Dynamics of Domestic Abuse

Domestic Violence is Complex

Domestic abuse is a learned and chosen pattern of hurtful behavior used to gain and maintain power and control over an intimate partner. It sometimes erupts in physical violence, but that’s not the whole of it. For someone who lives in an abusive home, the sense of powerlessness and insecurity is pervasive.


Phases of Abuse

Many victims experience a definite battering cycle, with phases similar to those outlined below.  Please note, however, that every relationship is different, and some women may not be able to identify with this model.

  • Phase 1: Tension Building. This is the time where tension mounts and small outbursts occur.  Victims feel like they must be very careful so that the abuser will not explode.  Some victims describe this time as “walking on eggshells.”
  • Phase 2: Acute Battering Incident. The abuser decides to become physically abusive.  Victim’s behavior cannot change the outcome.  She feels helpless and depressed.
  • Phase 3: Relief Period. This is a period of reduced violence and relative calm.  Some abusive partners may become contrite and ask for forgiveness. They promise that the violence won’t happen again.  The victim may want to believe her partner’s promises, and/or remain in the situation out of fear of what her partner will do if she leaves.  This is also known as the “honeymoon” period.


Progression of Violence

Research shows that without intervention, a batterer’s abuse increases in intensity and frequency over time.  The abuser may stay at higher and higher levels of escalation, rarely dropping to lower levels.


The Use of Power to Attain Control in a Relationship

The abuser may use coercion, intimidation, emotional abuse, threats, isolation, economic abuse, and /or the children to control his or her partner.  He or she also minimizes, denies and blames her for his or her behavior.  The core issue for the abuser is to be in control of the relationship in order ot have his or her needs met.  If the aforementioned tactics don’t work, then the abuser enforces his threats with physical and/or sexual violence.

Our friends at the Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs in Duluth created this helpful diagram of a “Power and Control Wheel.”


Societal Forces Which Perpetrate Abuse

There are many myths about domestic violence.  These myths and misconceptions about abusers and battered women instill false beliefs about who is affected by domestic violence, how often it happens, the seriousness of the issue, what causes it, and what can make it stop.  Society’s lack of understanding and, consequently, lack of support leaves victims of abuse feeling isolated and alone.