The abuse cycle usually goes in the following order, and will repeat until the conflict is stopped, usually by the Survivor entirely abandoning the relationship or some form of intervention. The cycle can occur hundreds of times in an abusive relationship, the total cycle taking anywhere from a few hours, to a year or more to complete. However, the length of the cycle usually diminishes over time so that the “reconciliation” and “calm” stages may disappear, violence becomes more intense and the cycles become more frequent.
1. Tension Building Stage
During the abuse cycle there is the Tension Building Stage. The abuser becomes increasingly picky about small things, becomes more irritable for unknown reasons and demands more respect in the relationship. Things that the abuser was ok with before suddenly make the abuser angry and the victim feels like they are walking on the proverbial “egg shells”. Each day becomes increasingly uncomfortable.
As the tension rises the abuser becomes increasingly cruel. Each day the abuser finds some reason to be angry and most often, the anger is not justified or is it necessary. The anger continues to rise until there is an explosion or incident of abuse.
The feeling lasts on average several minutes to hours, or it may last as much as several months.
To prevent violence, the victim may try to reduce the tension by becoming compliant and nurturing. Or, to get the abuse over with, prepare for the violence or lessen the degree of injury, the victim may provoke the batterer. However, at no time is the batterer justified in engaging in violence or abusive behaviour.
2. Acute violence or Incident Stage
Characterized by outbursts of violence, abusive incidents which may be preceded by verbal abuse or psychological abuse. During this stage the abuser attempts to dominate his/her partner (survivor) with the use of violence. The release of energy reduces the tension, and the abuser may feel or express that the victim “had it coming” to them.
In intimate partner violence, children are negatively affected by having witnessed ;the violence and the partner’s relationship degrades as well.
3. Reconciliation/Honeymoon Stage
The perpetrator may begin to feel remorse, guilty feelings, or fear that their partner will leave or call the police. The victim feels pain, fear, humiliation, disrespect, confusion, and may mistakenly feel responsible.
Characterized by affection, apology, or, alternatively, ignoring the incident, this phase marks an apparent end of violence, with promises that it will never happen again, or that the abuser will do his or her best to change. During this stage the abuser may feel or claim to feel overwhelming remorse and sadness. Some abusers walk away from the situation with little comment, but most will eventually shower the survivor with love and affection. The abuser may use self hard or threats of suicide to gain sympathy and/or prevent the Survivor from leaving the relationship. Abusers are frequently so convincing, and survivors so eager for the relationship to improve, that Survivors (who are often worn down and confused by longstanding abuse) stay in the relationship.
4. Calm Stage
During this phase (which is often considered an element of the honeymoon/reconciliation phase), the relationship is relatively calm and peaceable. During this period the abuser may agree to engage in counseling, ask for forgiveness, and create a normal atmosphere. In intimate partner relationships, the perpetrator may buy presents or the couple may engage in passionate sex. Over time, the batterer’s apologies and requests for forgiveness become less sincere and are generally stated to prevent separation or intervention. However, the interpersonal difficulties will inevitably arise, leading again to the tension building phase. The effect of the continual cycle may include loss of love, contempt, distress, and/or physical disability. Intimate partners may separate, divorce or, at the extreme, someone may be killed.
On average a Survivor will leave an abusive relationship seven times before fully ending the relationship.