The Cycle of Violence

Tension-building phase
During this phase of the domestic violence cycle, tension builds between the couple. Problems with jobs, finances, children and other areas are stressors that increase the tension. Verbal, emotional or physical abuse may occur during this phase. Over time, abuse and battering increase, becoming more frequent and more severe. The woman attempts to control the abuse through various coping techniques, such as avoidance, placating or "giving in."

Acute battering incident
This is an uncontrollable discharge of built-up tension; the process has stopped responding to any control. The "trigger" for moving into this phase is rarely the woman's behavior; rather it is usually an external stressor (problems at work, a flat tire, etc.) or the internal state of the abuser. The type of battering that occurs is usually much more serious and intense than in the tension-building phase. The woman may be severely injured.

Honeymoon phase(apologies, excuses, promises of reform)
The abuser realizes he or she has gone too far. The abuser typically exhibits loving, kind behavior while apologizing and promising that it will never happen again. Both the abuser and the victim want to believe that it will never happen again. The abuser believes that the victim has learned the lesson, and the victim becomes "hooked" back into the relationship by the abuser's sincere apology and loving behavior.

The built-up tension has been released by the battering. Both members of the couple are relieved. During this "honeymoon" phase, the couple becomes very close emotionally. The effect of the abuser's generosity, helpfulness and genuine interest during this phase cannot be minimized.

It is during phase three that victimization becomes complete. The emotional, symbiotic bonding that occurs between the couple strengthens the commitment that each has to the relationship. The victim is finally experiencing the relationship in a positive way, and that makes it increasingly difficult for the victim to leave it. After the victim has been through the cycle a number of times, her self-esteem begins to wither.

Slowly the honeymoon phase fades, and the couple moves once again into the tension-building phase, and the entire cycle begins again.

Reprinted and revised with permission from the Family Violence Prevention Fund.