In the 1979, Dr. Lenore Walker conducted a study of 1500 battered women and concluded that many abusive relationships involve a similar pattern of behavior – something that she named the cycle of abuse. The four phases in this cycle of abuse have been widely used to explain why abused spouses have difficulty escaping family violence, while domestic violence counselors often use the cycle to help abuse victims better understand the pattern of manipulation and violence that they endured.

The Stages in the Domestic Violence Cycle of Abuse?

1. Tension Building

The tension-building phase is an unpleasant time before the violent act that is often characterized by small fights and passive aggressive behavior. During this time, the abuser may be affected by personal problems or substance abuse, while the victim will feel mounting fear and worry. The victim will engage in behavior modification in order to prevent triggering abuse.

2. Violent Incident

The tension phase ends with an act of domestic violence, such as a verbal outburst, physical abuse, emotional abuse, or sexual abuse. At this time in the cycle of abuse, the abuser is intent on controlling his or her partner, whether through physical acts of violence or through threats and intimidation.

3. Reconciliation and Honeymoon Phase

Immediately after the violent incident, the abuser often feels guilt or shame – or is fearful of being turned in or left alone. The abuser will often overwhelm the victim with false apologies, blame, and excuses. The abuser may deny the event, refuse to speak about the event, or tell the victim that the even wasn’t a big deal. The abuse may also say that similar incidents won’t ever take place again or threaten to harm themselves – anything to further control the victim and make them remain in the relationship.

4. Normal or Calm Phase

During this time period, victims will have a short period of normalcy before tension building begins again.

Molly B. Kenny
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Divorce and Child Custody Attorney Serving Bellevue and Seattle Washington