Tom. As he once said to Robert on one of those visits, “You’re not my dad, you’re my dad.”
Tom and I are in therapy, separately and also together. Our bond is very close, but we also have to let go of each other a little bit. Tom can be a child, indifferent. This is very difficult for him. I’m so sorry that Robert’s behavior left deep marks on Tom and that I couldn’t protect him from it. Now I know it wasn’t my fault. Like a fly in a spider’s web, I was completely trapped, unable to escape. So luckily I was able to cut all the wires.
I’m proud of us. To my dear friend and his two girls, whom Tom and I are so happy. To my brave and strong son and to myself. Not much on my strength; I was already a strong woman, perhaps a very strong woman, so I kept traversing the web of manipulation and violence. I am proud that I dared to show my weakness again. Dare to ask for help. Dare to be myself. I hope that through this story I can give everyone who is in a similar situation the support and confidence to also trust their feelings and find strength and help out.”
Over 60% of domestic violence is related to (former) partner violence. Women (60%) are more often victims of (former) partner violence than men (40%). One in five women has been physically abused by a partner or ex-partner. Additionally, 11% of women have experienced sexual violence in a relationship. For help or advice, you can contact Safe Home anonymously at the toll-free number 0800-2000. This article was created with the help of Ester Wijnen. She gives voice to the hidden stories of intimate partner violence and has written her own experiences in the book You Are the Problem.
*For privacy reasons, the name Robert was invented.