Victims of intimate partner violence frequently belief they can stop the cycle of abuse, but as long as the relationship remains the same, they cannot..

Domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence, is a widespread, extremely serious and under reported problem. Many myths about domestic violence exist. One the most common myths is that the victims are partially to blame because they stay in the abusive situation. An understanding of the classic cycle of abuse helps explain some of the complexity of domestic violence and some of the reasons why it can be compelling to stay.

The cycle of abuse was originally suggested by the American psychologist Lenore Walker in 1979 to explain the common pattern that she found among many violent relationships. It has four main phases: tension building phase; battering episode or acting out; honeymoon or reconciliation phase; and period of calm. These phases can be rapidly moved through over the course of a day or throughout many months. Each of these phases are explained below.

Tension building phase

Interpersonal conflict and tension builds in this phase. Every day life stresses contribute to such tension and communication begins to break down. The batterer becomes angry and may become verbally hostile. The victim may attempt to be compliant or nurturing in efforts to avoid the abuse. She may find herself tip toeing around her partner as her anxiety builds about a potential violent outburst.

Battering episode or acting out

This phase marks the acute violence when the batterer has an explosive outburst and becomes abusive.

This phase includes physical, sexual, emotional or any other kind of abuse.

Honeymoon or reconciliation phase

After the violent outburst occurs, a honeymoon period typically follows in which the abuser may apologize or in some cases plead for forgiveness. Promises are offered that similar episodes will never happen again and that the abuser will change.

The abuser can be extremely convincing and the victim wants so badly for the situation to change that she may believe it. Love and affection may be expressed, which can understandably feel very good and help victims find forgiveness and feel hopeful.

At this time, abusers may use self-harm or even make threats of suicide to express remorse and bid for sympathy. Such threats may also be used in attempts to prevent the victim from leaving the situation.

This is also the time period in which the abuse might be minimized or denied. When in the throes of love and affection and promises of change, it is common for victims of domestic violence to fall into the trap of also minimizing the severity of the situation.

Period of calm

This phase is considered an extension of the honeymoon period and explanations of the cycle of abuse does not always include the period of calm as its own phase. During this time, there is a sense of peace and calm in the relationship. The couple can be genuinely happy together, the abuser may be especially caring or even generous with gifts, and everything seems fine.

Eventually, however, tension will begin to arise again and the cycle will start all over. The victim may believe she will be able to prevent it, but she will not be able to if the relationship remains the same. Until she leaves or a significant intervention takes place, the cycle will continue.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, you can ring the Domestic Violence Line for help on1800 656 463.

Or visit the website Family & Community Services NSW 


By  J Caddell,

Walker, Lenore E. (1979) The Battered Woman. New York: Harper and Row.