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Cycle of Abuse

People being abused by their partners are not constantly being abused and the abuse is never inflicted at totally random times. There is a definite pattern for the abuse, which is re-occurring and appears to have three distinct phases. This pattern is commonly referred to as the CYCLE OF ABUSE.

The first stage is the “Tension Building Phase”. During this stage a victim is aware that tension at home is increasing. The abuser may give the victim the “silent treatment”, refusing to answer them or answering only in grunts. The victim tries to keep the abuser from becoming angry. For example, if he complains the children are too noisy, she quiets them or puts them to bed. If she does not like the clothes he is wearing, he changes into clothing in hopes she will approve. If he likes his meals at a certain time, she makes sure the meals are ready and on the table when he returns home.

  • At this phase, some common terminology and actions used to control the victim are:
  • “Don’t push it”
  • “If you loved me”
  • Questioning and jealousy
  • Withdrawing and sulking
  • Silent Treatment
  • Broken Promises
  • Manipulation and mind games
  • Blaming

The tension continues to grow and the “Explosive Phase” occurs. This is the time that the abusive behaviour is the worst whether it’s verbal, emotional and/or physical. The explosive event may include physical abuse, sexual assault and verbal/emotional abuse. There is nothing the victim can do to prevent his abusive behaviour. No matter what, the abuser will find an excuse to abuse.

  • At this phase, some common terminology and actions used to control the victim are:
  • “You pushed me too far this time”
  • “Why would you make me do this to you”

After the assault the “Honeymoon Phase” begins. During this stage the abuser is often sincerely sorry for the assault and many promises are made, saying “I’ll never do it again.”, “I’ll go to marriage counselling.”, “I’ll quit drinking.” The abuser acts in ways they know the victim will desire and appreciate. They become the partner the other fell in love with and both believe the violence will never happen again. However, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, the tension begins building again and another explosion occurs.

  • At this phase, some common terminology and actions used to control the victim are:
  • “I love you; I’m sorry”
  • “I was drunk”
  • “Don’t leave me”
  • “It’ll never happen again”
  • “We can work it out; I’ll go for counselling”
  • Begs for forgiveness
  • Romance, gifts (flowers, jewelry)
  • Quits drugs/alcohol
  • Begs for forgiveness
  • Regret and remorse
  • Suicidal threats

This cycle of abuse will repeat itself again and again. In most abusive relationships the assaults become more frequent and severe and the Honeymoon Phase becomes shorter and shorter, and sometimes even disappears completely. The longer the cycle is allowed to continue the more dangerous it becomes for the person being abused and the less strength they have to employ a plan to leave.

The Cycle Over Time

Feelings and behaviours of the survivor, abuser and children during the different phases of the Cycle of Abuse.

The Tension Building Phase



  • Feelings – angry, unfairly treated, hopeless, tense, afraid, embarrassed, humiliated, disgusted or depressed
  • Behaviour – nurturing, accepting, works to diffuse partner’s anger and frustration, may verbally express own feelings of anger or may use alcohol or drugs to avoid the situation


  • Feelings – tense, frustrated, disgusted, self-righteous or jealous
  • Behaviour – verbally abusive, fits of anger, silent, controlling, uses alcohol or drugs, possessive, demanding or irritable


  • Feelings – afraid, tense, angry at parent for not “fixing” the abuser or confused
The Explosive Phase



  • Feelings – frightened, trapped, helpless or numb
  • Behaviour – may try to protect self, hit back or submit helplessly, may try to get away or seek help, may feign unconsciousness


  • Feelings – angry, enraged, disgusted, self-righteous, jealous or frustrated
  • Behaviour – dangerously violent, deliberate desire to hurt or kill, out of control or irrational


  • Feelings – frightened, trapped and helpless
  • Behaviour – may watch helplessly, hide or attempt to stop fighting, may attempt to help or join in beating the victim
The Honeymoon Phase



  • Feelings – relieved, angry over the incident, guilty or hopeful
  • Behaviour – offers excuses for batterer, talks, tries to settle, solve or prevent future incidents


  • Feelings – apologetic, remorseful, forgetful about degree of violence, self righteous or unable to understand why victim is still angry
  • Behaviour – makes promises to change, blames others and victim for life situations and actions, especially alcohol


  • Feelings – embarrassed, humiliated, relieved, guilty or angry
  • Behaviour – try to please, distract self to forget about stress behaviours, nervous or tics