Understanding the Cycle of Abuse


Tension building phase
When tension builds in the relationship, victims may feel like they are “walking on eggshells” around the abuser. This phase can last for a few hours or for months, or anything in between. The longer it lasts, the more inevitable the a blow-up can start to feel, even if the victim can’t be sure exactly what will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Abusive incident
The abusive incident usually occurs when the tension finally breaks. This can play out in many different ways.  Usually, this part of the cycle is when the abuser physically lashes out at the victim. The abuser may hit, rape or try to rape the victim. In relationships where the abuse is primarily psychological, the abuser may suddenly deny the victim access to basic necessities (by changing the locks on the house or cutting off access to a shared checking account, for example), calling the victim humiliating names, or making threats of violence.

Honeymoon phase
During the honeymoon phase, the abuser may apologize, buy gifts, or be extra affectionate to “make up” for the abuse. Many will promise to change, promise to stop abusing, or promise that it will never happen again. These assurances are intended to persuade the survivor to stay in the relationship. Not all abusive relationships have a honeymoon phase. For some, the abusive incident is immediately followed by increasing tension before the next incident.

Once the honeymoon phase is over, the tension building phase begins again, and the comforting promises the abuser made will be broken.