Dynamics of Domestic Abuse

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One of the most commonly asked questions regarding domestic violence is “Why do women stay in abusive relationships?”  It may be more appropriate, however, to examine the question “Why do abusive partners abuse the people they say they love?”  Answers to these questions require an understanding of the phases of abusive behavior, the progression of violence, the use of power to attain control of a relationship, the effects of abuse, and societal forces that perpetuate an atmosphere conducive to abuse.


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 – 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 – Abuser decides to become physically abusive.  Victim’s behavior cannot change the outcome.  She feels helpless and depressed.

Phase 3: Relief Period – A period of reduced violence and relative calm.  Some abusive partners may become contrite and ask for forgiveness, and 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.


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.


Power and Control Wheel

Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs  |  Duluth