Cycle of Domestic Violence

In 1979, psychologist Lenore Walker discovered that many violent relationships were following a common pattern/cycle. It was also noted that the entire cycle may happen in one day or it may take weeks or months to complete. The cycle is different for every relationship and not every relationship follows the cycle. Many victims report a constant stage of violent siege with little relief. This cycle/pattern has four parts:

Cycle of Abuse

1. Tension Building

The victim tries to control the situation by pleasing the abuser, giving in or avoiding the abuse. None of these will stop the violence. Eventually, the tension reaches a boiling point and physical abuse begins.
• Tension builds from some common domestic issues like money, children, people or work.
• The Abuser begins to get angry
• The Victim feels Fearful
• There is a communication breakdown
• Emotional/Mental/Verbal abuse may begin
• The Victim feels a need to calm the abuser to keep the peace
• The Victim attempts to diffuse the situation by giving in or avoiding it
• Nothing stops it; the Abusers’ anger continues to escalate
• The Victim feels like they are ‘walking on egg shells’
• The atmosphere becomes very tense and reaches a boiling point

2. Some Type of Cruel Abuse Occurs

• The start of the battering episode is unpredictable and beyond the victim’s control.
• Once the tension peaks the Abuser is usually triggered by either their emotional state or the presence of an external event—not by the victim’s behavior
• Physical violence (in the early stages may present as Verbal/Emotional/Psychological)
Click: Types of Abuse For further information and definitions of the different types of abuse

3. Reconciliation

Note: Making-Up generally happens the following day. Or, if the victim managed to escape, making-up will be used as a charming means of coaxing the victim to return home.
During The Reconciliation phase the Abuser may:
• Apologize to the Victim
• Be ashamed of their behavior
• Express remorse
• Choose to blackout their violent behavior (Truly believe it didn’t happen)
• Minimizing the behavior/laughing it off like it not as bad as they claimed
• May try to convince others that the Victim is crazy
• Place the blame on the Victim for causing the abuse
• Genuinely attempt to convince the Victim that it won’t happen again

4. Calm

• The Abuser may then exhibit loving, kind behavior followed by apologies, generosity, gifts, thoughtfulness, special acts of kindness and helpfulness
• The Abusers loving and contrite behavior strengthens the bond between them and may convince the Victim, once again, that leaving the relationship is not necessary
• The Abuser acts like the abuse never happened
• The Abuser may/may not be keeping the promises made during ‘reconciliation’
• Physical abuse may not be happening
• The Victim may think that the abuse will not happen again

This cycle continues over and over and may help you to understand why Victims stay in abusive relationships. Each stage lasts a different amount of time. The cycle can happen hundreds of times in an abusive relationship. The total cycle can take anywhere from a few hours to a whole year or more to complete. The abuse may be terrible, but the promises and generosity of the honeymoon phase may give the Victim the false belief that everything will be all right.

It is important to remember that not all domestic violence relationships fit the cycle. Often, as time goes on, the ‘making-up’ and ‘calm’ stages disappear.

Adapted from the original concept of: Walker, Lenore. The Battered Woman. New York: Harper and Row, 1979.


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