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Home > Domestic Violence > Cycle of Violence

Cycle of Violence

Cycle of Violence

In a relationship the cycle of violence refers to repeated and dangerous acts of violence that follows a typical pattern no matter when it occurs or who is involved. The pattern, or cycle, repeats; each time the level of violence may increase. At every stage in the cycle, the abuser is fully in control and is working to control and further isolate his victim. Understanding the cycle of violence and the thinking of the abuser helps survivors recognize they truly are not to blame for the violence they have suffered and that the abuser is the one responsible.

Tension building phase

Tension builds over common domestic issues like money, children or jobs. Verbal abuse begins. The victim tries to control the situation by pleasing the abuser, giving in or avoiding the abuse. None of these will stop the violence. Eventually, the tension reaches a boiling point and physical abuse begins.


Abuse can be emotional, physical, sexual, psychological, economic, and social. Typically, When the tension peaks, the physical violence begins. It is usually triggered by the presence of an external event or by the abuser’s emotional state—but not by the victim’s behavior.


The abuser makes excuses and blames the victim for their behavior. Common excuses usually revolve around the abuser being intoxicated or abused as a child. However, alcohol use and being abused as a child does not cause the abuser to be violent. Common victim blaming statements usually focus on the victim's behavior. For example, "If you had the house cleaned, I wouldn't have had to hit you," or, "If you had cooked dinner on time, I wouldn't have had to hit you." The goal of this stage is to avoid responsibility for their behavior.

Calm – “Normal” Behavior

During this stage, the abuser may use different tactics to achieve their goal to regain power over the victim. The abuser may act as though nothing happened - everything is normal. This can be crazy making for victims, as they do not understand how they can pretend nothing happened.

If the victim has visible injuries, they will have to explain how they got them. This is designed to maintain the normalcy of the relationship. The goal of this stage is to keep the victim in the relationship and present the relationship as normal.

Another tactic an abuser may use after they have chosen to be violent is to become the thoughtful, charming, loyal, and kind person with whom the victim fell in love. This may involve going out to dinner, buying flowers and convincing them they will change. This can be a huge incentive to stay or return to the abuser because they believe that this time they really will change. This is sometimes referred to as the “honeymoon phase”.

The cycle can happen hundreds of times in an abusive relationship. Each stage lasts a different amount of time in a relationship. The total cycle can take anywhere from a few hours to a year or more to complete.  It is important to remember that not all domestic violence relationships fit the cycle. Often, as time goes on, the 'making-up' and 'calm' stages disappear. 
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