The Cycle of Abuse



The Cycle of Abuse is characterized by the phases shown in the chart: growing tension, violent outburst, remorse, and the honeymoon stage.  The cycle repeats itself, growing in intensity each time. This can occur many times but each stage lasts a different amount of time in abusive relationships, sometimes it takes just a few hours or a few years or more to complete. Not all domestic abuse relationships follow this cycle, and some stages may even disappear. However, it is important to recognize this cycle when violence is used against the victim even once, the abuser is likely to strike again.

Tension Building Phase - There is growing tension towards an explosion, the victim knows this will happen and will often times try to avoid or fix the situation. The victim may go to the police during this phase only to be turned away as no violence has yet occurred. (However, the victim should not be discouraged from doing this as it is best to report and document any behavior that makes one fearful.)
  • Walking on eggshells
  • Threats and intimidation
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Unpredictable behavior
  • Victim may placate the abuser by nurturing and/or staying out of their way
  • Victim covers for abuser
  • Victim makes excuses for abuser’s behavior
  • Victim may withdraw emotionally from overwhelming stress

The victim's inability to face the reality of the situation allows the batterer to escalate the violence...

Violent Outburst- This is when the abuse actually occurs and can be any type of abuse: Violent/physical, emotional, verbal, psychological, sexual, and/or financial in nature.

Remorse - During this phase, the abuser apologizes or attempts to make up for the abusive behavior:

  • Abuser may apologize for abuse
  • Abuser may promise it will never happen again
  • Abuser may blame the victim for causing the abuse
  • Abuser may deny abuse took place or say it was not as bad as the victim claims

Honeymoon Phase- A period of relative calm, the abuser has blown off steam, possibly apologized, and regains composure. This may be the longest phase in early relationships, but can become progressively shorter over time as the tension phase starts up again..

  • Tranquil, well-being environment
  • Abuser makes promises
  • Victim feels responsible for abuser’s well being
  • Abuser acts like the abuse never happened
  • Physical abuse may not be taking place
  • Promises made during 'making-up' may be met
  • Victim may believe the abuse is over
  • Abuser may give gifts to victim along with continued apologies and affection

The cycle usually ends one of two ways: in the death of the victim or a separation. If there is a separation the abuser often moves on to a new victim.  The cycle of violence illustrates that until the cycle is broken by the victim, the abuser, or an outside influence, it can result in deadly consequences.