Dynamics of Domestic Violence


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Phases of Abuse

Although every relationship is different and some may not identify with this model, many victims of abuse experience a definite cycle of domestic violence.

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

Research shows that without intervention, domestic violence increases in intensity over time.  The abuse progresses to higher and higher levels of violence, rarely dropping to lower levels.

Causes of Violence

While violent partners choose to use their power abusively in a relationship, there are a number of additional factors that contribute to this choice.  We present these factors not as justification for violence but as a way to enrich the discussion about what causes violence in our relationships and our society.

  • Modeling within the family: Children witness violent behavior in the home and believe that it is acceptable.
  • Socialization: The socialization regarding gender roles that men experience through the media, the educational system, and religious institutions contributes to their use of violence.
  • Violence as positive reinforcement: Choosing to use violence and getting your way without any negative consequences, such as jail time or relationship loss, make it that much easier to be violent the next time.
  • Expression or suppression of feelings: Research suggests that partners who use abusive behavior have difficulty expressing themselves, their feelings, and their needs within a relationship.
  • Association between anger and violence: Partners who use abusive behavior often do not distinguish between anger (the feeling) and violence (the behavior). These abusive partners think that they are unable to be angry without being violent.
  • Self-worth: Partners who use abusive behavior often feel that they are unlovable and must control their partner so that the partner won’t leave.

Red Flags

Question relationships with partners who:

  • abuse alcohol or other drugs
  • have a history of trouble with the law, get into fights, or break and destroy property
  • don’t work or go to school
  • abuse siblings, other family members, children or pets
  • put people down, including your family and friends, or call them names excessively
  • are always angry at someone or something
  • try to isolate you and control who you see or where you go
  • nag you or force you to be sexual when you don’t want to
  • cheat on you or have lots of partners
  • are physically rough with you (push, pull, yank, squeeze, restrain)
  • take your money or take advantage of you in other ways
  • accuse you of flirting or coming on to others, or accuse you of cheating on them
  • don’t listen to you or show interest in your opinions or feelings
  • things always have to be done their way
  • ignore you, give you the silent treatment, or hang up on you
  • lie to you, don’t show up for dates, maybe even disappear for days
  • check out or make lewd comments about others in your presence
  • blame all arguments and problems on you
  • tell you how to dress or act
  • threaten suicide if you break up with them
  • experience extreme mood swings…tell you you’re the greatest one minute and rip you apart the next
  • tell you to shut up or tell you you’re dumb, stupid, fat, or call you some other name (directly or indirectly)
  • compare you to former partners or excessively bad mouth former partners

Question relationships if you:

  • feel afraid to break up with them
  • feel tied down, feel like you have to check-in
  • feel afraid to make decisions or bring up certain subjects so that the other person won’t get mad
  • tell yourself that if you just try harder and love your partner enough that everything will be just fine
  • find yourself crying a lot, being depressed or unhappy
  • find yourself worrying and obsessing about how to please your partner and keep them happy
  • find the physical and emotional abuse getting worse over time

Compelling Reasons Women Stay

One question that our society often asks of victims of domestic abuse is: “Why do/did you stay in an abusive relationship?”  Sometimes the question is meant as an honest inquiry.  Often, though, it is spoken with an undercurrent of disbelief, sending a message that women who stay in abusive relationships are somehow to blame for the violence.

The following is a composite of views from women in DAP Women’s Groups over the past several years.  They invited us into their lives and helped us answer that question.

A woman may fear her partner’s actions if she leaves.

  • My partner said he will hunt me down and kill me.
  • My partner will kidnap the children and disappear.
  • My partner will take my passport and immigration papers.
  • My partner will spread horrible rumors about me.
  • My partner will ‘out’ me at work or to my family.
  • My partner will have me deported or report me to the INS.
  • My partner will stop the processing of my Green Card.

The effects of abuse may make it difficult to leave.

  • I’m nothing. I don’t deserve better.
  • I feel paralyzed.
  • I can’t face making decisions anymore.
  • I am so used to life being this way.
  • I’m more comfortable with what I know than the unknown out in the world.

A woman may have concerns about her children.

  • My children will blame me and resent me.
  • The kids need a father.
  • My partner will tell my ex-spouse or authorities that I am a lesbian so they will take the kids.
  • Children need a ‘real family.’
  • My partner will steal the children.
  • My partner will turn the children against me.
  • My partner is the biological mother; I have no legal rights.

A partner’s attempts to isolate a woman may make it difficult for her to leave or get help.

  • My partner doesn’t let me out of the house.
  • I have no friends to call for help anymore.
  • My partner doesn’t let me take English classes so I can’t communicate with anyone.
  • My sister said I couldn’t come and stay with her anymore after the last time.
  • My partner said he or she would teach my friend a lesson if I go over there again.
  • My partner hides my wheelchair so I cannot leave the house.

A woman’s personal history may have shaped her attitude toward abuse in relationships.

  • My father beat my mom—it just goes with being in a relationship.
  • Getting hit isn’t the worst thing that can happen in a family—I know of worse things.
  • I have seen a lot of violence in my country, so violence has become normal for me.
  • My parents never gave up on one another.

A woman may be deeply attached to her partner and hope for change.

  • I believe my partner when he or she says that it will never happen again.
  • My partner promised to go to therapy.
  • I cherish the intimacy.
  • My partner is really loving towards me most of the time.
  • My marriage vows.
  • My religion.
  • I love my partner.

Some women are taught that it is their job to maintain the relationship and support their partners, so they may feel guilty about leaving or feel they have “failed.”

  • I will ruin my partner’s life if I leave.
  • My partner will have nowhere to go.
  • My partner will lose her or his job if I report this.
  • My partner will start drinking again.
  • I will disappoint my family.  I can’t admit my relationship is a failure.
  • I have to take care of my partner.
  • My partner wouldn’t hurt me if I were better at keeping up the house.

Women may be economically dependent on their partners, or their partners may be economically dependent on them.

  • My partner has all the money.
  • I’ve never had a good job.  How would I take care of my kids alone?
  • I have no work experience in this country.
  • It’s better to be beaten up at home than to be out on the streets.
  • My partner won’t let me send any money overseas.
  • My disability does not enable me to work.
  • I’d rather die than be on welfare.
  • My partner forces me to work and then takes all my money.
  • My partner charges up all my credit cards.
  • My partner can’t work—he depends on me to support him.

Our culture sends the message that a woman’s value depends on her being in a relationship.  Women without partners tend to be devalued.

  • My partner keeps me together.  I’ll fall apart if I leave.
  • I have to have a man by my side.
  • I would be disgraced in my community and bring shame to my family.
  • People will call me a whore or sleazy.
  • I’ll be an old maid.
  • I’m afraid to be on my own.

What Can We Do About Domestic Violence?

 Parents Can:
  • Be positive role models.
  • Turn off television violence.
  • Explain to their children the acceptable ways to deal with anger.
  • Encourage their children’s teachers, coaches, and community leaders to promote nonviolent solutions to problems.
  • Listen to children and encourage them to discuss their feelings, needs, and wants.
 Kids Can:
  • Treat each other with respect.
  • Turn off television violence.
  • Deal with anger in a positive way.
 Teachers Can:
  • Develop curriculum for boys and men to help them understand their role in healthy relationships.
  • Seek training to help recognize and assist abuse victims, including children who are witnesses to domestic violence.
  • Create an atmosphere for respectful discussion of harassment and abusive behavior.
 Business Leaders Can:
  • Audit the workplace to ensure that inappropriate attitudes about violence, abuse, and degrading behavior are not tolerated.
  • Offer training and counseling on issues of domestic violence, abuse, and sexual harassment.
  • Provide information on how and where to get help in times of stress, need, or actual violence.
  • Engage in Corporate Partnership as a business with DAP or a local domestic abuse program.
 Employees Can:
  • Refuse to participate in derogatory jokes or stories about women, rape, or violence.
  • Treat each other with respect in the workplace and tolerate differences among co-workers.
  • Learn about different racial and ethnic cultures and customs.
 Religious Leaders Can:
  • Speak out against domestic violence.
  • Assist victims in their religious community who must escape from abusive or violent environments.
  • Offer resources to religious community members who may be perpetrators or victims of domestic abuse to assist them in seeking help.
  • Seek training to enable them to recognize and assist children in violent and abusive environments.
 Civic Organizations Can:
  • Examine messages promoted within their organization regarding women, minorities, and children.
  • Encourage awareness of domestic abuse.
  • Promote humane and just treatment for all community members.
 Youth Organizations Can:
  • Begin discussions about family and personal relationships that focus on respect, understanding and positive behavior.
  • Identify and confront potential aggressors about unacceptable behavior.
  • Seek training for leaders so they can recognize and assist victims of harassment or abusive behavior.
  • Initiate projects that reward positive behavior and seek to eliminate negative images of different groups in society.
 Criminal Justice Workers Can:
  • Examine policies and practices regarding domestic abuse and sexual assault.
  • Analyze actual and perceived consequences to the perpetrator of abusive and violent behavior.
  • Study how the system treats victims of harassment, abuse, or violence.

Additional Resources