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Experiencing domestic violence feels confusing, shameful, hopeless and just plain yuck. It is difficult to fully understand what is happening to you because it feels like you are swimming in a pool of oil where nothing makes sense. The cycle of abuse has 4 main stages that an abusive relationship experiences over and over again. 

It’s important to know this cycle, in order to be aware of what’s happening to you, for your safety, and to help you make tough decisions concerning your future.

Reviewing the Cycle of Abuse

infographic on the cycle of abuse

Stage 1: Tension Building

During this stage, your abusive partner lashes out as a response to an external stressor. This could be anything such as a problem at work, a family issue, a disappointment, the children fighting etc. The stressor may make him feel powerless, hopeless, angry or frustrated. 

In this stage, you have not experienced an abusive incident yet, but you can feel the tension building. You feel like you are walking on eggshells.

Personally, during this stage, I remember feeling so anxious and hyper-alert. I tried to calm him down by playing with his hair, rubbing his arm, and/or talking very gently to “appease the sleeping giant” so to speak. 

Stage 2: The Abusive Incident

With all that tension building, it eventually needs to be released. Unfortunately an abusive person releases their emotions in an unhealthy way, hence the abuse. 

The abuse may look like name-calling, physical violence, manipulation, threats or preventing you from seeing family or friends. To learn more about what domestic violence looks like click here. 

Remember that abuse is a choice, and it’s not your fault. I firmly believe this, because of the countless times I saw my ex get upset with someone else, and he did not abuse them. I concluded that he had self-control, he just chose not to practice it with me. 

I concluded that he had self-control, he just chose not to practice it with me. 

Stage 3: Reconciliation or Honeymoon

After the blow-up (abuse), the tension subsides. He will try and ‘make nice’ with you by buying you a gift, being intimate or displaying overall kindness. It’s common to feel hopeful that things will change and to feel more bonded together. As a result, this makes you feel happy. 

My ex would buy me gifts. However, half the time the gifts were items he wanted for himself so we would ‘share’ them. Talk about narcissism! 

Stage 4: The Calm

To keep things cool for a time, it’s common for your husband to apologize, then blame someone else, minimize or deny the abuse, or blame you for making him upset. 

He may promise you it won’t happen again, tell you he will change and/or be more attentive to you. 

For a time. 

That’s just it!

These are all words without action. The Bible tells us that we will know who someone is by their fruits,

 “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act…” 

(Matthew 7:16 NLT)

If he promises you he will change, ask yourself:  

What is he DOING to make the change? Can I SEE or OBSERVE the changes? 

Words aren’t enough and really mean very little.

picture of women picking fruit

The Calm makes you feel like everything is fine again, and you can breathe. However, when you know the pattern or cycle of abuse, you know that the storm is just around the corner. 

Why You Need to Know the Cycle of Abuse

To put it plainly, you need to know the cycle of abuse in order to answer the question: “What is happening (or has happened) to me?”

Let’s talk about the benefits of understanding the cycle of abuse:


When you are aware of what stage your relationship is sitting in, you have insight as to what may happen next and/or how you can possibly avoid triggering him. For example, after a fight my ex would buy me my favorite snack or a present. I knew I would have some peace, for a time, before another blow up. I didn’t know if that peace would be 5 hours, a week or a month, which was anxiety provoking. 

Please listen clearly to what I’m articulating. I am not saying it’s your FAULT you experience abuse nor is it your responsibility to stop it from happening. Even if you were to upset your husband and he then abuses you, the abuse isn’t your fault. All couples upset each other, but not all couples abuse each other. 

All couples upset each other, but not all couples abuse each other. 

My hope is that you understand that there are patterns of behaviour in the abuser, therefore the abuse isn’t your fault. Hopefully, this cycle will give you more clarity about what is happening to you, because a cycle repeats itself.

Please note that the cycle of abuse does not always follow a cyclical pattern, so the stages may not go in order as i described previously. Nor will you know the length of time you will experience each stage. When you are dealing with people, life isn’t predictable or linear. 


Knowing the cycle of abuse validates your experience. When I was being abused for all those years, I felt completely alone and like no one else understood my struggle.  Especially as a Christian. 

women together under sky

However, you are not alone. There are many other women around the world who are survivors of domestic violence, and more Christian survivors than you think! (To join our private Facebook group click here).

As previously mentioned, the cycle of violence isn’t a predictable formula. However, in general, survivors share this similar pattern of experience. 

Please know that your feelings of shame, confusion, guilt and loneliness are valid and justified due to what you and many others are and have gone through.

Safety Planning

In my opinion, safety planning is the most important reason you need to be familiar with the cycle of abuse. For example, if you are aware of your husband’s triggers, (ie. when the children fight) you can take steps to try and avoid the situation or plan for safety when it happens. 

It is helpful to receive support with safety planning from a professional such as a social worker, domestic violence advocate or therapist. There are different kinds of safety plans such as a plan if you decide to stay in the relationship, a plan for when you leave and a plan after you leave. 


Now that you realize you are living in the cycle of abuse, you have decisions to make. Basically you need to decide if you will stay in the marriage or leave it. I acknowledge that this decision is not as simple as how I state it, and it will probably take you some time to come to a conclusion. This is ok. This is YOUR life.

Remember to include God in this decision, He wants to be involved in all aspects of your life.

The issue with a cycle is that it continues unless it is interrupted or stopped. So, over time you may see that the abuse isn’t stopping nor is your husband changing.  Abuse does not stop unless the abuser decides to stop it or the victim leaves (note that even after leaving the abuse may continue for a time). 

You can not control him

He needs to decide to seek help and surrender to the Holy Spirit. But you have control as to whether you stay (yes I know there are complications to staying which is a post for another time), separate for a period or divorce. 

If you need more support or information on your next steps check out this post: I’m in An Abusive Relationship, Now What? 

Let the Cycle Help You, Not Shame You

I will end by mentioning that some people don’t like referring to the cycle of abuse because they believe it shames the victim. I don’t believe that needs to be the case.

If you understand that you aren’t the reason for the abuse, you can’t change or control the abuser, and the cycle can be helpful to you, then there’s no reason to blame yourself or sit in shame. You can find some power in this situation. 

Share this article with other survivors, family and friends to help us raise awareness of domestic violence and educate the church (links at the top). 

We are stronger together.

He is faithful,

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