The Stages of an Abusive Relationship

American psychologist and founder of the Domestic Violence Institute, Lenore E. Walker developed the theory that most abusive relationships tend to occur in a cycle until either the conflict or relationship is over, usually by the victim deciding to end it, or the abuser getting charged with abuse.

The first phase of the cycle of an abusive relationship starts off with building tension. Rising tension, conflict, misunderstanding, and pressure start to develop quickly. The victim may try to comfort the abuser, believing they themselves are the source of conflicts.

The second phase of the cycle is violence. During this stage, the abuser often verbally, emotionally, physically, or sexually abuses the victim. They also assert their dominance over the relationship using violence.

The third phase of the cycle, the “honeymoon” phase, is where the abuser begins to feel remorse. However, the victim is already traumatized from the abuse. Abusers often give the victim love and affection or self-harm threats of killing themselves to prevent the victim from leaving or reporting them. Because of their change of attitude, victims often stay in the relationship.

The last phase of the cycle, the “calm” phase, is where abuse in the relationship descends or stops. The abuser goes to extremes to make their apology seem realistic, such as giving passionate affection or extravagant gifts. Over time, the apologies become less sincere, and the tension building phase may start again. Depending on the relationship and severity of the abuse, there may be separation, divorce, or death if the cycle of abuse continues.

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