The 4 stages of domestic violence

To isolate his victim and limit her freedom, the abuser, using various strategies, sets up a trap similar to a spider web. Through the repetition of the CYCLE OF VIOLENCE, he deliberately builds a situation that will be increasingly more difficult for the victim to escape from.

The cycle of violence consists of 4 stages. They might not always be present in each episode of violence, but they can be effective at some point or another. These stages are provoked and initiated by the abuser in order to isolate and dominate his victim.

The plan is quite simple: the first two stages enable the aggressor to control the victim (mounting tension and abuse), while the other stages aim at holding the victim back to prevent her from leaving her abuser (rationalization and reconciliation).

Stage1: mounting tension

At the beginning of the relationship, everything is fine, it's the honeymoon. Then, gradually, tension starts increasing in the house under various pretexts: she is not doing things the way he likes (why didn’t she clean the closet as soon as they got back from vacation?) or she doesn’t behave the way he wants (why does she look so happy with other people?). These excuses are triggers to create tension; they are not the cause of the violence.

Tension can show itself in several ways: long and torturing silences, troubling extended absences, threats, aggressive tone, sudden gestures. The woman knows that this tension will inevitably lead to an explosion – and that she will end up suffering.

She feels this constant threat and tries everything possible to calm things down. She pays attention to her slightest moves and words to make sure that she doesn’t annoy or upset her spouse, she tries to please him, quiets the children. She tries to protect herself from threats of violence, which can be straightforward (threats of assault or break-up, insults, anger, etc.) or unspoken (mood, looks, silences, physical distances, disapproval, etc.). The woman is constantly adjusting herself and is totally focused on her partner's needs and mood. She is frightened and constantly tries to prevent the worst from happening.

Stage 2: abuse

An act of violence takes place. It can be verbal, psychological, physical, economic or sexual. The man might give the impression that he lost self-control, but in fact, this burst of violence has clear intentions: maintaining power over his partner. In this situation, the woman may feel outraged and helpless. Or worse: she feels destroyed inside.  She may also react, and defend herself in order to stop the attack and take back a certain control of the situation.

Stage 3: rationalization

Immediately after the aggression, the man tries to justify his behavior. He minimizes the nature and the impact of the aggression. He blames the drinking, his dependency on drugs and medicine, difficulties he might be facing at work or with his colleagues, physical or sexual abuse during childhood, his mother’s abandonment, foster care, mental health issues or physical pain. He says that he is unable to control his violence. He blames his partner for exaggerating. He says that she doesn't understand or love him enough; she is crazy, she’s the one who starts it all, and provokes him. Then life quickly goes back to normal.

With all of his excuses, and prior messages she’s accepted in her life, the woman forgets her anger. She sometimes even feels responsible for the violent behavior. She ends up believing that by changing her ways, the situation will improve.

Stage 4: reconciliation

The man will express his regret, he wants to reconcile. He humbly asks for forgiveness and help, he begs her to start over again. He buys her gifts, and suddenly becomes romantic and loving. He compliments her and makes abundant promises. During this stage, she will see her partner the way he used to be, calm and pleasant. This superficial remorse preserves a high level of tolerance towards future possible aggressions, because he assures her that he won’t do it again, if she responds to his demands.