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University Life Café

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Should I Stay or Should I Go? Part III

How to recognize unhealthy relationships and get out
By Karin S. Ryan, Psy.D. & Heather B. Trangsrud, Ph.D.

Cycle of Violence 

Abuse may seem unpredictable, but there is a (repeated) pattern.

Pattern may look different for different relationships.


  • Tension Building
  • Crisis or Incident Phase
  • Reconciliation
  • Honeymoon or Calm Phase
  • Each phase may last a different length of time.
  • Level of violence often increases over time.

 Cycle of Violence – Tension Building 


  • Tensions increase.
  • Abuser is argumentative/angry.
  • Communication breaks down.
  • Victim feels as if walking on eggshells and needs to placate abuser.
  • Victim may also make excuses for abuser to others.

 Cycle of Violence – Crisis Phase


  • Abuse occurs (e.g., physical, emotional, verbal, sexual).
  • Anger, blaming, threats, and/or intimidation.
  • Victim may feel loss of control.
  • Victim may also feel/be psychologically or physically trapped.
  • Victim may not experience effect of abuse immediately.

 Cycle of Violence – Reconciliation 


  • Abuser apologizes (maybe).
  • Excuses given.
  • Blames the victim.
  • Denies that abuse occurred.
  • Minimizes abuse.
  • Doesn't acknowledge abuse and just returns to "usual."

 Cycle of Violence – Honeymoon Phase


  • Incident is forgotten.
  • No abuse taking place.
  • May express regret and act apologetic or promise it won't happen again.
  • Deny intent to abuse.
  • Promise will change and/or get help.
  • Victim feels responsible for abuser's well-being.

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How to recognize unhealthy relationships and get out PART III (pdf)