The cycle of violence

Domestic violence is not just a one-time incident, but a pattern of behaviors over time. Most abusive relationships follow a pattern called the cycle of violence, a repeating cycle with three phases: tension building, explosive incident, and honeymoon stage. The length of each phase can be as short as a few seconds or as long as several years.

Tension building

In this phase, the warning signs of abuse start to appear. Often during the tension building stage:

  • The victim and the abuser argue a lot.
  • The abuser yells at the victim out of nowhere.
  • The abuser accuses the victim of cheating, flirting with other people, sleeping around, or other things that the victim did not do.
  • The victim feels like she can’t do anything right.
  • The victim feels tension in the pit of her stomach – like things could blow up any moment and she is just waiting for something bad to happen.

Explosive incident

In this phase, all the tension built up in the first phase is released through an outburst of violence that can include intense emotional, verbal, sexual and/or physical abuse. During the explosion, the abuser may:

  • Physically abuse the victim by hitting, grabbing, shoving, kicking, slamming the victim against a wall, etc.
  • Scream and yell at the victim violently.
  • Throw objects across the room.
  • Rape or sexually assault the victim.
  • Threaten to hurt the victim.

Honeymoon stage

In this phase, the abuser tries to get the victim to stay with him by apologizing for the explosion, trying to make up with the victim, and trying to shift the blame for the explosion off himself. During the honeymoon stage, the abuser often:

  • Apologizes and promises that it will never happen again.
  • Tells the victim he loves her.
  • Buys the victim flowers or other gifts.
  • Makes excuses, saying the victim did something to cause the violence or blaming it on other things, like being drunk or “stressed out.”

As a cycle, this pattern repeats itself; after the honeymoon stage, eventually the tension starts to build up again. Generally, over time, the honeymoon stage gets shorter and shorter and may even disappear, and the explosive incidents become more and more violent and dangerous.

©1998-2003 Break the Cycle. All Rights Reserved.