You suspect or know a woman is being abused by her partner. She may have told you about the abuse or even tried to get help but couldn’t walk away from the abuser. Why do women in abusive relationships stay? Why can’t abused women walk away? The more you know about the cycle of abuse, the better equipped you are to leave an abusive relationship. Here’s how a relationship goes from honeymoon to hell – and why women who are abused can’t just walk away.
“Knowing the [abuse dynamic] cycle helps women begin to understand the real reasons for her entering into the relationship and staying as long as she does,” write Jill Cory and Karen McAndless-Davis in When Love Hurts: A Woman’s Guide to Understanding Abuse in Relationships. “Most women living with the cycle are just trying to survive day-to-day; thinking about leaving seems impossible.” These women – Jill Cory and Karen McAndless-Davis – are friends and colleagues who share a deep compassion and respect for women who have experienced domestic violence and abuse from a partner. Their unique women-centered approach helps women reflect on their experiences to gain new understanding into why love sometimes hurts.
Karen’s passion for helping people understand why women who are abused can’t walk away comes from personal experience. Her partner was abusive for the first ten years of their relationship. After several years of hard work – including group and individual counseling – he changed his abusive behavior. He examined and understand the beliefs that led to him abusing the woman he loves. Now, they have been happily married in a relationship of trust and respect for over ten years.
The Cycle of Abuse in a Relationship
The more you know about the cycle of abuse in a relationship, the more you understand about yourself. Learn as much as you can about the abuse dynamic and the cycle of an abusive relationship. Get as much information, power, and knowledge as possible.
If you think you’re caught up in a cycle of abuse, read 5 Signs of an Abusive Boyfriend.
“The honeymoon behaviour draws the woman in and keeps her invested in the relationship,” write Cory and McAndless-Davis in When Love Hurts: A Woman’s Guide to Understanding Abuse in Relationships. “The tension-building and explosion create fear, confusion and uncertainty that make any move to step away from the relationship dangerous and costly. The overall effect of living with the cycle is that it is exhausting and overwhelming.”
There are three phases of abuse in the cycle:
- Honeymoon (Entrapment)
- Tension Building (Fear)
- Explosion (Escalation of abusive tactics)
And, as difficult as it is, try to focus on what you need to do today to take care of yourself. Every little act of self-care – even eating a healthy meal, walking around the block, talking to a trusted friend – can give you strength and courage. Learn how to cope when you feel painful, overwhelming emotions rise up. If you can try to focus on taking care of your own emotional, spiritual and physical health, you will be able to see how best to handle the cycle of abuse in a relationship. The healthier and stronger you get, the better able you’ll be to take care of yourself and others.
1. The Honeymoon Stage
The Honeymoon Stage or entrapment is when a man draws a woman into the relationship. He is attentive, loving, kind, and romantic. He gives gifts, makes promises, and sweeps her away in an intense rush of love and affection. Abuse is the last thing that occurs to people who see him, her, and their first blush of “love.”
“Women aren’t attracted to abusive men,” says Cory. “Rather, abusive men target women and present themselves in ways that look attractive. She doesn’t fall for the abuse…she falls for a considerate, kind, loving man.”
2. Tension Building in the Cycle of Abuse
Tension Building or fear can start with something as “harmless” as not him showing up when he said he would, or making fun of her in public. He may appear disinterested or distant, and blame her or the children for creating his problems.
“The tension building stage is an abrupt interruption of the honeymoon,” says Cory. “Sometimes women feel they are walking on eggshells, stepping through land mines, and living in fear.”
This stage of the cycle of abuse can involve withdrawal, sullenness, unpredictability, moodiness, hostility, and criticism. It’s a compete departure from her normal experience with him.
3. The Explosion or Escalation Stage
The explosion or escalation stage can involve yelling, swearing, slamming doors, banging pots, throwing things, and subjecting her to different types of physical, emotional, and sexual violence. “Some men also demonstrate the ‘silent treatment’ during explosions,” says Cory. “Typically, the explosions will become more brutal and more frequent over time.”
Afterward, he’s loving and apologetic. He stops the negative, threatening behaviour and behaves in a positive or neutral way. Back to the honeymoon stage they go. She thinks she did something wrong, and puts more effort into the relationship. She starts thinking she needs to change because she’s the problem. She starts second-guessing herself.
“This is the dynamic that traps women in abusive relationships,” says Cory. “And it creates conditions in which those around her think she’s the problem. Indeed, she herself thinks she’s the problem…and she keeps trying to change.”
If you’re a woman who is abused, you are not the problem. He is the problem. Read How to Leave a Man You Love – But Can’t Live With for help stopping the cycle of abuse.
Whose Fault Is It? What Causes the Cycle of Abuse?
“Abusers are 100% responsible for the cycle or dynamic of abuse, which means that the abuser drives the cycle,” writes Cory in When Love Hurts. “He decides where they are in the cycle and for how long.” No matter what women who are abused do or how hard they try, they can’t change or improve the situation.
The cycle often continues once the abusive relationship has ended. This is important for women to see that even when she is not there, he continues to engage in the same behaviors and patterns. The cycle of abuse continues.
If you’re a woman who is being abused, you are not the reason he is abusing you. You are not responsible for his mood swings, anger, problems, or life. Abusers blame their victims, and emotionally manipulate their victims.
Here’s what survivor Karen McAndless-Davis writes in Struggling to find the “right” words so your partner will stop hurting you?
“Have you ever thought, “if I could just say the ‘right’ thing to my partner, then he would finally ‘get it’, understand and change?” Have you ever wondered if somehow you could make your relationship better if you just had the right combination of words… or tone of voice… or proper explanation? Abusive men often leave their partners feeling this way. It is part of the “crazy making” behaviour of abuse. Women work so hard to explain and defend themselves. They put a lot of energy into trying to find the exact right words so they will be heard and understood. The hope being that their partners would stop being hurtful to them. But here is the painful reality. An abusive man is not listening to you to try to understand you better, he is listening to you to gather more ammunition against you to hurt you.”
The only way to stop the cycle of abuse is to create a plan for walking away from the relationship. Get strength, power, wisdom, and support from women’s distress lines, shelters, and people who understand the dynamics of abuse.
If you want to talk about your experience of the cycle of abuse, visit the The National Domestic Violence Hotline for confidential support, 24 hours a day. Remember that your computer use can be monitored, so be careful about clicking on resources or links for women in abusive marriages if you think your husband will find out. If you think your internet usage might be monitored, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233.
To learn more about men who hurt the women they say they love, read Why Does He Do That? Inside the Mind of an Angry Man.
Is your relationship in trouble? Get free advice and a free marriage assessment from marriage coach Mort Fertel.