Cycles of Domestic Abuse

What is Domestic Abuse?

Women’s Aid defines domestic abuse as an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer.

For the purposes of this article, I am going to focus mainly on domestic abuse from a partner or ex-partner, however as mentioned it can come from a number of sources.

Although there are cases of males being the victim of domestic abuse, it is much more commonly reported that the female is the victim and the abuse is more often perpetrated by the male. According to the Office for National Statistics, an estimated 2 million adults (aged 16-59)experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2018.

Types of Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse is not just the physical, it also includes things such as coercive control, manipulation, psychological and emotional abuse, sexual abuse (including partner rape), financial abuse, harassment and stalking, and online abuse.

Very often, with domestic abuse, the abuse does not start straight away - it escalates over time. In fact, 30% of domestic violence cases start or escalate during pregnancy, meaning that the relationship has been established prior to this.

Think of it like this, if a frog jumped into a pan of boiling water [no animals were hurt in the writing of this article!], it would leap straight out again, but if they were in a pan of tepid water that was slowly heated up, they wouldn't know that the water was too hot until it was too late.

How does Domestic Abuse cycle?

There are a number of models that show how domestic abuse cycles round. We are going to focus on one model here, which I believe is broad enough to encompass many different relationships.

This cycle of abuse was developed as a social cycle of abuse by Lenore E. Walker in 1979. In this model, there are four stages of the abusive relationship. Each stage can vary in length from couple to couple, but also with each repetition of the cycle.

Stage 1: The Honeymoon Stage

Within the honeymoon stage, the abuser is on their best behaviour. They are likely to be treating their partner very well, taking them on lovely dates, helping out around the house, making promises of beautiful futures together, and so on.

Stage 2: The Tension Building Stage

Within this stage, the abuse is starting to trickle in. Perhaps the abuser is starting to check their partner's phone, keep tabs on where they are going and who they are seeing, and maybe starting to isolate their partner from their family and friends. There are more arguments in this stage, and the partner often feels like they are walking on eggshells around their partner.

Stage 3: The Explosive Stage

In the explosive stage, the abuse reaches a crescendo. Perhaps there is physical and/or sexual violence, but not always. There can be real psychological abuse, keeping the partner from seeing friends and family, maybe keeping the partner from maintaining their job, control of all finances, and so on.

Stage 4: The Reconciliation Stage

Within the reconciliation stage, the abuser will be apologetic and will seem to show remorse for their actions. This stage often comes after the partner leaves or attempts to leave the relationship. This stage is also known as the 'hoover' stage as the abuser tries to suck the victim back into the relationship. They are likely to cry, make promises of a better future, and pour their heart out, and they can be very convincing. This stage then leads back into the honeymoon stage.

As I said, the time spent in each stage varies from couple to couple, and on each iteration of the cycle. More often than not, the reconciliation stage and honeymoon stages get short and shorter the more the cycle is repeated, and this is because the abuser no longer needs to convince their victim that they are a good partner - the mask is already off, the victim already knows that their partner is abusive, but they either can't escape, don't want to leave, or don't know how to leave.

But the good days...

Many people who are in or have been in abusive relationships will look back and remember that there were good days and good memories. Many clients will say "There were good times but unfortunately the bad outweighed the good" or "If only he could have had more good days". Using the above model, you can see that the 'good days' were part of the abuse. They were used to suck the victim back into the relationship, deeper and deeper each time. The good days were not a ray of sunshine in the abuser, they were part of the manipulation.

How to get help?

Leaving an abusive relationship can be dangerous. Half of all domestic abuse murders occur at the time of leaving the relationship or shortly thereafter. Let me repeat: Leaving an abusive relationship can be dangerous!

The first thing to do is to observe and learn. Get to know your abuser's red flags. What triggers your abuser to lash out? Learn their patterns and routines - when are they out of the house, where do they go and so on. Maybe think of some believable excuses to leave the house that you could use in the future.

Think about the layout of the house. Where could you run to in an emergency? - avoid enclosed spaces with no exits such as closets, and avoid rooms with potential weapons such as the kitchen. Head for rooms that have a phone and/or external window, even better if it is lockable.

If you are able to, contact local services for advice, support, and even places to stay. For example, Womensaid is a national domestic abuse helpline (0800 2000 247) which runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you are in immediate danger, then call the police as soon as you are able to.


The abuse is not your fault, even if your partner tries to convince you otherwise. You are not to blame.

If it is bad enough that you are considering getting help, then get help.

You deserve safety, happiness, and security (both physical and emotional).

There are people waiting to help.

As always, if you would like to book an initial counselling session with me, please email me at

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