The Abuse Cycle

Domestic abuse, domestic violence or DV, is a repetitive pattern of behavior designed to gain or maintain control over another person. Repetitive is the key word here; anyone can sin against another person once in a while but abusers intentionally hurt us again and again. Abusive behavior is always about control. The abuser is very interested in having things go his own way. To this end, he’ll use fear, force or coercion in order to gain control over you, then turn around and say, “I’m sorry”. During his “nice guy” routine, he may buy you flowers or gifts. He may start helping around the house or start acting like the husband and father you’ve been longing for him to be. It’s all an act but since he’s very good at making you believe he’s sincere, you fall for it. And he feels good about playing you for a fool.

The victim of abuse often isn’t aware that she is being abused. Her abuser spends a great deal of time defining reality in order to keep his victim from seeing the truth of the situation. He’s nice when he has to be nice and other times he lets go with the abuse. Then it cycles around again and he apologizes. He didn’t mean it. How could you think he’d actually try to hurt you? His hurtful words are “constructive criticism” or “jokes”. His explosive or violent behavior is “an anger issue” or is “your fault for not…” or “your fault for…”. No matter what he’s said or done, in his definition of reality, he is never to blame. You are. But even though you let things get out of hand, even though you hurt him, he wants desperately to make this relationship work. He wants to make you happy. He loves you. Don’t you understand that?

It gets tiring, doesn’t it? As long as you are with an abuser, it won’t stop. But you can arm yourself with knowledge  so at least you’ll understand what’s going on. Here are the steps in an abuse cycle:

Tension building phase:

During this phase, the stress starts to build. There doesn’t have to be a reason for it to start (other than the fact that he is an abuser) but conflicts over daily life only makes things worse (as well as give him, in his mind, an excuse). Things such as how to handle problems with the children, too little money, overdue bills, schedule conflicts, illnesses, unemployment or problems at work adds to the stress. The abuser starts to feel ignored, threatened or angry. Communication becomes difficult and then impossible. The abuser may become verbally or emotionally abusive. The victim begins to feel as if she must “walk on eggshells” to keep the abuser calm. This phase can last anywhere from several minutes to months.

Explosion phase:

During this phase, he becomes abusive. This part of the cycle may last hours, days, or weeks.

Honeymoon phase:

Nearing the end of the explosion phase, the abuser might become afraid that he may have gone too far but his concern is only for himself—how the consequences of his abuse will affect him. He wants to maintain the status quo. In order to keep victim from leaving him, calling the police, or finding a way to get help, he apologizes to her and promises that “it will never happen again”. During this phase, the abuser starts to show kindness towards his victim. He may spend more time with her, may get some tasks done that she’s been asking him to get to, may act like the “ideal” husband or father, and may shower his victim with gifts. He will say he is “sorry” for hurting her. He may act depressed, may pretend to grieve, and seem as if he is remorseful. He may promise to get counseling. He may explain to her that what happened was really her fault, that her behavior provoked his and if she’d only done or not done thus and such, he wouldn’t have become angry or abusive. He will do everything he can to convince her that he is genuinely remorseful and will never abuse her again. The victim, wanting to believe him and anxious for the relationship to improve and move forward, falls for his act and stays in the relationship.

But fake remorse, fake apologizes, do not repentance make. Soon, it starts over again. And again. And again. And….


2 thoughts on “The Abuse Cycle

  1. Another thing that has dawned on me recently is that the victim who tries from the beginning of the marriage to be keenly submissive, has a hard time recognizing the abuse cycle because…because she tries to be a peacemaker (actually it is peace-faker), the roller-coaster cycles mentioned in this article “can” be few and far between, duping and deceiving us even more deviously.


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