Cycle of Violence

The cycle of violence is a model developed to explain the complexity and co-existance of abuse with loving behaviors.  It helps those who have never experienced domestic violence understand that breaking the cycle of violence is much more complicated than just “getting out” or leaving.

There are three phases in the cycle of violence: (1) Tension-building Phase, (2) Acute or Crisis Phase, and (3) Calm or Honeymoon Phase.  Without intervention, the frequency and severity of the abuse tends to increase over time.

Tension Phase

This usually lasts for a period of time, perhaps weeks or months.  Stress builds and communication breaks down.  The abuser often verbally abuses their partners and “minor” incidents of violence may occur.  Victims sense a growing danger and often refer to feeling as though they are “walking on eggshells” during this period, trying to anticipate the abuser’s mood.  Family and friends may deny or minimize the danger at this time.

Acute or Crisis Phase

In this phase, the tension has built up and finally erupts into violence.  This is an explosive and unpredictable period, usually lasting between 24 and 72 hours, which may result in serious injuries or death.  The incident is a result of the emotional state of the abuser or an external event rather than something the victim has done.  During this period the victim takes actions to survive the abuse.  These may include accommodating the abuser’s demands or trying to escape.

Calm or Honeymoon Phase

Following the violent crisis phase of the cycle, the abuser moves into a calmer period sometimes referred to as the Honeymoon Phase. This phase may last from days to weeks or sometimes months.  During this phase, the abuser may become apologetic, beg for forgiveness, and promise it will never happen again.  The victim wants to believe this is true.  The abuser may look vulnerable, causing the victim to feel guilty and responsible for the welfare of the abuser.  The victim may feel worn down and children may become caretakers, taking on responsibility to keep the peace.  Early on, family and friends may welcome this stage wanting to believe that the violence will not recur.  But this is not the case.

Over a period of time there may be changes to the cycle.  The honeymoon phase may become shorter, and the tension and violence may increase.  Some victims report that they never experience an apologetic or loving abuser, but simply see a decrease in tension before the start of a new cycle.

As the cycle starts, the victim starts going in and out of the relationship.  It often takes many attempts to make a final decision to leave for good.  Feelings of guilt, insecurity and concern for children’s well-being play a strong role in the victim’s decision-making process.

The cycle of violence is a tool developed by researcher Lenore Walker and detailed in her book, The Battered Woman, published 1979.  Walker created this tool to describe the cyclical nature of battering and its effect on victims.