Domestic Violence: Understanding the Cycle of Violence

Domestic violence relationships exhibit certain characteristics that differ from healthy, intimate relationships. Understanding the difference may be the key to recognizing the need to seek assistance.

Violent relationships usually do not begin with violence. Like normal, healthy couples, you begin with romance.

During this time, the batterer attempts to bond or connect with their partner. Domestic violence relationships never return to romance once the cycle begins. Domestic violence partners then proceed into the next phase of the Cycle of Violence, called the Tension Building Phase, which is marked by Power and Control.


1. Tension Building Phase
The batterer begins to assert his or her power over the victim in an attempt to control the victim’s actions. Batterers will set rules for the victim that are impossible to follow. They will tell the victim that there will be consequences if they break the rules. Sadly, the consequences usually result in violence against the victim. Rules often may include no contact with family members, money spending rules and/or needing to obtain permission for everything the victim does. Batterers use demeaning, degrading and derogatory phrases toward the victim in an attempt to “objectify” the victim. This is done because it is easier to commit violence against an “object” rather than someone you are supposed to love.

The victim may internalize the appropriate anger at the abuser’s unfairness and experience physical effects such as depression, tension, anxiety and headaches. As the tension in the relationship increases, minor episodes of violence increase, such as pinching, slapping or shoving.

The rules are nearly impossible to follow, but victims try to follow them in an attempt to forestall the inevitable assaults. The violation of the rules leads the couple into the next phase, Acute Battering Phase.

2. Acute Battering Incident
During this phase, the batterer exhibits uncontrolled violence outbursts. This is the shortest of the three but the most dangerous. Batterers decide to teach the victim a lesson and will usually injure the victim. The injuries may start out as minor such as a slap, a pinch, or hair pulling. As the cycle continues the violence becomes increasingly brutal and escalates into a great bodily injury or death.

If death does not occur, the victims usually react with shock, denial or disbelief and the cycle continues into the third phase The Acute Battering Phase ends in an explosion of violence. The victim may or may not fight back. Following the battering, the victim is in a state of physical and psychological shock. The batterer may discount the episode and underestimate the victim’s injuries.

3. Remorseful Phase
During this last phase of the cycle of violence, the batterer usually begins an intense effort to win forgiveness and ensure that the relationship will not break up. Batterers ask for forgiveness, say it will not happen again and behave in a very loving and kind manner. While batterers apologize, they still blame the victim for the violence stating, “If you had only stayed home like I asked you, I wouldn’t have had to hit you…” or “I’ll never do it again…” Often batterers use gifts to convince the victim to forgive. The victim wants to believe that the abuse will end. The victim’s feelings that the abuse will now stop is supported by the batterer’s loving behavior.

Once violence has begun, it continues to increase in both frequency and severity. When you identify the cycle of violence in your relationship or that of a loved one, you can start to see how you or your friend has been victimized. Change cannot occur unless you seek assistance from a trained professional. Resources  are available. Remember life is not so lacking in value that it should be risked in order to “help” someone who is brutally battering.