What is Abuse

Intimate Partner Violence Dynamics

To understand the dynamics of intimate partner violence, one only needs to put a kettle of water on the stove…left there long enough, it will eventually reach a boiling point. Therein lies the problem with most people’s concept of intimate partner violence. Too many are conned into thinking that unless the abuse is life threatening there is nothing to worry about. A push or a slap, what’s the big deal? Nobody’s been permanently scarred or maimed. That’s true…not yet. But over time, the violence almost always escalates in both frequency and severity.

Repeated violence tends to follow a three-phase cycle:

Tension Building Phase: Arguments and Threats

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

  • Placate batterer by nurturing or staying out of the batterer’s way
  • Control, manipulate environment to prevent escalation of violence
  • Minimize, trivialize, deny violence
  • Cover for batterer, excuse behavior
  • Begin to withdraw emotionally from overwhelming stress
  • The victim’s inability to face the reality of situation allows the batterer to escalate the violence.

Acute Battering Phase: Beating, Choking, Punching, Use of Weapons

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

  • Feel a complete loss of control
  • Feel psychologically trapped
  • Wait to seek medical treatment if s/he chooses to go at all
  • Not experience the effects of the trauma for some time
  • Not trust law enforcement, fear their involvement will further enrage batterer, defend the batterer to police

Honeymoon Phase: Period of Relative Calm

Environment becomes tranquil, maybe even pleasant. This may be the longest phase early in a relationship, but usually becomes progressively shorter over time. This calm environment may become quite brief with the tension phase beginning again almost immediately. The victim may:

  • Experience the illusion of well-being
  • Believe that s/he is the sole support of the emotional stability of the batterer
  • Believe the many promises of the batterer
  • Feel responsible for batterer’s well being

The cycle usually ends one of two ways — in the death of the victim or a separation. If there is a separation the batterer often moves on to a new victim.