Cycle of Abuse in Relationships
Abuse in relationships can follow a cyclical pattern. There are times when abusive behavior happens only once, but unfortunately this is not the case in most abusive relationships. Violent behavior typically repeats throughout the cycle. Keep in mind that not all of the victim/abuser behaviors listed below always occur; they are just some examples of commonly reported reactions.
Stage 1: Tension Building
The abuser may become edgy and start to react more negatively to frustrations. The tension may rise to a point where the abuser feels that he/she has lost control over the behavior/actions of the victim.
- Possible abuser reactions: moody; withdraws affection; criticizes and puts victim down; threatens; yells.
- Possible victim reactions: attempts to calm abuser; nurtures; withdraws from daily activities; feelings of walking on eggshells.
Stage 2: Acute Explosion
This is often the shortest of the stages because violence most always occurs at this point. The abuser may outwardly express more intense anger. Some victims become more emotionally detached because becoming emotional with the abuser could be more likely to trigger violence. It typically ends after a violent outburst by the abuser.
- Possible abuser reactions: physical violence like hitting, choking, slapping; sexual violence ranging from unwanted touching to forcible rape; emotional violence like humiliation, yelling, name calling, badgering; use of weapons.
- Possible victim reactions: attempts to protect self; calling police, family, or friends; tries to calm abuser; tries to reason with abuser; fights back; withdraws.
Stage 3: Honeymoon
This is typically a welcomed stage by both the abuser and the victim. The abuser usually expresses remorse for his/her actions and the victim starts to believe that the abuser can change and stop being abusive. This stage often continues until the abuser begins to feel confident again and starts to feel a loss of control over the victim's behavior. This stage has shown to decrease in length over time and has been shown to in some cases, disappear totally.
- Possible abuser reactions: promises to get help; asks for forgiveness; gets gifts for victim; promises love and devotion.
- Possible victim reactions: agrees to stay; sets up counseling; feels happy and hopeful.
(This information is obtained for the Virginia Tech Stop Abuse Program*)
*This information is adapted from Walker, L. (1980) The Battered Woman and a brochure titled "Dating Violence" from Sexual Assault Services and Crime Victim Assistance, Rutgers University.
Power & Control Wheel