why did she go back?

A young mother of two beautiful children is dead, and our little community is in mourning.  Tragically, we are not alone.  As I checked the news updates on my phone this morning, I saw that two other young mothers had also been found dead, and their presumed killer was yet another Ohio man on the run.   More than probably, these three were all killed by the men at least two of them loved.

Domestic violence.  The question I keep hearing is, “why did they go back?”

A young reporter, Gere Goble of the News Journal has answered this question as best she can without the firsthand knowledge of being battered and betrayed by the man you love:

“I heard it almost as soon as the News Journal reported the disappearance of Lynn Jackenheimer: Why did she go back?

In the newsroom, we were hearing rumors long before we were able to confirm and report anything. We were hearing that her son’s father had beaten her before, that they’d split up. That she’d agreed to go on vacation with him because she’d thought maybe he’d changed.

He came home. She didn’t.

And so I heard people ask that question: Why did she go back?

I used to ask that question myself, because from the perspective of someone who has never experienced domestic violence, it’s a fairly logical thing to ask. Going back to a man who has come close to killing you sounds … well, foolish. At best.

None of the men in my life would ever hit me. Ever. If I thought there was any chance they would, they wouldn’t be in my life.

It’s easy for me to say that, though, because I’m one of the lucky ones.

I could say it’s because I’m smart or because I have too much self-respect to ever end up in that sort of situation, but I’d be kidding myself. I’m just lucky.

I’m lucky that I was born into a family where domestic violence is considered an outrage, not a fact of life.

I’m lucky my husband was born into that sort of family, too.

And I’m very, very lucky I found him.

I know that because some very brave women told me so. Some of these women were extremely intelligent. Some came from good families — families like mine, with no history of domestic abuse. Most were hard-working, well-educated and just in general wonderful human beings. They all were victims of domestic violence.

When I was in charge of the reporting staff at a small-town paper, we covered five domestic violence murders in less than a year.

At least one of the victims had just moved back in with her husband.

She’d been beaten so badly, so many times; she had been through so much. She had been living at a domestic violence shelter and had finally broken free of him.

But she went back, and by the end of the weekend, she was dead.

Why did she go back?

In the wake of those murders, I got to know several members of a community group dedicated to ending domestic violence. They tried to help me understand.

For one thing, you have to consider the children. Most single moms can’t come close to providing for their children the way two parents can. We hear how much better it is for children to be raised in a two-parent household.

Being out on your own with absolutely nothing — no clothes, no food, no money — is terrifying. Abusers isolate their victims, leaving them with no job, no prospects and, most importantly, no support system.

What would you do if taking a few punches meant your children wouldn’t go hungry? Which is worse: the known or the unknown?

Then there are societal pressures. In some places, to some people, it’s still considered acceptable for a man to beat his wife. If that shocks you, consider yourself among the fortunate.

Children who watch one parent batter another learn those roles. A son learns to control and manipulate. A daughter learns to blame herself for making her man so angry.

It’s one thing to be told it’s not your fault. Believing it is an entirely different matter.

I never actually met the woman who taught me the most. She was a frantic, tearful voice on the telephone.

She called to complain because one of our stories had mentioned that there was a domestic violence shelter in the county.

We hadn’t said where it was, mind you. We merely reported it existed. We wanted to help people, not endanger them.

This woman was terrified.

“He’ll find me,” she said. “Now that he knows there’s a shelter, he’ll figure out I’m here and he’ll find me. He’ll kill me.”

At first, I thought she was being ridiculous. But the longer we talked, the more she told me about what her husband had put her through, the more I understood.

He beat her, he stalked her, he made her life a waking nightmare. But it wasn’t because he hated her: It was because he loved her.

I think that’s the hardest thing for me to comprehend. At the heart of these situations are often two people who love each other very much.

The victims might know they’re in danger, they might know it’s not their fault, they might be on their way to building a new life. But I think that sometimes, something in a woman’s heart of hearts tells her that if she can just love her abuser enough, everything will change. Everything will be all right.

The abusers may be sick, twisted monsters, but many of them seem to think they’re showing their love.

A man who murdered his wife and a friend in cold blood made a deal with a reporter. Read my poems, the murderer asked. You and your boss, read my poems. Then I’ll talk to you.

I was the boss. I read the poems that sick bastard had written in his jail cell.

They were all about how much he loved the woman he’d gunned down, about how sorry he was. And about how she’d done him wrong by leaving.

I wish with all my heart we’d passed on that deal.

So, why did Lynn Jackenheimer go back?

I don’t know. I don’t understand. I doubt anyone ever will. I don’t know why any woman ever made that decision.

But I know those women had reasons. Good reasons.

And if I don’t understand, it’s just because I’m lucky.”



14 thoughts on “why did she go back?

  1. Funny but when I read that article, it never occurred to ask the question. I thought of about ten more reasons–like the fact she probably had no faith in our family court system and was afraid for her children to have unsupervised weekends and holidays. Abusive men will go after the children to punish the wife for leaving. If she stayed (or went back), it means she can divert his anger away from the children and back on to herself. Or she thought he *was* about to pull the nuclear option and kill the whole lot of them, so she went back trying to appease him. Or she’d been trying for months and couldn’t pay the bills and he was refusing to pay child support. Or threatening to leave and disappear with the children.

    One of the reasons I never left in the first place for thirty years? I *knew* if I ever went back it would be twice as bad because he would punish me for leaving. No support, no one to take in a young mother and four school age children until we could become stable. Once you’re out, its you and a furious abuser doing God only knows what behind locked doors, punishing you using the courts, claiming nothing ever happened and poverty.

    Honestly, the question isn’t, ‘why did you she go back?’ but ‘how did she ever find the courage to leave in the first place.’ It must have been hell on earth in that house to even try.

    • Thank you everyone for your comments. They are much appreciated. There are a couple of things I’d like to clarify, however.

      If you re-read the first part of the blog, you will see that I did not say that the men loved the women. I said the women loved the men. The men were not capable of loving anyone but themselves.

      The reality is, sadly, that people in this little town (because we are small enough that everyone either knew Lynn or had a child who went to school with her) really are struggling with understanding “why” she would take both of her children and go on vacation several hundred miles away from her home with this man, as she had separated from him quite some time ago because of past abuse and there was a restraining order in place. Her family and friends had begged her not to go, but she did. The writer of the newspaper article is making it clear that those who have not gone through abuse don’t “get” why she returned to him, but is also making the point that we will NEVER get it unless we have gone through it and we shouldn’t judge any woman who returns as we don’t understand her reasons. I believe she is saying what you are saying, Ida Mae, that there are plenty of good reasons women stay, and that we will never understand their hell. The point is that people who haven’t experienced abuse are trying to learn more about it and understand. For this community, this is amazing.

  2. Oh Morven, sorry to be blunt but think you’ve got one point wrong, big time. These men who abuse their women don’t love their partners. To believe that, is to buy into the distorted and unethical belief system of the abusers.
    It’s very simple: these men believe they are *entitled* to receive services from their women. Housekeeping services. Sexual services. Emotionally soothing services. Valet services. Secretarial services. Ego-boosting, narcissistic supply services. And when their woman draws a line, when she sets a boundary or leaves, then the man punishes her because she has defied him by saying (or implying) “I’m not going provide those services to you any more, because you haven’t been respecting me.”
    That abuser’s poems were designed to seduce you to his viewpoint, and to take your eyes of the plain fact that he HATED his woman and was furious that she had defied his coercive control.

    As Lundy Bancroft says, would you believe an alcoholic’s assessment and self-perception of his behaviour? Of course you wouldn’t. You know that most alcoholics admit they like a drink, but deny they are enslaved to alcohol. Those who are close to the alcoholic know the real truth: that he’s an addict who is in denial about the harm being caused by his behaviour.
    Likewise, you shouldn’t believe the self-definition of man who abuses his partner.

    Wanna know why victims don’t leave? I suggest reading my article “Why Didn’t You Leave?”
    Bless you Morven!

    • Barbara, I completely agree with you. If you re-read my post you will see that I was referring to the fact that the women in question loved the men. M

      Sent from my iPhone

  3. Totally agree with Barbara and appreciate what Ida Mae said. Love has nothing to do with it. It’s what abusers tell themselves, and it’s what victims desperately want to believe, but love isn’t what people say it is according to their personal agendas. It is what it is, and if those things that define love aren’t there, it isn’t love.

    There may be intensity of feelings and unimaginable need — either for control or illusions — but intensity does not equal depth, and need isn’t synonymous with love. No one justifies their unjustifiable behavior like an abuser. “It’s because I love you…” is a phrase too many victims, both children and adults, have been affronted with.

    Unless you’ve experienced the systematic destruction of your self perception, your self worth and your very ability to discern by psychological, verbal, emotional and/or physical abuse it’s hard to imagine what it’s like to live with those essential parts of your being torn from you. Not to mention in a culture that provides so little real support for women and children in even life-threatening situations — and even less now thanks to all the budget cuts…life cuts.

    Hearing abusers claim they love their victims and hearing victims assert that there’s really love there is hard for me to hear, because I know how insidious that lie is…and it is a lie. Harder to face that truth than to bear the physical transgression or verbal/emotional assaults. And some would rather risk death in hope that what we need to believe is true for whatever reasons, than to live with the harsh reality that it isn’t.

    The thing is in that harsh light of day, you finally have the chance to see what love really looks like. I guess that’s what it’s like to have the scales fall off your eyes. Who and what do you think they first saw when that happened all those years ago? Honestly, with the dynamics of this type of abuse and the pathetically little support our culture in general affords victims of abuse, sometimes it does take a miracle.

  4. Unless you’ve been there it’s hard to understand. It’s a frightful experience. One that you would like to forget, but it’s hard not to relive it when you see it happen to someone you know. You can ask “Why”, but until you experience it you can’t understand.

  5. thank you for posting this artical. the other day i was told that i needed to talk with my husband who has been out of the house for ten month and just because i talked with him he thinks he is coming back home and he has showed up where we are. thanks for posting again because it helped resolve that he is not coming back and i’m still goingg for a divorce because he has not changed

    • Heather, I am so grateful that this posting was of help to you. This is always the reason I write them, so that perhaps one of my readers can see that there are different ways to look at the situation, and then find the truth in the middle of the lies they are hearing. Blessings to you!

  6. I’ve re-read the post carefully. Now I see that all but the first three paragraphs are a quote from the woman journalist, Gere Goble. I had thought it was all written by you, Morven. My beef is with Gere Goble, and if I have time I’ll send her a message. She wrote that “At the heart of these situations are often two people who love each other very much.” Okay, she qualified her words later. But IMO she should not have mentioned that *abusers love their partners* as if it were a fact. My rant was against her use of language there, not against you, Morven. Sorry. Maybe if her quote had been indented I would have been more likely to understand who I was upset with. But admittedly, I did do my first reading in a rush.

    Being a survivor of abuse, I know just how mind-twisting abuse can be, and when supposed supporters like this journalist phrase something wrongly, it quickly re-triggers all my memories of when bystanders took my abuser’s side and made his excuses for him.

    Is the lesson here: “watch your language”?

  7. If they don’t leave, they get killed. If they do, they might lose their kids. I know women who have told me they would rather die than lose their kids. Maybe that’s it.

    The perpetrator certainly professes to love the victim. I was just told by mine, “I really love you”. I left him ages ago. He obviously doesn’t know what love is. Pity nobody in his bible study group can point it out to him.

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