The Cycle of Domestic Violence


Disclaimer: We acknowledge that there are many different words that individuals use to describe themselves after experiencing sexual assault. In this article we use the term ‘victim’ for the sake of consistency. We acknowledge that there are many different ways of processing sexual violence, and believe each individual person should choose the language that they are most comfortable with.

What is the Domestic Violence Cycle?

A person's bare back with "Love Shouldn't Hurt" written on it with black paint.

Domestic violence is a physical, emotional, or psychological abuse directed at an intimate partner. The cycle of domestic violence describes the pattern of events often found in abusive relationships.1 Domestic violence often varies in frequency and severity. Initially, the abuse may consist of minor conflicts, such as small arguments, but over time the abuse escalates, often resulting in physical, emotional, sexual, and/or psychological abuse. The cycle of domestic violence consists of three different phases: the Tension Building Phase, the Explosion Phase, and the Honeymoon Phase.2 Denial helps perpetuate the cycle and causes some victims choose to stay with their abusers.

The Cycle of Domestic Violence Phases

Tension Building Phase

The Tension Building Phase is typically the longest of the three phases, possibly lasting several weeks.3 The abuser may consistently be in a negative mood and commit minor assaults, damage property, or make threats.3 The victim will try to appease their abuser by satisfying their needs, calming them down, or avoiding confrontation. Although these actions might be temporary fixes, none of them stops the violence from occurring.3 Victims often report feeling as though they are “walking on egg shells,” worrying one wrong decision can have dire consequences.2 The Tension Building Phase eventually reaches a tipping point, leading to the Explosion Phase.

Signs of the Tension Building Phase

Signs of the Tension Building Phase include:2

  • Verbal abuse and minor arguments are common during the Tension Building Phase.
  • The victim will appear to be tiptoeing around their abuser.
  • The abuser will often exert power over the victim and attempt to control their actions.

The Explosion Phase

The Explosion Phase is typically the shortest phase in the cycle, lasting only 1-2 days. However, it is typically the most violent phase.1 Once the tension reaches the tipping point, the abuser will lose their temper and inflict some sort of abuse on the victim. The abuse may take on different forms such as emotional, physical, sexual, verbal, or psychological abuse. The Explosion Phase is often unexpected and triggered by an external event or the abuser’s emotional state. The trigger is not the victim’s behavior.1 However, the abuser often blames the victim for their own behavior and continues to degrade them. During this stage the victim may try to appease the abuser, flee the abuser, or even try to fight back.1 Eventually the phase will end when the abuser attempts to make amends with the victim, leading to the Honeymoon Phase. Unfortunately, oftentimes the abuser will not suffer repercussions for their violent behavior and is able to maintain their relationship with the victim.2

Signs of the Explosion Phase

A man extending his arm behind a woman who is holding on to her arm. Their faces show distress.

Signs of the Explosion Phase include:2

  • The abuser will lose their temper and appear to lose control over their behavior.
  • Physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, or psychological abuse may be inflicted upon the victim.
  • The abuser may try to justify their actions by blaming the victim.
  • Both the victim and abuser will try to rationalize and minimize the abuse.

The Honeymoon Phase

In this phase, the abuser begins to feel remorse for their actions.3 They may declare their love for the victim, apologize, and promise to never again be abusive in order to avoid ruining their relationship or police intervention.3 The abuser may also claim that they will stop other actions that contribute to their violent behavior, such as quitting drinking. They often buy the victim expensive gifts and shower them with attention. In some extreme cases, the abuser may even use self-harm or suicide threats to force the victim to forgive them.3 If the police were involved, the victim may stop the investigation or attempt to get the charges dropped by lying about the injuries and the events that took place during the Explosive Phase. The abuser convinces the victim to accept their apology. The victim forgives the abuser in the hopes that they will stop their abusive behaviors.2 Eventually the abuser’s gestures will subside, creating renewed tensions that lead back to the Tension Phase, and thus the harmful cycle continues.

Signs of the Honeymoon Phase

Signs of the Honeymoon Phase include:2

  • The abuser will be overly romantic with the victim.
  • Abusers will often shower their victim with gifts like candy, cards, flowers, etc.
  • Abusers will promise to change their behavior, such as promising to stop drinking, work less, pay more attention to their victim, etc.
  • The abuser will express remorse and attempt to convince the victim that it will not happen again.


Denial is prevalent throughout each phase of the cycle. It is the enforcer that keeps the cycle going.1 Denial is used by the abuser and victim to minimize the seriousness of the situation.1 Friends and family of the abuser and victim may also use denial to minimize their responsibility. A victim’s denial helps create a false sense of reality that convinces them to stay in the abusive relationship. An abuser’s denial causes them to convince themselves that their actions are not their fault and that they are not being abusive, or that the victim deserves it.1

Support and Resources

Many shelters, hot lines, and businesses are dedicated to helping victims of domestic abuse. Do not hesitate to contact one if you believe that you or a loved one is a victim of domestic abuse. Below is a list of hot lines and crisis centers that may be helpful for a person experiencing domestic abuse:1

Concluding Remarks

A man aggressively holding a woman against a wall

The Cycle of Domestic Violence is a continuous, harmful cycle perpetuated by the abuser’s and victim’s denial. The Tension Building phase, Explosion Phase, and Honeymoon Phase continue to repeat until the victim decides to seek help or the relationship ends due to a drastic consequence. There are many resources available to victims of domestic abuse. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, it is important to seek help as soon as possible.


  1. “The Cycle of Violence.” DVS – Cycle of Violence. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.
  2. “The Cycle of Domestic Violence?” The Cycle of Domestic Violence? N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.
  3. “The Cycle of Violence.” Women Safe, Inc. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.

Last Updated: 26 February 2017.