Campus Advocacy Network Student Opportunities
Safety   Office of Women's Affairs Programs   For Faculty and Staff  

Domestic Violence


Many survivors describe the abuse that they endured as happening in a cycle, meaning that there seems to be a pattern that occurs. Of course, all relationships are different, and some do not fall into the cycle, however, when they do, the cycle described below is similar for many survivors. The cycle consists of three phases, known as the:

•  Tension Building Phase
•  Explosion Phase
•  Honeymoon/Reconciliation Phase
•  Cycle Frequency/Duration

Tension Building Phase : During this phase the victim often feels as though s/he is walking on eggshells, being extra careful not to trigger an explosion. The abuser may be moody or irritable. The victim senses a growing tension in the abuser and fears that the abuse could occur at any moment.


“I could feel it coming for about a week. Sam kept talking about being stressed at work and how I never understood how hard things were for him. I tried to be extra nice and made sure I had his favorite food around. I came home from my campus job early a few times to make sure that the apartment was clean so it would not add to his stress. Then finally, one evening I was sorting laundry and watching my favorite program, not paying attention to Sam. He must have said something to me, I am hearing impaired and cannot hear if there is a lot of background noise, and since I didn't respond he grabbed me by the hair and yanked my head around…”

Explosion Phase : This is typically what most people think of when they hear of an abusive relationship. Yelling, hitting, pushing, punching, rape and other forms of emotional, physical or sexual violence can occur during this phase. The abuser may make threats of future violence against the victim, her family or her pets, pull out a weapon, or destroy property. An explosion can also take the form of extreme psychological or emotional abuse such as insults, mind games, embarrassing someone in public or restricting their personal liberty (locking them into a room, binding them, restricting their access to food, bathroom etc).


“We were hanging out with a bunch of his friends. At first he was just teasing me, then he started calling me names in front of his friends. Telling me I was stupid and that I embarrassed him. I told him I wanted to leave. We got up and went to the car. He insisted on driving me home that night. I was so mad at him for treating me like that, I just got in the car and was silent. This made him really mad. He started driving really fast, too fast and swerving all around. We almost hit another car. By the time we got to my place, I was crying and shaking. He yelled at me, saying that if I hated him so much why didn't I just run in and tell my daddy. He knew I wouldn't say anything. I would be in so much trouble if my family knew I was dating someone outside our religion, and he had already threatened to tell them himself if I ever complained..."

The Honeymoon Phase: A cycle can begin or end (often known as the reconciliation phase) with this phase. In order to regain control of the victim after an explosion the abuser often apologizes and promises that things will be better and that he/she will change, a tactic that instills hope in the victim. The abuser may blame the victim for the explosion and tell the victim that they are forgiven but that in the future they must help the abuser so that this does not happen again. The abuser gives the victim flowers, gifts, and sweet or romantic behavior to cement the reconciliation and reinforce that a time of peace and love (aka Honeymoon) has come to the relationship.


“A few days after the incident I was back with her. I don't know why exactly. She told me that she needed my help to get better. I guess I believed that I had somehow brought the violence out of her. That morning I'd been on the phone with a friend of mine that I knew she was jealous of, and I should have known it would make her angry. She loved me so much, and when it was good, it was so good. She made me feel so beautiful. We were happy like that for about six months until the tension started to build again…”

Cycle Frequency/Duration: The cycle can happen hundreds of times during the course of an abusive relationship. One total cycle can take anywhere from a few hours to a year or more to complete. Each stage can vary greatly in the amount of time it takes to complete, and a stage may be skipped altogether. Typically the cycle shortens each time, so that very soon the honeymoon and tension building phases are shorter and the explosion is longer and more violent.


“It was really good with me and my boyfriend for like a whole year or something. Then he started to get angry a lot because he kept getting in trouble at school. He used to be a good student too, but this one White teacher had it out for him because he's the only Black kid in the honors class and spread around that he was a “problem kid”. I mean I actually heard him talking to another professor about that. Anyway, my boyfriend was really upset about that, and sometimes he'd take it out on me, yelling and hitting me and stuff. I knew that wasn't right, but it wasn't right what was happening to him either and I wasn't going to get him into any more trouble with anyone. My mom told me that it's a crime how many young black men there are in prison. I wasn't going to do anything to add another one. But eventually it was like I couldn't even remember ever feeling good around him. It was like I was always afraid of him, and I would almost look forward to him hitting me just to get over with it. It got to the point he didn't even try to apologize anymore afterwards like he used to. I still didn't want to get him in trouble, though. I didn't know what to do.”


This project was supported by Grant No. 2002-WA-BX-0011 awarded by the Office of Violence Against Women and the U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.