Cycles of Abuse (SDV)
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Surviving Domestic Violence (SDV)

Cycles of Abuse: Time's Not on Your Side

by Dr. Irene Matiatos

Excerpted from Dr. Irene Matiatos' Verbal Abuse Site. Distributed freely for non-commercial, or educational purposes. For commercial distribution, contact the author at

The classic abusive relationship is characterized by a three-stage cycle that may or may not be visible to outsiders. Victim beware: you are on an emotional roller coaster ride that will wear you down and deplete your

The Tension Building Stage:

  • The angry person becomes increasingly controlling during this period, which may take days, weeks or even years to evolve and progress. Limits are imposed on the partner. For example, the abuser may decide what clothes look "right" on the partner, or what image is portrayed. They may try to define whom the partner may or may not speak with and about what, etc. The
    control is insidious and progressive. As tension and control increase, the
    partner attempts to accommodate the abuser in order to keep the peace...
    Despite actions the partner takes, the abuser becomes increasingly remote,
    contemptuous, critical, preoccupied or otherwise on edge. The tension and
    control increase until culminating in the abuse stage.

  • The Abuse Stage:

  • A major verbal, emotional or physically abusive incident occurs that was instigated by the abuser. A trivial event is often used to trigger the main event. The abuser actively looks for excuses to blow up over, and may set up his partner in a no-win situation.

  • The Remorse Stage:

  • Once the blows are delivered, the abuser is calmed. Having blown off steam, and regaining composure, the abusive person if full of apologies and promises to never do it again--if the partner distances. The more distanced the victim, the more intensely the abuser pursues. The abuser can be so charming and complimentary, the co-dependent's heart breaks. There is a compelling need to believe the abuser's promises and pleas to take him back. The more codependent and insecure the partner, the more vulnerable she is to the abuser's attentive remorse. During this phase, abusers are wonderful.

  • A 'normal' person is unlikely to be so compelling and persistent in winning
    over his partner's love because he has no reason to be.

  • As the relationship progresses, the abuse cycle typically escalates in
    intensity and in the temporal contiguity of its negative aspects. The abuse lasts longer and becomes more pronounced, while the loving remorse dwindles.

  • The abuser loves a good challenge. The goal is to win the victim back at any price. At a distance, the partner is perceived as emotionally safe. The
    harder the abuser has to work to win back his victim, the more the victim is
    appreciated. Once the relationship resumes, the abuser's mistrust prompts
    his poor recall of any tender feelings. His fear inevitably powers the
    resumption of the abuse cycle.

  • Advice: Trust actions, not words.

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