Battered women are not constantly being abused; nor are there abuses inflicted at totally random times. Understanding this cycle, which increases in frequency and severity as it happens again and again, is very important if we are to learn how to stop or prevent battering incidents.

Tension-building Phase:  (can last for a long period and increases as cycle recurs)

During this phase of the cycle, tension builds between the couple. Problems regarding jobs, finances, children, and other areas are stressors that increase the tension. There may be verbal, emotional, or physical abuse during this phase. Over time, abuse and battering increase and escalate in frequency and severity. The woman attempts to control the abuse through various coping techniques such as avoidance, placating, or “giving in.” These are “stop-gap” measures, however, and do not work for long, if at all. Once the tension reaches an unbearable level, the acute battering incident occurs.

Acute Battering Incident: (can last between 2 and 24 hours)

This is an uncontrollable discharge of built-up tension; the process has stopped responding to any control. The “trigger” for moving into this phase is rarely the woman’s behavior; rather it is usually an external stressor (problems at work, a flat tire, etc.) or the internal state of the abuser. The type of battering that occurs is usually much more serious and intense than in phase one and the woman may be severely injured.

Because the acute battering incident maybe triggered by anything, there is a complete lack of predictability. Occasionally a woman may unconsciously provoke the acute battering incident. She knows from experience that it is coming and wants to get it over with, and she knows that there will be a “calm” or “honeymoon” phase following the abuse.

There is no escape once the battering has begun; only the batterer can end the incident. After the severe battering has occurred, the couple moves into Phase Three or the “honeymoon” phase.

Honeymoon Phase: (apologies, excuses, promises of reform) 

The abuser realizes he has gone too far. He typically exhibits loving, kind behavior while apologizing and promising that it will never happen again. Both the abuser and the victim want to believe that it won’t happen again. He believes that she has learned her “lesson” and she becomes “hooked” back into the relationship by his sincere apology and loving behavior, flowers, weekend away, new dress, etc.

The tension has been dissipated by the abuse and both members of the couple are relieved. During this “honeymoon” phase, the couple becomes very close emotionally; the effect of the abuser’s generosity, helpfulness and genuine interest during this phase cannot be minimized.

Ironically, it is during phase three that victimization becomes complete. The emotional, symbiotic bonding that occurs between the couple strengthens the commitment that each has to the relationship. The victim is finally experiencing the relationship in a positive way and thus it becomes increasingly difficult for her to leave it. After the victim has been through the cycle of number of times, her self-esteem begins to wither. She understands that she’s trading physical and psychological safety for brief periods of “peace and happiness.”

The duration of each phase varies between and within couples. Slowly, the honeymoon phase fades and the couple moves once again into the tension building phase.

The cycle is then repeated.

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