In her book “The Battered Woman,” psychologist Lenore Walker writes that many violent domestic relationships work in a cycle of escalating violence.
The cycle may happen in one day or it may take weeks or months to complete. It is different for every relationship and not all relationships follow it; in some relationships, violence is “ a constant stage of siege with little relief.” The cycle can happen hundreds of times in an abusive marriage or relationship. Each cycle lasts a different length of time, and a complete cycle may take anywhere from “a few hours to a year or more.” Sometimes, as relationships evolve, the “making up” and “calm” stages disappear.
In the tension-building phase, verbal abuse begins as tension builds over common domestic issues like money, children or jobs. Seeking to please the abuser, the victim tries to control the situation by giving in. Tension reaches the boiling point as physical abuse begins. When the tension peaks, the abuser’s emotion state triggers an acute battering episode. The physical violence begins. Triggered by an external event, the episode is unpredictable and beyond the victim’s control; however, in some cases victims may unconsciously provoke the abuse so they can release the tension and move on to the honeymoon phase. In the honeymoon phase, the abuser, ashamed of previous behavior, expresses remorse, tries to minimize the abuse and sometimes blames it on the partner. Loving, kind behavior is followed by apologies, generosity and helpfulness. The abuser attempts to convince the partner that the abuse will not happen again. This loving and contrite behavior strengthens the bond between the partners and will probably convince the victim, once again, that leaving the relationship is not necessary.
This cycle continues over and over, and may help explain why victims stay in abusive relationships. The abuse may be terrible, but the promises and generosity in the honeymoon phase give the victim the false belief (and false hope) that everything will be all right.
Many people have trouble understanding why victims remain in an abusive relationship. Sometimes very strong emotional and psychological bonds tie the victim to the abuser. Circumstantial realities, such as a lack of money or a place to go, keep the victim from leaving. The reasons for staying vary from one victim to the next, and they usually involve several factors. Victims stay in abusive marriages and relationships because leaving is a process.
The victim wants to believe the abusive partner will keep the promises to stop battering. The victim may fear the abuser will kill him or her if abuse is reported to anyone. A lack of emotional support, guilt over the failed relationship, attachment to the partner, fear of making major life changes, feeling responsible for the abuse, feeling helpless, hopeless and trapped, the belief that he or she is the only one who can help the abuser with problems – all are emotional reasons a victim stays.
Sometimes the victim may also stay for situational reasons. The victim may be economically dependent on the abuser and fear harm to self or children. Other fears may be the emotional damage to the children over the loss of a parent, even if that parent is abusive, or lose of custody of the children because the abuser threatens to take the children if the victim tries to leave. Sometimes the victim lacks job skills, and may be socially isolated because the abuser is the only support system.
In affluent places, victims face special challenges. The characteristics that make the suburbs a desirable place create obstacles for victims of domestic violence. Kiersten Warning, the founder and former director of the Domestic Violence Victims Assistance Program, lists these.
In the suburbs, victims are more physically isolated from their neighbors. No one nearby hears or witnesses the abuse. Neighbors often don’t know each other, and each family lives in its own space. A victim with a high level of education may be ashamed of being in an abusive situation. Even some helping professionals believe that domestic violence does not occur among well-educated people and that only people of the lower orders are affected.
An elevated social status and affluence prevent victims from seeking help. Victims and abusers are the judges, doctors, lawyers who are held in high esteem by others. A victim needs courage to identify herself and she must also accept that her friends and neighbors may not be willing to admit that domestic violence affects their community, let alone anyone they know.
Sometimes victims drive expensive cars without access to any money. They put on a happy face while they live in prisons, lacking access to cash, credit cards, checkbooks, or even information about the amount and location of family assets. Family members tend to minimize the abuse because of their social position. Most residents in affluent communities are unfamiliar and uncomfortable asking for help from traditional social service agencies and the police.