The Cycle of Domestic Violence

Dr. Lenore Walker was the first to recognize that battering incidents were neither random nor continuous (Walker, 1979) She described a three phase cycle.

Phase One: Tension Building
During phase one the batterer becomes more and more prone to react negatively to frustration. Little episodes of violence escalate but are minimized and rationalized by the couple. The woman may try to accommodate him by pleasing him or becoming more passive or trying to stay out of his way. She will try anything she thinks will prevent the violence from erupting. Spurred on by her passive behavior, the batterer increasingly directs his frustration onto her.

To help herself cope, the woman may reason that perhaps she deserves the abuse and resolves to try harder to be the wife, mother, housekeeper and sex partner that he demands. When he explodes, she assumes the guilt by blaming herself for failing in her role of wife and mother and thus provoking his anger. He fuels her self-doubt by telling her that her shortcomings are the cause of his temper. Her belief that she can control his anger by trying harder allows her to retain some sanity in the situation, but it also keeps her tied into the cycle. It is a false belief.

With each cycle the batterer becomes increasingly fearful that she may leave him, a fear that is reinforced as she avoids him in the hopes of not triggering the impending explosion. He increases his efforts to control her, becoming more oppressive, jealous, threatening, and possessive.

Phase Two: Acute Battering
Phase two is the major, destructive discharge of the tension that has built up in phase one. The batterer releases his fear and rage in a barrage of physical and/or sexual abuse. Psychological abuse always occurs. The trigger is in the internal state of the batterer and may be more related to an event outside the relationship than to what the woman does or does not do. Regardless of the nature of the trigger, the woman becomes the target, the victim.

Law enforcement usually becomes involved during Phase Two. In the past law enforcement tried to counsel the batterer and the victim, calm them down and then leave. Recently, however, law enforcement professionals have begun to take a more active role. They can even arrest the batterer and file charges without the victims consent if they have "probable cause". At the very least they usually give the victim a Crisis Center card and tell her about the shelter and other services.

Phase Three: Honeymoon
In the third phase the batterer is as extreme in his loving, contrite, generous affectionate kindness as he was extreme in his violence of phase two. He may be terrified that she will leave him. He turns on the charm and persuasion to keep her with him. He really believes his promises that will never beat her again. He promises to give up drinking, or other women, etc. He appeals to the victim's traditional ideals about the permanence of love and marriage. He says all the right things. Not wanting to be guilty of breaking up the marriage, of causing the family emotional pain and wanting very much to believe his promises, the victim is an easy target of his promises and charm. Believing that both he and she will do better, she stays.

The facts are, batterers rarely accept help unless the woman leaves and he thinks that getting "help" will get her back.


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