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Cycle of Violence

Cycle of Violence

The theory that domestic violence occurs in a cycle was developed in 1979 by Lenore Walker as a result of a study conducted in the United States.

The cycle of violence theory explains how and why the behavior of a person who commits domestic or intimate partner violence (IPV) may change so dramatically over time.

The cycle of violence theory also provides an understanding to why the person affected by domestic and family violence continues to face a violent situation.

The cycle goes through a number of stages.

However, it is acknowledged that it is not the same for everyone and some people may experience only some stages of the cycle and cycles can differ in length for some.


The build-up phase

This phase may begin with normal relations between the people in the relationship, but involves escalating tension marked by increased verbal, emotional or financial abuse.
In non-violent relationships these issues can normally be resolved between the people in the relationship.

The stand over phase
This phase can be extremely frightening for people affected by domestic and family violence.
The behavior of the person who uses violence in relationships escalates to the point that a release of tension is inevitable.
The person affected may feel that they are ‘walking on egg shells’ and fear that anything they do will cause the situation to deteriorate further.

The explosion stage marks the peak of violence in the relationship. It is the height
of abuse by the person who uses violence to control and have power over others.
The person who commits domestic and family violence experiences a release of tension during an explosion phase, which may become addictive. They may be unable to deal with their anger any other way.

The remorse phase
The remorse stage, the person who uses domestic and family violence in their relationship feels ashamed of their behavior.
They retreat and become withdrawn from the relationship.
They try and justify their actions to themselves and to others, unaware they are actually addicted to the release they have just experienced.

The pursuit phase
At this stage, the person who uses domestic and Intimate Partner Violence in relationships promises to the victim never to be violent again. They may try to make up for their past behavior during this period and say that other factors have caused them to be violent, for example, work stress, drugs, or alcohol.  The violent offender may purchase gifts, and give the person affected attention. Also, the violent offender may go through a dramatic personality change.
The person affected by the violence will feel hurt, but possibly relieved that the violence is over.

The honeymoon phase
During the honeymoon phase of the cycle of violence, both people in the relationship may be in denial as to how bad the abuse and violence was.
In some cases, both people do not want the relationship to end and can easily ignore the possibility that it could occur again.
After some time, the honeymoon phase will fade and the cycle may begin again.



Effects of Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Violence on Adults


  • Depression
  • Feelings of Hopelessness
  • Numbness
  • Anxiety
  • Low self esteem
  • Grief
  • Shame
  • Self blame
  • Fear
  • Confusion or trouble concentrating
  • Anger


  • Withdrawal / Isolation
  • Difficulty gaining, maintaining or adjusting to employment
  • Self Medicating to cope(Drugs, Alcohol, Prescription Medications)
  • Avoidance
  • Loss of parenting skills (Due to the abuser and abuse


  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Difficulty trusting others, even family and friends
  • Loss of interest
  • Poor Hygiene
  • Little support


  • Sleep deprivation
  • Somatic, stomach and headaches
  • Chronic health problems
  • Problems due to substance abuse
  • Injuries due to abuse

Some immediate health impacts may include:

  • Physical injuries – such as cuts, scrapes and bruises, fractures, dislocated bones
  • Hearing loss
  • Vision loss
  • Miscarriage or early delivery
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Knife wounds
  • Gunshot wounds
  • Homicide
  • Suicide

Longer term health impacts may include:

  • Gastro-intestinal disorders associated with stress
  • Headaches
  • Back pain
  • Fainting
  • Seizures
  • Gynecological problems
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Post traumatic stress disorder
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Alcohol and substance misuse
  • Smoking throughout pregnancy
  • Homelessness
  • Suicide
  • Homicide


World Health Organization 2000, Women and Mental Health: An Evidence Based Review, World Health Organization, Geneva http://whqlibdoc.who.int/hq/2000/who_msd_mdp_00.1.pdf

Vic Health 2004, Violence Against Women in Australia as a Determinant of Mental Health and Wellbeing http://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/Publications/Freedom-from-violence/Violence-against-women-in-Australia-research-summary.aspx



For the LGBT Community there can be additional concerns.

BEYOND THE WHEEL:  Tactics of Abuse

Isolation and OUTING—when people are first coming out, they are very vulnerable to abuse – they may be losing friends and family, may be alienated from their cultural, ethnic, religious, familial community and institutions.   The isolation that most LGBT people face as a result of homophobia is useful to a batterer who is trying to isolate their partner.  Threatening to “out” a person (which could mean losing children, ostracism, job loss etc) is a powerful tool of control.

Using Vulnerabilities—a batterer using their own vulnerabilities to obligate or coerce their partner into staying, caring for them, and/or prioritizing batterer’s needs. Using vulnerabilities often results in survivors being exploited (resources, time, attention) and undermines survivors’ attempts to negotiate boundaries or prioritize self.

Using Children—In some states, LGBT people are not allowed to be the legal parent of their children. Even in states where LGBT parent’s rights are protected, not all individuals have access to the systems to assert their legal rights.  For a non-biological parent, the threat of having no contact with their children makes leaving an abusive relationship a complex to impossible choice.

Using Small Communities—Using friends/family and the small number of open and affirming community spaces to monitor a survivor & gather information, to ostracize or threaten to ostracize the survivor. Please note:  safety planning cannot rely on the survivor never being in community space with the batterer.  Our communities are too small for this.  We must do harm reduction planning for survivors.

Leveraging Institutional Violence / Isolation—law enforcement historically and currently has used violence against LGBT people. LGBT people have been targeted for violence in mental health institutions, by hate and bias attacks, and are denied basic civil rights such as the protections afforded through marriage. LGBT people also experience discrimination and oppression based on race, class, national origin, gender, gender identity etc.  Many LGBT people, and particularly transgender people, have experienced discrimination within the medical system. These things are used by batterers to increase control.

“Beyond the Wheel” Bullet Points 

This handout developed by Connie Burk ©2005, updated by Kristin Tucker 2009  for The NW Network of Bisexual, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Survivors of Abuse  www.nwnetwork.org          P.O. Box 20398  Seattle, WA 98102


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