The Domestic Violence Cycle

Recognizing the Three Phases of the Domestic Violence Cycle

Domestic violence is a serious issue that affects many individuals and families in the U.S. Anyone can be susceptible to domestic violence and abuse, regardless of someone’s age, race, gender, or sexuality. The domestic violence cycle is a pattern that can continue indefinitely if left unchecked. Understanding the domestic violence cycle can help you spot the warning signs of potential violence. If you have determined you are a victim of domestic violence, it is vital for your health and safety to take action as soon as possible by getting out or seeking help.

The three phases of the cycle of violence are:

  1. Tension Building
  2. Explosion
  3. Remorse/Honeymoon

1. Tension-Building Phase

In this stage, the abuser begins to assert their power over the victim in an attempt to control their actions. The abuser can become increasingly irritable, frustrated, and unable to cope with everyday stresses. They may also set rules for the victim that are impossible to follow or constantly changing, such as no contact with family members, decreased money spending, and requiring permission to do anything. Abusers can also use degrading and derogatory words or phrases against the victim. This is an attempt to objectify the victim because it is easier to commit violence against an “object” rather than a person.

Victims in the tension-building phase might attempt to please the abuser. They may have a feeling of “walking on eggshells” and experience anxiousness and/or depression. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), studies have suggested that there is a relationship between intimate partner violence and depression and suicidal behavior.

Feelings of anxiousness can manifest as becoming increasingly agreeable, nurturing, or fearful toward the abuser, or using alcohol and/or drugs to avoid the situation. A victim might internalize anger at the abuser’s unfairness and may experience physical effects such as tension and headaches. Oftentimes, denial is used as a defense mechanism to minimize the inevitability of physical abuse. As the tension builds in this phase, episodes of violence may increase such as pinching, slapping, and shoving.

The abuser is aware on some level that their behavior is wrong and begins to fear that the victim will leave. They respond to this fear by becoming increasingly demanding and possessive of the victim to prevent the victim from leaving.

2. Explosion Phase

Once the explosion phase is reached, the abuser exhibits uncontrolled violence. This phase is the shortest of the three but one of the most dangerous. Abusers may try to “teach the victim a lesson”. These explosions can last anywhere from a few minutes to hours. Explosion phases can begin with violence such as slapping, pinching, or hair pulling. As it continues though, the physical violence becomes increasingly brutal and may lead to extreme bodily injury or death. During physical violence, victims may have feelings of fear, helplessness, anger, or numbness. In this phase, the physical violence ends when the abuser stops or when the victim is able to call for support through 911 or other outlets.

Once the incident is over, victims might deny or downplay the seriousness of their injuries and their own feelings of terror. The victim could be in a state of physical and psychological shock or disbelief. According to HelpGuide, this can manifest as feelings of guilt and self-blame, a withdrawal from others, as well as physical symptoms such as edginess, fatigue, or racing heartbeat. The abuser may also underestimate the victim’s injuries and deny the seriousness of the violent episode.

3. Remorse/Honeymoon Phase

In the last phase of the domestic violence cycle, the abuser begins an intense effort to win forgiveness from the victim. This is done to ensure that the relationship between them will not end. Abusers will often ask for forgiveness, express that it will not happen again, give gifts, and behave in a very loving and kind manner.

Although abusers will apologize in this stage, their apologies might still place blame on their victim. Apologetic phrases from the abuser may sound like, “If only you had stayed in like I asked you to I wouldn’t have had to hurt you…” Or they may insist that they’ll “…never do it again.” In their apologies, the abuser expresses remorse for their actions. However, they do not take responsibility for hurting their victim. The National Domestic Hotline states that “abusive partners often apologize but have little to no willingness to make changes or behave differently.” Therefore, even if they verbally acknowledge the violence, the cycle will continue.

The abuser convinces the victim that their behavior will change. In this phase, the victim might want to believe that their suffering is over and may convince themselves that this “good” side of their abuser is the “true” side. The loving behavior exhibited in the remorse/honeymoon phase is meant to manipulate the victim into staying.

In this stage, the victim is most likely to seek help, but this is also the most difficult time for them to leave their abuser. The NCADV lists various reasons victims have difficulty leaving their situations. Barriers may include increased violence if they attempt to leave, fear of homelessness, a belief that they must make their relationship work, and many more. The victim may also believe that if the first two phases are gone and the remorse/honeymoon phase will remain. Victims may have feelings of resentfulness, relief, anger, and guilt. They may even make excuses for their abuser’s behavior and believe changes will last because of their abuser’s current behavior.

Once violence has begun in the relationship, it can continue to increase in frequency and severity. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, it is common for abuse to escalate and survivors often “find themselves experiencing something they never thought their partner would, or even could do.”

Getting Help for Domestic Violence

If you are a victim of domestic violence, know that help is available. Reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline or text START to 88788.

For Colorado-specific domestic violence resources, visit the Colorado Department of Human Services site for more information and resources.

Domestic violence is an issue that should not be taken lightly. All forms of domestic violence and abuse can leave you with lasting negative impacts both physically and psychologically. If you are experiencing domestic violence and/or abuse, consulting with an attorney can help you put legal protections in place to prevent contact with your abuser. In addition, an attorney can guide you through filing a lawsuit against your abuser. You may be able to find compensation for medical treatment, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.

At the Law Office of Alexandra White, P.C., we prioritize providing support to our clients in their domestic violence cases. Our team will conduct an extensive review of your situation, discuss legal options with you, and help you work towards the most positive outcome.

Reach out to us today at (303) 647-4245 or fill out our online form to schedule an appointment!