Domestic Violence

This purpose of this article is to provide general information on issues related to domestic violence, but is not meant to replace consultation with a mental health professional. If you are concerned about relationship violence in your own life, or that of another, please feel free to contact our office to set up an appointment.

Do you think you might be in a destructive relationship? If it hurts or scares you, it’s not healthy. Relationships should make both partners feel good about themselves and about each other.

Domestic violence occurs when a relationship is based on power and control. The abuse can be physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual. Often, one or more violent incidents are accompanied by an array of other types of abuse. They may not be as obvious, but help to firmly establish a pattern of intimidation and control in the relationship.

Abuse may include one or more of the following types of mistreatment—physical, sexual, and emotional/psychological. These kinds of abuse occurs in every race, class, and educational background, from doctors to truck drivers. It is extremely prevalent with 3 to 4 million women being battered each year in the United States.

The Cycle of Violence

Domestic violence usually follows a cycle that repeats itself continually. This cycle consists of the following three stages.

  1. Tension or Build Up (Phase 1)

    Increased tension, anger, blaming and arguing. This phase may last a week, months, or years. However, it usually becomes more frequent as the cycle is repeated. It typically involves an increase in verbal and minor physical abuse. Sometimes this is enough to frighten the victim into submission. The victim knows what will happen if he/she does not comply. At this point the victim may be amenable to sources of help.

  2. Battering Incident (Phase 2)

    Battering-hitting, slapping, kicking, choking, use of objects or weapons. Sexual abuse. Verbal threats and abuse. During this phase the batterer loses the desire or ability to control his/her anger and violence. The batterer learns that this type of action helps to “relieve stress” and “change behavior”. Just following this episode the batterer and the partner are most likely to seek help. The partner is hurt and scared, and the batterer is feeling ashamed, guilty and humiliated.

  3. Calm or Honeymoon Stage (Phase 3)

    This stage may decrease over time. The batterer may deny violence; say he/she was drunk, say sorry and promise that it will never happen again. The victim is least amenable to help at this point. However, the batterer may be most open to help at the start of this phase because typically, he/she is remorseful and wishes to please (keep) the partner. At the peak of this stage both parties may deny or distort what has occurred.

Then, Phase 1 begins again… The truth is that change is unlikely unless you get help. The victims want to believe the abuser when they promise it will never happen again, but in most cases it does. It not only recurs, but escalates each time. Studies indicate that most abusers who seek professional help do so only after their partners have left. Otherwise, they have no incentive to change.

What Should I do?

The first step is to recognize what is happening. It is hard to accept that you are being abused by someone you love. Look over the types of abuse. Do any of the behaviors apply to your life? Take it seriously. Realize you are not alone, and you didn’t cause or deserve the abuse. Tell trusted adults and friends. Call the authorities if you’ve been assaulted or in danger. Call a hotline or the Employee Assistance Office. Plan for your safety.

What to do if you are an abuser?

If you are an abuser, there are steps you can take as well. Admit that you are hurting someone and make a commitment to stop. Talk to trusted adults and friends about your problem. Call a hotline or the Employee Assistance Office.


The above information was adapted from the University of Massachusetts Faculty and Staff Assistance Program. We wish to thank them for permission to use this material.