Phases of the cycle
The cycle usually goes in the following order, and will repeat until the conflict is stopped, usually by the survivor entirely abandoning the relationship. The cycle can occur hundreds of times in an abusive relationship, with the total cycle taking anywhere from a few hours, to a year or more to complete. However, the length of the cycle usually diminishes over time so that the "making-up" and "calm" stages may disappear.
1: Tension Building Phase
This phase occurs prior to an overtly abusive act, and is characterized by poor communication, passive aggression, rising interpersonal tension, and fear of causing outbursts in one's partner. During this stage the survivor may attempt to modify his or her behavior to avoid triggering their partner's outburst. (i.e. walking on egg shells)
2: Acting-Out Phase
This phase is characterized by outbursts of violent, abusive incidents. During this stage the abuser attempts to dominate his/her partner (survivor), with the use of domestic violence. (Controlling behaviors)
3: Reconciliation/Honeymoon Phase
This phase is characterized by affection, apology, or, alternatively, ignoring the incident. This phase marks an apparent end of violence, with assurances that it will never happen again, or that the abuser will do his or her best to change. During this stage the abuser feels overwhelming feelings of remorse and sadness, or at least pretends to. Some abusers walk away from the situation with little comment, but most will eventually shower the survivor with love and affection. The abuser may use self-harm or threats of suicide to gain sympathy and/or prevent the survivor from leaving the relationship. Abusers are frequently so convincing, and survivors so eager for the relationship to improve and are worn down/confused by longstanding abuse, they stay in the relationship.
Although it is easy to see the outbursts of the Acting-out Phase as abuse, even the more pleasant behaviors of the Honeymoon Phase perpetuate the abuse because the survivor, during this phase, sees that the relationship isn't all bad.
4: Calm Phase
During this phase (which is often considered an element of the honeymoon/reconciliation phase), the relationship is relatively calm and peaceful. However, interpersonal difficulties will inevitably arise, leading again to the tension building phase.
I believe that one of the most difficult tasks is to become free from the cycle of abuse. People get “stuck” in the victim role for a number of reasons. Usually fear is a prime motivator:
•fear of what the abuser will do,
•fear of being alone,
•fear of taking a proactive step.
Many people believe that they are bad, and this is what they deserve. They get this message from parents when they are children and observe their main role models in abusive situations. This is what they know, and it is difficult to change patterns.
If you are trapped in an abusive relationship and have trouble breaking the cycle of abuse, please seek professional help. Abuse is debilitating and can break down the strongest of people. If you are afraid, alone, don't know how to break the cycle, and if you can't afford to seek out private help, go to a shelter for help. One can receive counseling at a shelter, even if you are not ready to go there to live. Help is available! Needing help to break the cycle is more the norm rather than the exception. Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.