Families and Domestic Violence

Module Sections:

Domestic Violence Wheels

Cycle of Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence Wheel


Phase 1- Tension Building (escalation)

In this phase there is increased tension, anger, threatening, blaming and arguing between family members caused by anything from a bad day at work to a major life crisis. The tension may last a day, week, month or years and it becomes more frequent as the cycle repeats. Sometimes this situation may be enough to frighten the victim into submission. Tension builds as the frequency and severity of abusive incidents escalates. The abuser at this phase is afraid of losing control of the victim while the victim fears the imminent violence of an acute battering incident.

Phase 2- Battering Incident (abusive episode)

This second phase occurs so that the abuser can gain power and control. In this phase the abuser loses the desire or ability to control his/her anger and violence and the tension becomes unbearable. It may include physical contact or verbal abuse. The abuser starts hitting, slapping, kicking, and choking the victim. The victim becomes hurt and scared, and the abuser may feel ashamed, guilty and humiliated.

Phase 3- Honeymoon Stage (dramatic reconciliation)

In this phase the abuser may be extremely loving and apologetic. The abuser may give gifts to the victim(s), say sorry and promise that the abuse will never happen again. He may feel guilt, but will minimize the event by claiming that it was the woman's fault that she was hit. At this point the abuser may be most open to help at the start of this phase because typically, he is remorseful and wishes to please (keep) the partner.

At the peak of this stage both the abuser and the victim may deny or distort what has occurred. Stith, McCollum, & Rosen, (2007) posits that it is usually difficult to leave an abusive relationship after the explosion, because victims of abuse often say the honeymoon stage is, “the best time of our marriage” and “during this time, I know how much he really needs and loves me.” Both the victim and the abuser are convinced that each abusive episode is isolated and that the incidents are unrelated to each other. Without intervention, the violence becomes more serious and eventually the third stage of apology and denial will no longer exist (Walker, 2000).

Then, the cycle begins again.  The reality is that the violence is unlikely to stop until the victim seeks help. The victim(s) believe the abuser‘s promise that “it will never happen again,” but in most cases it does. The violence reoccurs, and intensifies each time. When working with families at home, it is important to help the victims to understand that these phases often help them make sense of their experience. Identifying that the victim truly is not to blame for the violence that she has suffered and emphasizing that the abuser is the one responsible will help the victim to make informed decisions to leave or seek help before the next explosion.  Note also that many victims do not go through all the phases in the cycle.

Audio Companion: Families and Domestic Violence