Relationship violence occurs when one person in a relationship attempts to physically and psychologically dominate their partner by using threats, gestures, emotional and physical abuse. Violence in relationship usually escalates from threats and emotional abuse to physical violence and even murder. Relationship violence occurs in heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender relationships. Both women and men can be victims of relationship violence, although women are victimized more than men.
According to the Department of Justice (2005), approximately 32% of college students are victims of relationship violence. Relationship violence doesn't "just happen" and usually follows a predictable pattern of behavior, a cycle of violence:
Cycle of Violence
The Tension Building Phase: During this phase, there is a lot of tension in the relationship. Stress begins to build between the abuser and the person being abused. The abused partner is "walking on eggshells" and is afraid that something is going to happen, but doesn't know how or when. During the tension building phase, the abused partner is very careful not to do anything that he/she thinks might upset their partner. The abuser will use a number of power and control tactics to control their partner during this phase. The abuser may use threats, intimidating gestures or isolate their partner from friends and family members.
Explosion: Violence occurs during this phase. The abuser may push, shove, slap or hit their partner. This is the phase that bystanders tend to focus on. Friends and family may respond by saying "Well, what did you do to make him/her mad?" or "I know what a pain in the butt you can be, you must have really ticked him/her off" - not realizing that the violence is part of a larger pattern of behavior. The abused partner is not to blame for the abuser's behavior. It is important to remember this. The abuser made a choice to hurt their partner. It is not uncommon for the abuser to blame their behavior on actions their partner did or did not take. This is just an excuse.
Honeymoon Period: The honeymoon period follows the violent behavior. The abuser apologizes and promises never to hurt their partner again or they blame their partner for their behavior and insist if their partner changes their behavior will change. The abuser may say things like:
- "I'm sorry."
- "I got out of control, I couldn't help myself."
- "I'll get help."
- "I won't drink so much anymore."
- "I just had a bad day."
- "I love you and I didn't mean for this to happen."
- "I wasn't myself."
The honeymoon period is what contributes to locking someone who is being abused into the cycle because they want to believe their partner will and can change. The cycle of violence tends to increase in frequency and severity over time; it doesn't get better by itself. In fact, it will probably get worse.
Source: Cycle of Violence information adapted from My Sister's Place, Washington, DC
If you have noticed that you or someone you know is in a cycle of violence, contact the Counseling Center (410.543.6070) and make an appointment to talk about how you can stop the cycle.
If you are abusive to your partner, help is available to you too. Contact the Counseling Center to schedule an appointment.