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Cycle of Violence

STOP Violence Program

The Cycle of Violence

Violence in relationships often follows a cyclical pattern. Abusive relationships don't start out violent (although there are red flags to look for), and even abusive relationships have good times. The happy times in these relationships can make it much more difficult for victims to leave. You can download a copy of the cycle of violence.

Cycle of Violence

Abusive relationships start in the Honeymoon Phase. The abuser is loving and caring, and may appear to be the answer to the future victim's prayers, a white knight. After a while, abusive relationships enter the Tension Building Phase. Victims describe their experience in this phase as if they are "walking on eggshells." The abuser always seems upset, angry, or stressed, and the victim can't do anything right. Eventually, the tension building phase culminates in the Crisis Phase. The crisis usually doesn't last more than 48 hours, and often it is shorter. The crisis is a severe incident of abuse. Most victims who call the police for help call during a crisis, and many people who flee to a domestic violence shelter leave the relationship right after a crisis. But one of the reasons that victims stay in abusive relationships is because the crisis is followed by another Honeymoon. The abuser apologizes, buys gifts, promises never to hurt the victim again, and may appear to make permanent changes like quitting drinking or going to counseling. However, if the abuser isn't held accountable for their behavior in the relationship, these changes won't last, and the relationship will continue to move through the cycle.

As the relationship progresses over time, the length and frequency of each stage and the severity of the crisis phase can change. Honeymoon periods start out somewhat long, but shorten and may even disappear as the abuse continues. The violence in the crisis phase can escalate from verbal and emotional abuse to physical abuse and rape. Victims who may have originally stayed in the relationship because they hoped the abuser would change eventually feel trapped in the relationship, fearing for their safety if they try to leave.

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