Domestic Violence Cycle of Abuse



Domestic violence touches so many lives, yet it knows no boundaries of race, social class, ethnicity, creed or age.

Domestic violence is a difficult topic that creates many complex feelings. Domestic violence is an issue that is often kept private for reasons such as fear or shame. The aggressor, even if or when recognize they have a problem will not address their issue or get any type of help. Most often, the aggressor blames their victim for their behavior (1).

Studies suggest that one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime and three in four reported that they know a victim. Most episodes of domestic violence are never reported to authorities. A majority of victims are female, and fifteen percent are estimated to be male victims (1).

Domestic violence and emotional abuse are typically used together in a relationship to control the victim. Persons may be married, living together, or dating (1).

Examples of emotional abuse:

  • Name calling.
  • Putdowns
  • Restricting contact with family or friends.
  • Withholding money
  • Preventing a partner from working.
  • Actual or threatened physical harm such as pushing, shoving, or hitting.
  • Sexual assault
  • Stalking
  • Intimidation

“Victim” is often the term used for a person of domestic violence. When the situation becomes resolved the victim is termed “Survivor.” It is important that victims are respected because they often become plagued with feelings of shame, fear, depression, and have lost sight of the essential fact of their dignity and worthiness to be loved. A victim at times may also make a decision or judgment that will cause family members to be frustrated with them in what may seem like a dangerous or hopeless situation (1).

Domestic violence is rarely an isolated incident but is a pattern of behavior aimed at power and control over another. This pattern is typically called the “Cycle of Violence, ” and the seriousness escalates with each occurrence (1).

The Cycle of Violence


The domestic violence cycle of abuse diagram helps us to understand the different phases which typically occur in abusive relationships before, during and after an abusive episode (2).

cycle of abuse

Most abusive relationships display a distinct pattern, known as the Cycle of Abuse or Violence. Abuse is rarely constant but alternates between tension building, acting out, the honeymoon period and calm (2).

Not all relationships follow the same cycle, and individual experiences vary, some stages – especially the honeymoon or calm periods, may shorten or be left out completely, especially as the abuse intensifies over a period of time (2).

Each stage of the cycle can last from a few minutes to some months, but within an abusive relationship, the following stages can often be pinpointed:


  • Tension starts and steadily builds
  • The abuser starts to get angry
  • Communication breaks down
  • Victim feels the need to concede to the abuser
  • Tension becomes too much
  • Victim feels uneasy and need to watch every move

INCIDENT or “Acting Out” phase

  • Any type of abuse occurs
  • Physical
  • Sexual
  • Emotional
  • Or other forms of abuse as found in the power and control wheel.

HONEYMOON or Reconciliation phase

  • Abuser apologizes for abuse, some beg forgiveness or show sorrows
  • Abuser may promise it will never happen again
  • Blames victim for provoking the abuse or denies abuse occurred
  • Minimizing, denying or claiming the abuse wasn’t as bad as victim claims

CALM before the tension starts again.

  • Abuses slow or stop
  • The abuser acts like the abuse never happened
  • Promises made during honeymoon stage may be met
  • Abuser may give gifts to victim
  • Victim believes or wants to believe the abuse is over or the abuser will change

(Often the cycle of violence is portrayed as 3 steps: tension, acting out and honeymoon phases, where the Honeymoon and Calm phase are seen as one.)

Some victims struggle with their sense of self-worth, setting boundaries on emotional dependence that they “normalize” violent behavior based on experiences in family origins. These family origins may have been dysfunctional and unhealthy but the only thing the victims knew. Some victims may feel as if they are betraying their abuser, they will be judged or deprived of affection if they disclose their abuse or attempt to leave (1).

There is no “typical abuser” even though common characteristics have been identified. An abuser may appear friendly and loving in public while hiding the consequences of violence. The violence does not happen randomly, or solely because of drug abuse or stress, abusers use violence to get what they want. It is important to understand that abusers were not “born to abuse” but often have a history of development and family problems which explains how they became aggressive. Abusers have poor self-worth and do not take responsibility for their actions and instead blame it on the victim (1).

An aggressor must become aware that they have a problem and the need for psychological assistance to recover and exercise healthy relationship patterns. The aggressor needs to develop skills with friends and family, not the victim so they can experience feelings of emotions and disappointments. Once the problem is recognized, there is hope through thinking, forgiveness, and relationship skills (1).

Domestic violence is often hidden from friends, family, and colleagues. Extended family can play a critical role in fostering peace. Victims usually only ask for help when the risk of violence increases. An important step in the prevention f domestic violence intervention is recognizing risk factors such as jealousy, possessiveness, hypersensitivity, controlling, and explosive or threatening behaviors (1).

If you know someone in a domestic violence situation encourage them to call and get help by calling 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-7233/TTY 800-7873224).  Counseling can help the victim understand the dysfunctional patterns in both past and current relationships, and assist in establishing a safe home relationship. A recovering victim of abuse will need guidance and planning thru safety, they will also need help to understand how to report the violence and ask for protection (1).



  1. USCCB.ORG, (2016), “Life Matters: Domestic Violence.”   Retrieved from
  2. Hidden Hurt Org, (2015), “Cycle of Abuse.” Retrieved from