Common Patterns and Phases in Abusive Relationships

pexels-rdne-stock-project-6003572-300x200Being arrested on domestic violence charges can be confusing, humiliating, and disconcerting, especially if it’s the first time it’s happened to you. But facing domestic violence charges a second or third time can be utterly demoralizing. The first time it happened, you were unsure of how you got here (perhaps you told yourself things just “got out of hand”), but you swore you wouldn’t find yourself in this place again. 

By the second or third arrest, it’s not as easy to discount the issue as a misunderstanding. One time could be written off as an anomaly, but multiple arrests indicate a pattern. Aside from needing experienced legal help to address the charges, the best way to keep this from recurring is to identify the patterns at work and look for ways to disrupt them. 

Recognizing Different Types of Abuse

Abuse is not always as clear-cut as one might think. It’s usually more than just physical violence. It comes in many forms and can be hard to recognize, especially if it turns out you’re the one causing it. Abuse can manifest itself in several ways, which are often interlinked. All of the following classify in some way as “domestic violence” crimes under California law when they are done to a spouse, partner, housemate, relative, etc.:


  • Physical Abuse: This refers to any form of physical harm inflicted upon a partner, such as hitting, punching, slapping, kicking, choking, or any other act of physical assault that causes pain, injury, or suffering. It includes both explicit acts of violence and subtler forms of aggression, like pushing, grabbing, or restraining the partner against their will.
  • Emotional Abuse: This damaging form of mistreatment involves consistently undermining a person’s self-worth through various hurtful tactics such as constant criticism, belittling, name-calling, and humiliation. These malicious behaviors aim to erode the victim’s confidence, leaving them feeling diminished and psychologically wounded. The long-lasting effects of emotional abuse can significantly impact a person’s mental health, relationships, and overall well-being. 
  • Psychological Abuse: This is a form of mistreatment that entails more than just instilling fear. It encompasses a range of behaviors, such as intimidation, threats, manipulation, and mind games, all aimed at exerting control and power over another person. 
  • Sexual Abuse: Refers to any form of unwanted sexual activity forced upon an individual without their consent. This can encompass a wide range of actions, such as non-consensual touching, harassment, assault, or rape. 
  • Financial Abuse: This is a form of exploitation wherein an individual manipulates and restricts another person’s capacity to obtain, utilize, and sustain financial assets. This can encompass various methods, such as controlling access to funds, limiting financial decision-making, and exerting dominance over economic resources.

Recognizing these different types of abuse is the first step towards understanding if your actions hurt your partner.


Understanding the Cycle of Abuse

Abusive behavior typically follows a pattern known as the cycle of abuse. Awareness of this cycle is crucial for understanding how abusive dynamics develop and persist over time. 

This cycle consists of four distinct stages:


  1. Tension Building: This is the initial phase where stress begins to mount over ordinary domestic issues such as finances, childcare, employment concerns, or even menial irritations. Verbal abuse often begins at this stage, and the atmosphere becomes increasingly strained. The victim often attempts to placate the abuser, acquiesce to their demands, or sidestep any potential triggers in an effort to maintain peace. 
  2. Incident: This phase marks the point where verbal abuse escalates into physical violence or more intense emotional abuse. It’s characterized by outbursts of anger, blaming, heated arguments, threats, intimidation tactics, and yes, physical violence. The abuser uses these methods to assert control and dominance over the victim, creating a volatile and frightening environment.
  3. Reconciliation: In the incident’s aftermath, the abuser typically enters a stage of remorse. They may apologize profusely, offer justifications for their behavior, shift blame onto the victim, deny the severity or existence of the abuse, or downplay the incident altogether by insisting it wasn’t as bad as the victim perceived. This phase confuses the victim and creates a false sense of security, often leading them to believe that the abuse was an isolated occurrence or that the abuser will change.
  4. Calm: This final phase, also known as the “honeymoon” stage, is characterized by a period of calm during which no abuse occurs. The abusive incident seems to have been “forgotten” or swept under the rug. The abuser may behave lovingly and attentively towards the victim, fostering a sense of security and hope for change. However, without intervention and significant behavioral change, the cycle of abuse is likely to start again from the tension-building phase.


Time for Change: Disrupting the Patterns of Abuse

If you identify with the behaviors outlined above, it’s vital to understand that what you’re doing is causing harm. It’s not just about the fights and arguments; it’s about the long-term damage you are doing to your relationship through fear and control, the hurt and pain, the scars that aren’t visible but run deep. For you, it can also result in consequences like jail time, a criminal record, loss of custody or visitation rights for your children, and a host of other complications. The good news is there are ways to disrupt this cycle so it does not repeat. Once you’ve dealt with the immediate criminal charges, let’s talk about some practical steps you can take.

Own Your Behavior

The first step towards change is always recognition. Acknowledge that your actions have been harmful and accept responsibility for them. 

Seek Help 

Changing established behavioral patterns is challenging and often requires professional help. Seek out a psychologist, therapist, or counselor who specializes in domestic violence or abusive behaviors. Attending a certified Batterers’ Intervention Program (BIP) may be beneficial (and often legally required if you’re convicted). These programs can also teach you practical anger management skills.

Identify Triggers and Establish Workarounds

Understanding what triggers abusive behavior is critical in breaking the cycle. Triggers can be stress, certain people, specific environments, or particular situations. Once you’ve identified your triggers, you can establish strategies for avoiding these triggers or effectively managing your reactions to them. This process encourages self-awareness and self-control, allowing you to respond rather than react.

Be Accountable

Finally, establish an accountability network to help keep you on track with your new patterns. This network can include family members, friends, your therapist/counselor, a support group, etc.

While these steps can help you break the cycles of abuse for the long term, you’ll need compassionate legal representation to deal with the immediate legal issues. If you’ve been accused of domestic battery or other types of domestic violence in southern California, we can help. Call our offices to schedule an appointment.

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