The King's Gardeners Ministries

Reverend S. L. Gardner

Spokane Valley, Washington U.S.


- The Issue of Abuse -

The Cycle of Violence Described

From The National/International Lutheran and Catholic Family Counseling Services

What Is The Cycle Of Abuse? An abusive relationship typically follows a cycle that is marked by three well-recognized phases. Although there are some variations from this cycle, many abusive relationships will repeat this cycle over and over.

The tension-building phase is a period of time when a wife either avoids her husband or frantically works to keep her husband's world running smoothly. She does this to prevent triggering another abusive explosion. In this way, she holds some "limited control" in the relationship. Sometimes there are minor skirmishes, but the wife suppresses her anger by either blaming herself ("I should have kept quiet about the credit-card bill") or something in the man's environment ("He must have had a tough day at work") or reasoning that it could have been worse.

Each time a small abusive incident occurs, tension in the relationship increases. A nagging sense of helplessness begins to overwhelm her. Eventually the tension simmers to a boil, bringing on the next phase. Ordinarily, this first phase lasts for long periods of time.

The acute battering or abusive phase is earmarked by increased severity of abuse. Unlike the minor abusive incidents that occurred in the first phase, the incidents in this phase are far more caustic. This phase is usually triggered by some particular event or set of circumstances, though rarely the same and often unpredictable. Because the abuser is in a real psychological spiral he can pick a seemingly innocent incident to use as a trigger for explosive behavior. Like a violent storm that strikes on a clear, sunny day, the physical attack or verbal assault seems to come out of nowhere. It could be a meal that is unsatisfactory or a refusal to have sex that sets off a husband, any dissatisfaction on his part will do to justify this phase. Normally, this phase lasts from 2 to 24 hours.

Initially, a wife is in a state of shock and disbelief. It's difficult for her to come to grips with what has happened to her. If she's been through the abusive cycle several times, she's likely to experience a mixture of relief and rage--relief that the inevitable assault is over, and rage over her husband's empty promises to stop. She may be faced with the need for medical treatment. She might report her husband to the authorities or inform family members of the abuse.

Typically, however, she remains silent and doesn't expose her husband. Within her is an increasing sense of helplessness and feelings of self-hatred for not doing something to prevent the abuse.

The calm-and-penance phase is a time when the abuser appears to be stricken with grief over his cruel and insensitive actions. He works very hard to make up for what he's done with apparent acts of kindness, sometimes promising never to abuse again.

Usually, a wife welcomes this phase and enjoys the special attention given to her. Because she desperately wants to believe that her husband is sincere, she tends to overrate the genuineness of his remorse. During this time she may drop criminal charges or shrink away from pursuing legal separation or divorce. She will frequently come up with "reasonable" explanations as to why her husband mistreated her. This phase may last a day or a few months, and it tends to become less and less common.

Eventually, however, the tensions will slowly begin to mount and the cycle will repeat. Sometimes the calm-and-penance phase is substituted with a sudden-return-to-normal phase. In this phase, there is often a significant period of silence. A wife may be hoping that her husband will apologize. But what usually happens is that her husband eventually begins to act as if nothing ever happened. The abusive incident is not mentioned and no apology is offered. Life just somehow goes back to "normal." But because the husbands emotional problems are not exposed and worked through, the tension escalates, leading to another abusive episode.

The wife continues to protect her husband and eventually finds that she has been portrayed as the cause fo her husbands abusive behavior. The first step to emotional health for her is to understand that she is not responsible for his behavior. This is a difficult step as the husband has convinced friends and family that she is responsible for what happens in their household. Usually she must finally take steps to distance herself and any children from her husband for a time. This is the most difficult time especially for Christian women who are routinely condemned as unsubmissive by abusive husbands.

The first step towards emotional health for the husband is to accept his abusive behavior as completely his responsibility. This is difficult for him because he has normally lived for the majority of his life avoiding responsiblity for his actions. Abuse is a learned behavior and with the husbands cooperation coupled with specialized counsel new healthy behavior can be learned. includes links to other websites on the Internet that are owned and operated by third parties. and The King's Gardeners Ministries is not responsible for and does not guarantee any of the content on any third-party site. and The King's Gardeners Ministries is not responsible for opinions expressed on this website. Documents, articles and other materials are used by permission or are public domain.

The King's Gardeners Ministries is based in Washington State U.S. with all proper Corporate Reports on file with the Secretary of State for Washington U.S. Reverend S. L. Gardner President and CEC.