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A Deadly Cycle

The four stages of an abusive relationship that can happen over and over— until you stop them

  • July 02, 2014
  • By domesticshelters.org
A Deadly Cycle

Survivors of domestic violence—as well as their friends and family—will tell you they’ve heard these excuses so many times before, they’ve begun to sound like a broken record.

It’ll never happen again.

He says he’s really sorry.

It’s my fault I made him angry—I should be a better partner.

He’s just stressed out right now.

He’s only controlling because he loves me.

These excuses fall into what’s called the Cycle of Abuse, a four-stage pattern that abuse takes sometimes hundreds of times over in an abusive relationship, according to the  Centre County Women’s Resource Center, an advocacy group in State College, Pennsylvania for survivors of abuse[1]. An abuser can cycle through these four stages in anywhere from a few hours to a year or more.

Cycle of Abuse

First, tensions build and the victim the can become fearful. The victim may feel it’s her duty to placate her abuser. Next, there is an incident. This can verbal, emotional or physical abuse backed with anger, threats and intimidation. After this comes reconciliation, the excuse stage. The abuser apologizes, blames the victim or denies the abuse occurred at all. Finally, the calm stage; the incident has been forgiven and, for a while, things seem perfect. Until, of course, the first stage starts all over again. Tensions build and soon, another incident will occur.

The length of the cycle usually diminishes over time, warns the Center’s website, and the “reconciliation” and “calm” stages can disappear completely, leaving only violence behind. Many victims are either too ashamed or too fearful to leave their abuser, convinced that they let it go on too long, or that it was their fault the abuse started in the first place.

Or, the victims may be convinced they are in love with their abuser. “Survivors feel like [the abuser] is a person they can change. This is not love—it’s traumatic bonding,” says Yvette Lozano, director of intervention and emergency services with the nonprofit  Peace Over Violence.[2] She says the cycle of violence is something that can be passed down to children as well. “Children witness this growing up, and they feel like this is normal and this is how relationships are supposed to be. That’s why we educate teens so they know what is a healthy relationship and what’s not.”


[1] http://ccwrc.org/about-abuse/about-domestic-violence/

[2] www.peaceoverviolence.org

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