Written by: Robert R. Cassman, LPCC, NCC, CCMHC
Domestic abuse or violence doesn’t “just happen.” There is actually a pattern or cycle. This cycle can occur over the course of a day, a week, or even longer and can happen hundreds of times in a relationship. Even though this is a common pattern, by no means do all abusive relationships fall in this cycle.
- Tension building. This phase occurs before the actual violence happens. In this phase, healthy communication breaks down and passive-aggressive acts can occur. Stress between the partners increases and the victim begins to get very nervous. She may begin to “walk on eggshells” as she prepares for what comes next. She attempts to prevent the inevitable by changing her own behavior in an attempt to calm her partner. She will give in frequently during this phase. The abuser’s stress level increases and verbal aggression begins.
- The incident. This is also called the “acting out phase.” The actual violence occurs here. The abuser exerts his physical control over his partner in an attempt to dominate. The level of severity can vary widely from incident to incident.
- The honeymoon phase. This is also called the “reconciliation phase.” This phase involves some sort of “apology” and/or ignoring of the incident. The abuser overwhelms the victim with affection and gifts. This is done to wipe away what happened and any guilt the abuser may feel. It is not sincere as it is still part of the abusive cycle. The abuser may even try to steer attention away from the victim and onto himself through threats of suicide (“I’m so terrible I should kill myself.”) This phase can last for a day or even months to the point where the victim is sincerely fooled into thinking “he’s changed.” She may tell her friends “but you don’t see all the great things he does.”
- Calm. This phase directly follows the honeymoon phase. For a while it can seem to the victim that “all is okay” and she may convince herself that the abuse won’t happen again. This flows directly into the “tension building.” The cycle then starts over.
What is important is how all four phases are abusive because they lack sincerity. When in the honeymoon phase, it is important to realize that the abuser isn’t really sincere in his affection and praise. The same goes for the calm phase. Realizing that this is a cycle and one phase leads to another helps to bring reality to the forefront: the entire relationship is dysfunctional.