The Cycle of Abuse in a Relationship

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.

Cycle of Abuse in a relationshipIf you’re a woman who is experiencing abuse, please read books like Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men.

“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,” writes Jill Cory in When Love Hurts. “Most women living with the cycle are just trying to survive day-to-day; thinking about leaving seems impossible.”

Learn as much as you can about the abuse dynamic and the cycle of an abusive relationship. Get as much information, power, and understanding as you can. If you think you’re caught up in a cycle of abuse, read 5 Signs of an Abusive Boyfriend.

The Cycle of Abuse in a Relationship

“The honeymoon behaviour draws the woman in and keeps her invested in the relationship,” writes Cory in  When Love Hurts. “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) and Explosion (Escalation of abusive tactics…this is the hell part of the cycle of abuse!).

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.”

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.

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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 Do You Leave an Abusive Relationship? for help stopping the cycle of abuse.

Whose Fault Is It? What Causes the Cycle of Abuse?

The Cycle of Abuse in a Relationship
“The Cycle of Abuse in a Relationship” image by deadsnow via DeviantArt

“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.

To stop the cycle of abuse, you need to find a way to walk away from the relationship. Get strength, power, wisdom, and support from women’s distress lines, shelters, and people who understand the dynamics of abuse.

Is a man abusing you?

Visit the Domestic Violence Hotline or call 1-800-799-7233

If you’d like to share your “honeymoon to hell” story or talk about the cycle of abuse you’re experiencing, I welcome you below. I can’t give personal advice or counselling – please call the domestic violence hotline for help and support.

Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse are the most common type of abuse in relationships. But, it’s also important to recognize financial abuse. Read How to Be Financially Independent in a Controlling Relationship to learn more.


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