An abusive relationship often follows a certain pattern: phases of tension, escalation, reconciliation, and moments of calm are repeated in a vicious cycle. It can be difficult to break out of this pattern – in between abusive phases, your partner can shower you with love and affection to win you back.
It is not your fault, if you experience violence. It is also not your fault, if you cannot break free from it.
Many people who become violent excuse their behaviour as something outside of their control. Toxic partners don’t admit their wrongdoings and believe the actions of their partner, alcohol, or other circumstances are to blame.
Many victims resort to self-blame ("I thought I was the problem - that I just needed to behave better and it would be fine"). It is normal for victims to believe this at first. They love the other person and hope that the partner will change.
If the following description of a typical cycle of abuse sounds familiar to you, we recommend that you seek help. You can also fill out our questionnaire on the health of your relationship.
These are the four phases:
Phase 1: Tensions build
There are many factors that can lead to increased tension in an violent partnership: Problems at work, alcohol or drugs, physical illness, fatigue. Your partner becomes angry, aggressive or annoyed and starts making demands. You try to appease your partner and feel anxious and wary – you might feel as if you’re constantly walking on eggshells.
Phase 2: The situation escalates
Your partner commits an act of abuse. This can range from emotional abuse to physical violence. Here you can find out more about the different types of violence.
Your partner may blame you for the violence ("Your behaviour is the problem!"). Remember that violence is always a choice – there are different factors that can explain acts of violence, but never excuse them.
Phase 3: The couple reconciles
After the violent incident, the tension drops. Your partner tries to win you back: He or she apologizes, begs for forgiveness, buys you gifts and assures you that something like this "will never happen again".
Abuse is often excused with alcohol, jealousy, or stress. Through loving gestures, the abusive partner tries to initiate a so-called "honeymoon" phase – you feel close to your partner again and believe that you have your “real” relationship back.
Phase 4: Calm
The crisis is over. To maintain peace and harmony, you may begin to accept your partner's excuses and even doubt your memory of the abuse, asking yourself "Was it really that bad?"
The cycle begins again
Typically, this cycle repeats itself over time - abuse very rarely remains a single act. The pause between the individual repetitions can vary in length and often shortens over time as the violence escalates. Moments of calm can become very short or even disappear from the cycle entirely.
Typically, the violence gets worse over time.
Are you abusive yourself?
It’s possible that both partners in a relationship show unhealthy behaviour. It is also possible that both become violent. However, it is usually one person who has more power and control over the other.
Even if you show abusive tendencies yourself, maybe as a reaction to the violence you are experiencing, you can and should get help.