Cycle of violence

The cycle of domestic violence refers to a recurring pattern of abusive behaviour within intimate relationships - tension building, incident and reconciliation. It is a complex and dangerous cycle that usually begins with a slow build-up of tension, followed by an abusive incident and a period of calming and possibly even reconciliation.

Violence rarely occurs just once. Rather, violence tends to recur and worsen over time. At the beginning of a relationship, there is often no physical violence, and violence occurs less frequently; instead, there are often more emotionally and psychologically stressful incidents that lead to tension and discomfort.

As the relationship progresses, the level and frequency of violence increases, perhaps taking on new forms and becoming a pattern. This pattern is known as a cycle. The violence may never become physical, but this cycle can still be found in daily life.

Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviour or action within an intimate relationship in which one person attempts to gain and maintain power and control over another to harm, intimidate, manipulate, or exploit this person physically, emotionally or sexually and make themselves feel superior.

Domestic violence is not the same as a dispute between two parties who are trying to resolve differences of opinion or conflicts or negotiate decisions.

1. All is okay and harmonious.

In a relationship, everything is fine. There is a feeling of being loved.

2. The everyday life situation changes and tension appears.

The partner must pay attention to what they do or say so that the other does not get nervous or angry. They try to protect themselves and keep control of what is happening. However, the mood remains irritable.

The avoidance or adaptation strategies are varied but do not prevent the subsequent outbreak of violence.

3. An explosion happens, and it can be mental, physical or sexual violence.

It should be noted that an explosion does not require both parties in the relationship; one is enough. The aim of the attacker is to hurt, to gain power and control over, and to compensate for feelings of powerlessness.

Survivors often describe the assault as a loss of control because they had no influence on what happened and when.

4. Reversal of Guilt, explanations, and belittling.

After an outburst of violence, there are various reactions and strategies on the part of the perpetrator. Many people who become violent belittle and excuse their behaviour as something that comes from them, or they give reasons for their violent behaviour (e.g. alcohol consumption, stress) instead of taking responsibility for it. Many blame the victim for their own abuse ("You provoked me"). Many who experience violence believe that it is their fault and are ashamed of the violence they have experienced. They also might take part in belittling.

Some perpetrators are shocked by their actions but also try to play down and legitimise the crime in front of themselves and the one who is the subject of violence.

Those experiencing the violence are never to blame - the perpetrators are responsible for their violent behaviour.

5. Apologies and promises.

The partner who used violence apologises and promises to change. The perpetrator can also use violence at this point by saying they cannot live without their partner and could harm themselves or others unless the victim calms down, comes back, and forgives. Not all perpetrators apologise.

6. It becomes peaceful again.

The victim hopes everything will change and the so-called honeymoon period will begin. The victim may feel that they control the situation and have decision-making power. The perpetrator can buy gifts and profess love.

7. The honeymoon phase.

Everything is fine again. Sex can be highly passionate and addictive at this point.

The cycle continues step by step. Over time, steps 5 to 7 may be completely absent or reduced. That is when one lives in constant fear of violence. For many, the first explosion point is when they break free from a relationship, but not always.

This cycle often continues unless effective interventions are implemented to break the pattern. Understanding the dynamics of the cycle of domestic violence is crucial in order to support and empower survivors, as well as to develop effective strategies for prevention and intervention.

Take the first step by sharing with somebody trusted

Telling a friend, relative or professional about the violence usually helps. The cycle could not be described if it had happened to only one person, so if you are experiencing this, you are not alone.

It is normal that there are also loving phases in a relationship where there is domestic violence. However, it is good to remember that violent phases never belong in a healthy relationship.

After your partner uses violence, those loving phases might feel extremely good, but it does not justify the violence. If the cycle of violence reminds you of something that occurs in your relationship, don't hesitate to contact support services, e.g. Nollalinja or RIKU. You find more contact details on the Contact details -page.

Perpetrators also need help!

It may well be that the perpetrator doesn’t have the tools and the courage to get help. However, preventing violence can only be influenced by seeking help. A person using violence must recognise the behaviour as harmful, understand the consequences and that they are responsible for it. This and the will to change can lead to an end to violent behaviour.

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