He wanted to have complete control over me.

Lea's story

I met my ex-boyfriend in a chat room. Even at the beginning, our romance had a bitter taste - I was underage, he was seven years older than me. He legitimised the large age gap by saying that he had not found anyone like me before: «If it fits, it just fits.» In retrospect, I think his behaviour was strategic - he was looking for a woman he could take advantage of. He wanted a woman over whom he could exercise power.

It started to become problematic for me when he wanted to pay for my shopping. Due to the age difference, he clearly earned more than me. It made me feel uncomfortable - my mother had always told me to remain financially independent. When I tried to pay for myself, he made a huge scene in front of everyone in the shop. He always managed to intimidate me.

I wanted to break up with him relatively early in the relationship. I just felt something was wrong. But he did not want to let me go and threatened that he would kill himself if I left him. This made me feel terrible and scared. Therefore, I could not go through with the breakup. He used to laugh and say: «See, you can't leave me. You are lost without me. We need each other!»

He wanted to have complete control over me. He did not like it when I was meeting up with my girlfriends. When I wanted to get my driver’s license, he let me take driving lessons but always followed me and my driving instructor in his car. While I was taking the test, he waited for me with a bottle of champagne. I felt so pressured, I failed the test. He screamed at me in front of everybody and stormed off, leaving me there. I had to walk home, which took me two hours.

Looking back, I realise that he systematically brainwashed me. Due to his behaviour and his controlling personality, I was extremely scared of doing or saying something «wrong». I was constantly thinking, «How do I have to behave so that nothing bad happens?» I was in a permanent state of stress and anxiety.

He decided early on that I would move in with him. Without me having much of a say, he planned the whole move. At first, I was open to sharing a flat, even though I had an uneasy feeling. But once we moved in together, I felt like I was in a cage. He told me repeatedly, «You can't live without me.» I was not allowed to do anything without his permission, not even to cook or choose what I wanted to eat. That was always his decision. Sometimes I was only allowed to eat leftovers or bread.

I realized far too late that I was experiencing domestic violence. I was not aware of the warning signs - for years I suppressed my worries and fears. I hardly had any emotions left until I became completely numb. Now I realize how dangerous my situation was.

In the end, I gained more and more strength. I got a new job and finally passed my driving test. This gave me confidence. My newfound self-confidence bothered my ex. He became even more disrespectful and abusive, even spat in my face. It was so humiliating, and it made me very angry. I told myself, «That’s it, I am done.»

I started to read a lot about domestic violence and reached out to my friends and family. I realized: I am not alone. I can break free. Obviously, he felt that I was drifting away from him. In his desire to hold power over me, he continued to threaten me to, telling me he would hurt himself. But he had no power over me anymore. Eventually, I managed the unthinkable. I left him.