Cycle of Violence

Cycle of Violence ChartThe Cycle of Violence

"Cycle of Violence" refers to the pattern that domestic violence tends to follow. There are three distinct phases to the cycle:
  1. Tension-building
  2. Acute explosion
  3. Honeymoon


The tension-building period is usually the longest period of the cycle, and is generally characterized by a high level of stress. For example, abusers may be moody, sullen, fault-finding and very critical. They might withdraw affection, belittle their partner, drink or abuse drugs, make threats, or even destroy their partner's personal property.

Meanwhile, victims may attempt to keep their partner calm and placate them, become overly accommodating, agreeable, solicitous and nurturing. Victims may also become either silent or overly talkative, withdraw from and avoid family and friends, try to keep the kids quiet and "out of the way," or constantly feel as if they are "walking on eggshells."

Acute Explosion

The acute explosion is usually the briefest period of the cycle as well as the most severe. During an explosion, abusers might beat, rape, isolate, imprison, or attack their partner with a weapon. They may become extremely verbally abusive or humiliate and publicly degrade their partner. Victims will often try to protect themselves any way they can, attempt to reason with or calm their abuser, call the police, fight back, or leave or attempt to leave.


The honeymoon period might not exist in every abusive relationship, and is often shorter than the tension-building period. Abusers may apologize, cry and beg forgiveness, make declarations of love, promise to get help, send extravagant gifts, and promise it will never happen again. Victims often accept the apologies, believing that it will never happen again, and may even cancel legal proceedings or appointments with a counselor because the situation "seems to be better."


Violence in a relationship tends to escalate in frequency and severity over time without proper intervention. It typically begins with verbal and emotional abuse and is often not identified as violence. This can escalate to physical and/or sexual abuse which becomes increasingly more violent and potentially life-threatening. All forms of abuse should be recognized as violent and potentially dangerous.