Cycle of Abuse

Stages of an abusive relationship

Do you recognize your relationship in these descriptions? Call the Transition House for help. Our services are free and immediate.

An abusive relationship goes through three general cycles, each with its own characteristics. Women may find that their reactions to the stages range from fear or anger to depression or denial.

Tension Building Stage (tension build-up)
  • Abuser attacks woman with verbal assaults: insults, putdowns, accusations
  • Abuser may use controlling or interrogation techniques
  • More abusive incidents may occur
  • Abuser often sets unrealistic expectations
  • Regardless of what the woman does, the abuser becomes more oppressive
  • The woman may blame herself for not being able to control the situation and may begin to feel helpless
  • Tension becomes unbearable
  • The woman often feels as though she is ‘walking on eggshells’
Explosion or Abusive Incident Stage (violent episode)

DID YOU KNOW?
In 2006, approximately 1 in 8 prosecutions in B.C. were domestic violence cases (Ministry of Attorney General, 2007). However, Statistics Canada has estimated that only 28% of victims of spousal violence report these incidents (2004 General Social Survey).

  • Tension explodes into either violent acts or extreme verbal or psychological abuse
  • The abuser’s intent is to ‘teach’ his partner a lesson, not necessarily to inflict injury
  • Incidents are triggered by the abuser’s perception of the situation, not by the woman’s behaviour. Men commonly blame alcohol or overwork, however these are only triggers, not the cause
  • The woman is most likely to be physically hurt during this stage
  • Suicidal incidents or homicide will occur during this stage
  • The abuser will only stop once he thinks the woman has learned a lesson
  • The woman’s only option (during this violent outburst) is to find a safe place to hide
  • Only the abuser can end this phase
  • It is after this stage that the woman is most likely to reach out for help
  • Call 911 if there is an immediate threat to you and/or your children
Honeymoon Stage (period of attraction)
  • Unusual period of calm
  • Abuser feels shame/guilt; woman feels guilt/relief
  • The abuser may try to placate or seek forgiveness with apologies, promises, gifts and expressions of helplessness, fearing the woman may leave him.
  • Abuser’s behaviour is often described as being typical of a “little boy” who has done something wrong; he promises it will never happen again
  • The abuser truly believes he can control himself and will never hurt the woman again
  • A “cloak of silence” exists, where both deny and rationalize the explosion stage; they don’t discuss it with each other or with anyone else
  • This affectionate period becomes an increasingly important factor in the denial of the violent episode
  • Denial helps convince women that the abuser “really loves her” or that the violence “isn’t really him” and that he can change
  • Women want to believe the abusive behavior won’t be repeated and, often moved by the abuser’s remorse, may forgive the abuser.
  • Chances are that the abuser will not seek counselling if the woman stays with him
  • The period of attraction varies in time and intensity
  • Not long after, the loving behaviour gives way to tension build up and the cycle is repeated
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