Cycle of Violence

The Cycle of Violence was named by Lenore Walker. With each repetition of the cycle, abuse tends to become more severe. Though all styles of primary aggressors will tend to evolve toward this cycle, this expeerience is most prominent with volatile primary aggressors. Because observers may not be able to understand that the dynamics of control are operative all the time, they may use the variation in the cycle to justify the erroneous conclusion that the survivor is necessarily consenting to the abuse by staying.

Tension Building Phase

This stage may involves minor incidents (slapping, verbal and/or psychological abuse) but always includes increasing tension and fear of the primary aggressor. This may be the time when a survivor will seek out help through law enforcement intervention only to be told nothing can be done until violence occurs. Also a survivor may:.


During this stage, a violent episode occurs usually causing injury or property damage, and sometimes resulting in death. This is usually the shortest phase lasting a few minutes to 24 hours. The survivor may:

Spent Phase

In this phase, the primary aggressor has had a discharge of tension, and with the rage spent, feels kindly and ironically closer to the survivor and the rest of his family. The survivor still feels cautious, but also feels grateful. The environment becomes tranquil, maybe even pleasant. This may be the longest phase early in a relationship, but usually becomes progressively shorter over time with escalation.

Though this is sometimes called the 'honeymoon' or 'contrition phase' it can be easily distinguished from true contrition. In this phase, the goal of control is still paramount, and so any meaningful discussion of what happened and what must change, irritates and agitates the primary aggressor. Apologies are not true accountability. An apology usually consists of characterizing the violence as 'out of character' or an aberration, when in fact the opposite is the case. With an apology, the primary aggressor is carving out the 'right' not to make deep substantive changes in his emotional life. Also with an apology, the primary aggressor is attempting to short-circuit any boundaries the survivor might otherwise hold firm. An apology can be a self-granted 'pardon' that the survivor must honor or come under criticism.

The primary aggressor at this point promises more self-control (although control is the core of abuse!). Where the cycle of violence operates, all the good times and benefits of a marraige occur in the spent phase. The survivor may respond to the more vulnerable side of the primary aggressor and believe that she is the sole emotional support for the primary aggressor. The survivor may take on responsibility for the well-being of the primary aggressor, who will manipulate this further. Eventually, angry attachment builds bad feeling and the tension phase starts again.