The Cycle of Abuse

Is there a pattern?

Cycle Of AbuseMost women, living with an abusive partner, find it hard to see any pattern to the abuse. His behaviour seems bizarre and unpredictable. It seems unbelievable that the same person, who is kind and affectionate one day, could be cruel and malicious another. His hurtful behaviour seems to come as isolated events. You may think of him as a generally “good guy” who does some really awful things once in a while.

When we share with women the belief that abuse does have a pattern, they begin to see it for themselves. This pattern of behaviour is called the Cycle of Abuse. There are three distinct phases to the Cycle. Each of the phases is abusive, but in different ways and with different effects on you. We will review each phase, first by describing your partner’s behaviour.

The Three Phases: Honeymoon, Tension-building and Explosion.

The Cycle begins with the honeymoon, which women often describe as an intense period of courtship. During this time, the relationship first gets established. We’ve described the first occurrence of the honeymoon in chapter 1. Your partner’s behaviour during the honeymoon period seems positive. He is attentive and considerate. He may give you gifts or make promises, or he may simply behave in a way that seems acceptable or “normal.” The two of you begin to establish a relationship together.

Then comes a period of tension-building. This phase of the Cycle will vary in length. Some abusive men may be sullen, silent, unpredictable or moody for a period of minutes, hours, weeks or months, creating unbearable tension in the relationship. The man’s behaviour during this time may be angry or hostile. Women often describe their partners as being very critical of them. Some men withdraw from the relationship and appear disinterested and distant. They may justify this behaviour with excuses such as stress from work or financial concerns. They may also explain their behaviour by blaming their partners or children for creating the problems. Men will often deny that there is a problem, insisting that there is nothing wrong with their behaviour. Sometimes women feel that they are walking on eggshells, living in fear and trying to avoid the next explosion.

The final phase of the Cycle is the explosion. The first time you experienced an explosion, it may not have seemed that significant, but it probably distressed you. Perhaps your partner raised his voice at you or swore at you. Perhaps he slammed a door or banged down a pot. Perhaps he walked away and gave you the “silent treatment.” If the Cycle has continued for years, the explosion phase becomes marked by increasingly brutal attacks, whether they are physical, verbal, psychological or sexual. The attacks also occur more frequently than at the beginning of the relationship.

After the explosion, your partner probably returns to the honeymoon phase. He stops the negative behaviour he demonstrated during the tension-building and explosion phases and behaves again in a seemingly positive way. Your partner may apologize and promise not to act in such a manner again, or he may simply resume behaving in a way that is acceptable to you. There are many tactics that he may use to convince you to stay with him. Being a caring, forgiving person, you accept his apology or reformed behaviour, and your relationship, and the Cycle, continue.

You may notice over time that your partner’s behaviour during the tension-building and explosion phases becomes more extreme. His behaviour during the honeymoon phase may also change; he may give more gifts and make more promises in order to “win you back.” Alternatively, some women find that the honeymoon period virtually disappears, and the relationship becomes characterized by the tension-building and explosion phases.

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  1. Can this cycle be broken? ie emotional abuse, can they ever change? Is there any therapy for the abuser?

  2. I have the same question. Can this be broken. Can this be stopped or changed? My husband seemed to be improving, until he left(6 weeks ago):/ He claims now that he’s trying to grow, become a better person and father. Have no idea if he has plans of getting back together or if he said these things so that he would ‘look good’. But I’m wondering if it can change? Do they ever really change or ‘wake up’? If I become a healthy strong woman would it change (not that I’m healing for him, it’s for me regardless!) or would he run for the hills? :)

  3. This is a really good question but not one that is answered easily in one post. Here are some resources to consider. Chapter 7 of our book explores this question well. You can order the book from any book supplier or ask your library to purchase a copy. Lundy Bancroft’s book “Why Does He Do That: Inside the Mind of Angry and Controlling Men” is also excellent. You could also read Bruce’s and my story which is on this website to see an example of real change and what that looks like. The short answer is that “yes” change is possible but it does not happen very often – some experts suggest 2% of the time. The man has to work really, really hard and engage a program that is designed to address this issue. Most women would say that them being “stronger” did not stop the abuse but rather escalated the abuse. Abusive men want to have power and control. The more you stand up to that, the more he will feel his power and control is being challenged and he will increase the abuse and control tactics. Getting support for yourself excellent. It will help you navigate this really tricky and at times confusing time in your life. I do one-on-one counselling by skype or phone. My fee is $50 a session. I would hope their are resources in your community as well. A woman’s resource centre or shelter / transition house should have the name of counsellors in your area. A Support Group for this issue is the best. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and concerns. I am sure many women share them.

  4. Once you leave the person that try to hurt you even try to kill you and now the calls stop and bo more texting can I now relaxing cause it’s over finally

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