The cycle of domestic violence shows how domestic violence often becomes a pattern made up of three stages. These stages are more pronounced in a physically abusive relationship but are also present in other abuse situations, especially if the abuser suspects the abused is considering leaving.
Tension-building – characterized by criticism, yelling, swearing, using angry gestures, coercion, threats; Tension starts and steadily builds
· Abuser starts to get angry
· Communication breaks down
· Victim feels the need to concede to the abuser
· Tension becomes too much
· Victim feels uneasy and a need to watch every move
Violence or acting out – physical and sexual attacks and threats
· Any type of abuse occurs
Seduction (also known as honeymoon) – apologies, blaming, promises to change, gifts
· Abuser apologizes for abuse, some beg forgiveness or show sorrows
· Abuser may promise it will never happen again
· Blames victim for provoking the abuse or denies abuse occurred
· Minimizing, denying or claiming the abuse wasn’t as bad as victim claims
Calm before tension-building starts again
· Abuses slow or stop
· Abuser acts like the abuse never happened
· Promises made during honeymoon stage may be met
· Abuser may give gifts to victim
· Victim believes or wants to believe the abuse is over or the abuser will change
(Often the cycle of violence is portrayed as 3 steps: tension-building, acting out and honeymoon phases, where the Honeymoon and Calm phase are seen as one.)
The cycle also demonstrates how three dynamics – love, hope, and fear – keep the cycle in motion and make it hard to end an abusive relationship.
Love – for your partner (the relationship has its good points, it’s not all bad)
Hope – that it will change (the relationship didn’t begin this way)
Fear – that the threats to kill you or your family will become a reality.
From Domestic Violence: The Facts, Battered Women Fighting Back!, Inc., Boston, MA
An Appropriate Church Response to the Cycle of Abuse
The Bible clearly indicates that a distinguishing mark of Christ’s followers is the quality of their human relationships. Christian relationships are characterized by love and mutuality rather than tyrannical control or the misuse of power and authority. The New Testament metaphor of the church as the “household of faith,” suggests that the church should function as extended family, offering acceptance, understanding, comfort and practical help to everyone, especially those who are hurting or disadvantaged.
The Church can do much to stop the downward spiral of abuse and violence in families, to assist the abused and their abusers in finding help, and to prevent the continuance of violence in families of future generations. The gospel calls the community of faith to:
- Affirm the dignity and worth of each human being and decry all forms of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and family violence.
- Recognize the global extent of this problem and the serious, long term effects upon the lives of all involved.
- Hold abusers accountable for their actions and highlight the injustices of abuse and speak out in defense of victims.
- Break the silence and create an atmosphere where secrets can be told and help found.
- Guard against ostracism within the family or church community.
- Seek expert assistance and cooperate with other professional services to listen and care for those suffering from abuse and family violence, loving and affirming them as persons of value and worth.
- Provide a ministry of reconciliation where changed attitudes and behavior open possibilities for forgiveness and new beginnings.
- Assist families in grieving relationships that cannot be restored.
- Address the spiritual questions confronting abused persons.
- Seek to understand the origins of abuse and family violence and develop better ways of preventing the recurring cycle.
- Strengthen families through education and enrichment opportunities which empower them to relate to one another in more healthy ways.