The Cycle of Violence

Dr. Lenore Walker (1979) developed The Cycle of Violence Theory which outlines the stages of an Abusive Relationship (e.g., Domestic Violence and Abuse). Specifically, it describes the stages an abusive relationship moves through pre-violent event to post-violent event.

The Cycle of Violence considers the repetitive nature of the abuser’s actions, the very actions that impede the abused individual from leaving the toxic and abusive relationship. The Cycle of Violence Theory illustrates how an abuser’s behaviour dramatically shifts, and the shifts manipulate and confuse (psychologically and emotionally) the abused individual, thereby making it difficult for him/her to leave the relationship. I can definitely relate to The Cycle of Violence as the stages and phases definitely resonate with my ex-partner’s behaviour, as well as my response to his behaviour. I anticipate that any of you that have experienced violence will likely recognize this cycle as well.

Let’s look at the three stages of The Cycle of Violence in a bit more depth:

Phase 1: Tension-Building Stage

Build Up: As the tension between the people in the relationship increases, the abuse (any of the types previously outlined) occurs.

Stand-over:  The abused individual is often very fearful at this point in the stage, he/she worries that the situation will escalate if he/she does anything wrong. The abuser’s behaviour intensifies to the point where a release of tension is inevitable, and the manner that this release occurs is unfortunately negative.

Phase 2: Acute Explosion Stage

Violence peaks in this phase. Specifically, the abuser experiences a release of tension which is negative in nature (e.g. verbal, emotional or physical abuse, threats, intimidation, blaming, anger, arguing).

This behaviour likely becomes patterned.

Phase 3: Honeymoon Stage

Remorse: The abuser often feels ashamed in this phase. He/she may react by becoming withdrawn and/or attempting to justify his/her actions to both him/herself or others. It is during this stage that the abuser may make statements similar to what we discussed in the last blog, (see last blog) they may say things like: ““If you didn’t do X, I would never have reacted by Y”or “You know it makes me angry when you say that”.

Pursuit: During the Pursuit Phase, it is typical for the abuser to promise to never be violent again. The abuser may try to explain away the violence by blaming external factors like those that we discussed in the last blog (e.g., drugs, alcohol or stress). The abuser may shift his/her behaviour to be more favourable, for instance he/she may be very attentive to the abused individual (e.g., buying gifts, taking the abused individual on vacation, helping with chores, etc.). The abuser’s favourable behaviour leaves the impression that he/she has changed. At this point, the abused individual often feels confused (psychologically and emotionally) and/or hurt. He/she often experiences a sense of relief as well because the abuse and violence are over.

Denial: Most often, both the abuser and the abused individual are in denial about the severity of the abuse and violence during this phase. It is common for intimacy to increase at this point in the phase and both individuals subsequently feel happy and want the relationship to continue. It is unlikely that the possibility that the abuse could happen again will be acknowledged. Over time, this stage passes and the cycle may begin again.

As discussed in the last blog, it takes an individual who has experienced Domestic Violence and Abuse an average of seven times before permanently leaving his/her abuser. As such, the two individuals will likely cycle through these stages at least six more times before the demise of their relationship.

If you are a Survivor (I prefer this term to “Victim” as I believe you have come out of the situation and are stronger for it, as opposed to helpless), hopefully, this knowledge helped normalize and validate your experience(s).

Despite what your abuser told you – NO, you are not crazy and NONE of this was your fault! Further, there is no reason for you to feel isolated or ashamed as this experience is not yours alone. Unfortunately, it is more common than we would like to believe.

Think about it this way, half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one instance of physical or sexual abuse since the age of 16 [1]. As discussed in the last blog, (see last blog), Domestic Violence and Abuse is not limited to physical or sexual abuse, it also includes verbal, psychological, emotional, spiritual, economic and the violation of rights. If we take into consideration those other forms of abuse, as well as the fact that reportedly only 20% of Domestic Violence and Abuse is ever reported imagine how common this issue is!! Please, please, please remember that You are NOT alone!!

[1] Canada Centre of Justice Statistics. Family violence in Canada: A statistical profile, 2013: highlights (2015). Retrieved from:


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Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. They bless the one who receives them, and they bless you, the giver.

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