Cycle of Violence

Domestic violence typically follows an ongoing and recurring pattern, known as the ‘cycle of violence’. Not everyone’s experience is the same, but the cycle generally has distinct phases that are regularly repeated.  However, not all women feel the cycle is relevant to their experience of violence.  If the cycle does not resonate for you, this does not mean your relationship is not abusive.  To find out more, go to Is my relationship safe?

The first is the ‘build up phase’, when tension increases as the abuser becomes ever more irritable. In a non-violent relationship, tensions can be resolved. In a violent relationship, the abuser often blames his partner for the mounting tension and his behaviour becomes increasingly domineering and controlling. Meanwhile, his partner goes out of her way to please him in any way she can: she feels like she is ‘walking on eggshells’.

The second is the ‘explosive phase’ when the offender loses control: it may include verbal, emotional, psychological, physical and/or sexual abuse. The partner may try to reason with him and calm him down. Depending on the severity of the abuse, how often it has occurred and her recognition of the ongoing pattern, she may try to leave the relationship and seek help to protect herself and her children.

The third phase is the ‘remorse and false honeymoon phase’. The offender may express remorse, but will blame the partner, someone or something else for his actions. He will often beg forgiveness, promise never to do it again and may even buy her presents. On the surface, everything seems calm and wonderful, although the partner will often be confused as well as relieved that the abuser has agreed to change, optimistic about a happier future. However, this phase is also intended to control and keep her in the relationship and it may not be long before the ‘build up phase’ begins again.


cycle of domestic violence diagram

The cycle as depicted above has been adapted from the Cycle of Violence originally published in Lenore Walker’s The Battered Woman (1980).