Signs of Domestic Abuse: The Cycle of Violence

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) recently found that a woman is assaulted every 9 seconds in the United States. Sadly, this statistic shows just how major of an issue domestic violence is in our country; yet one does wonder why such abuse isn’t reported as often as it occurs. Much of this silence is due to the fact that abuse is most often caused by a loved one. For example, the NCADV also found that 1 in every 3 women have been the recipients of violence from an intimate partner. Furthermore, recipients of abuse often feel confused and hurt, especially when the abuser immediately apologizes after lashing out at them. What individuals in abusive relationships need to understand is that abuse often occurs in cycles. Below, we will examine the cycle of violence as well as note some of the major signs of domestic abuse.

Signs of Domestic Abuse: The Cycle of Violence

The Cycle of Violence

When individuals are dealing with violence in their relationships, they will undoubtedly be extremely hurt and confused. They truly care about their loved one and could never imagine that he or she would want to purposely hurt them. Due to this, individuals often stay in abusive relationships much longer than they should as they continuously believe that things will improve. It is essential that individuals understand that abuse typically occurs in a 3-part cycle. Knowing the specific parts of the cycle will help individuals in identifying when or if they or a loved one is in an abusive relationship.

Honeymoon Period

Most relationships begin in what is considered to be a honeymoon phase. In this phase, relationships will feel fresh as individuals are on their best behavior to build trust and love from each other. In this phase, potential abusers may act entirely opposite from their abusive personality, so much so that a loved one may be completely unable to identify any signs of latent stress or anger. Furthermore, positive feelings will be at an all time high in this phase with individuals often feeling as though their loved one makes their life feel whole and complete. They may often fantasize about the future of their relationship and make intimate plans on what their life together may look like.

Tension Building

Before abuse occurs, a relationship will go through what is considered a “tension building” phase. In this phase, the potential recipient of abuse will feel as though they are walking a tightrope in trying to please their loved one and maintain a happy relationship. This feeling is predominately due to the potential abuser holding in large amounts of stress and anger, so much so that it is ever apparent that they may lash out if someone says a wrong word or gives them the wrong response.

This phase is particularly confusing for their partner, as the source is all of this frustration, stress and anger is difficult to uncover. This leaves the partner constantly feeling guilty and paranoid as they wonder what they could have said to bring so much tension in their relationship. It is important for individuals in abusive relationships to understand that it is not their fault. There is nothing that they did to bring about this phase of tension and anger in their loved one. As difficult as it may be to admit, the anger and frustration is actually held by their partner and needs no inspiration to come about. Considering this, do not stick in a relationship due to feelings of guilt or trying to “save” your loved one.


The tension phase will differ in how long it lasts or how quickly it builds, but eventually all of the tension and anger escalates into a full-blown assault. It is important to understand that assault is not only physical abuse, it can also occur on an emotional, verbal and sexual level. Regardless of what level it occurs, these explosions are extremely painful and scary for the recipient, and may even be so for the abuser as well. Due to this pain, both parties may wish to run from the explosion by ignoring it or placing blame on someone or something else.

How The Cycle Functions

As mentioned, relationships generally start out in the honeymoon phase. Then the relationship will slowly enter the tension building phase. The transition between the honeymoon phase and the tension phase may be particularly difficult for individuals to identify, as they may focus solely on the euphoric feelings, thoughts and experiences of the past honeymoon phase which leaves them blind to what is occurring at the moment. Regardless of whether it is identified or not, tension will eventually build to such degree that an assault occurs. After this assault, individuals that stay in abusive relationships will find that they once again enter the honeymoon phase as the abuser feels terrible about what they did and apologizes with promises and gifts.

It is very important that both parties in abusive relationships are able to identify and understand the cycles of violence and assault. Furthermore, if you are dealing with abuse, do not try to “save” your loved one or attempt to solve the issues that cause the tension and anger. Remember, there often isn’t a generally cause, as individuals that are unable to control their anger will be able to place the blame on even the littlest of things. The best thing that can be done for both parties is to leave and break the cycle.

Learn More

Social work is a profession dedicated to enhancing the quality of life, the pursuit of social justice, and helping a wide range of individuals to reach their full potential. Offered by the School of Social Work at the University of New England, the Master of Social Work online option is open to students from a variety of educational backgrounds. The program envisions a world where social workers are at the forefront of advocating with individuals and communities for human dignity and social inclusion by mobilizing efforts to end inequities, exploitation and violence.

If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic abuse, please call The Hotline at 1-800-799-7233


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