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Understanding the Cycle of Domestic Abuse

Categories: YWCA Blog

Understanding the Cycle of Domestic Abuse

The cycle of abuse describes the pattern of abusive behavior in a relationship. Though the pattern may be slightly different for each couple, the cycle of domestic abuse remains roughly the same whether the abuser is a significant other, parent, family member or friend.

This cycle can play out over and over in an abusive relationship. Sometimes you may move through the entire cycle in as little as a few hours or as many as a few months. However, without help from outside resources, this cycle will continue to repeat as long as you remain in the relationship.

Honeymoon Period

The honeymoon period occurs right after an instance of physical, sexual or emotional abuse. During this time, an abuser will apologize for their behavior while showing sorrow and promising that the abuse will never happen again. They may also place blame on the victim for the episode of abuse or act like the abuse never happened.

An abuser may express love through gifts and statements during the honeymoon period. Both the abuser and the victim may believe that their relationship is now stable and safe, that all abuse is over and will never happen again. This part of the cycle of abuse can make it more difficult for a victim to leave the relationship.

Tension Build

When the honeymoon period ends, tension will start to build in the relationship. An abuser may start getting angry again and making difficult demands. They may start breaking promises they made in the honeymoon phase and stop expressing love or affection.

The victim may start to fear for his or her safety and give in to the abuser’s requests. The victim may be extremely careful about what they say or do as tension is building.


Finally, the tension is too much, and the abuser commits an act of abuse. Abuse make range from physical abuse like hitting to emotional abuse such as name-calling and humiliation. The goal of abuse is always to gain power and control over the victim using any means necessary.

It’s important to remember that physical harm is not the only type of abuse. The abuse can take a variety of forms, including, but not limited to:

  • Name-calling
  • Public or private humiliation
  • Controlling the victim’s actions
  • Threatening to leave, commit suicide or other negative actions
  • Destroying property or hurting pets
  • Treating the victim like a servant

Once the abuser feels more in control, the relationship may enter the honeymoon period again. Over time, abuse can become more and more intense and skip the honeymoon period altogether.

Understanding the cycle of abuse can help you break the cycle. You can begin to recognize the pattern of abuse in your relationship and take steps to leave the relationship while staying safe.

The YWCA of South Hampton Roads provides comprehensive services to help victims of abuse. We offer shelter, job training, child care, counseling and more to help you find safety and independence.

Call the crisis hotline at any time of day or night at 757.251.0144 to find help.