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What is Domestic Abuse?

Nicole Madison
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Domestic abuse is described as the misuse or mistreatment of a spouse or mate. It encompasses many types of abuse, including physical, verbal, psychological, sexual, and financial abuse. Though an abuser may or may not choose to abuse other people, the spouse or mate in a domestic abuse situation is the primary target.

Domestic abuse involves a pattern of behaviors intended to obtain and to keep control over one’s mate or spouse. Often, abusers blame their victims for the abuse or deny it altogether. However, the abuse is not caused by the behavior of the victim. Instead, it is caused by the need of the abuser to dominate at all costs.

There are clear-cut cycles of domestic abuse. The first phase in the cycle of domestic abuse is the build-up phase. During this phase, tension builds, and the abuser may begin to become angry. Often, a breakdown of communication ensues. During this phase, the victim often makes attempts to keep the abuser calm and may feel as if he or she is walking on eggshells.

In the next phase of domestic abuse, the actual abuse begins. The attack may be verbal, emotional, sexual, or physical. However, the intent is always the same – to control and harm the victim.

In some relationships, a combination of abuse types are inflicted. For example, the abuser may begin with verbal attacks and escalate the attack to include hitting. Sadly, in some situations, sexual abuse may precede or follow physical or verbal abuse.

The next phase of domestic abuse can be described as the making-up period. During this time, the abuser may be apologetic, promising that he or she will never behave in that manner again. On the other hand, many abusers are not apologetic at all and instead choose to blame the victim for the abuse. Sometimes, an abuser may deny the abusive incident altogether or claim that it wasn’t as severe or damaging as the victim asserts.

The last phase of domestic abuse, before the cycle begins all over again, is a period of calm. During this phase, the abuser may behave as if the abuse never occurred. This phase is often referred to as the honeymoon phase, as the abuser often behaves nicely towards the victim and may live up to promises made during the make-up phase. The abuser may give the victim gifts. As a result, the victim may begin to feel hope that the abuse is over.

Sadly, the cycle of domestic abuse repeats itself again and again until someone puts a stop to it. Each stage varies in length, ranging from just a few hours to a year at a time. Often, the making-up and calm phases disappear with time.

If you are a victim of domestic abuse, don’t waste a minute hoping that something will change. Seek out the help of a domestic abuse organization to learn how to extricate yourself from the situation safely. If you are being physically or sexually abused, contact the police for help right away.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By anon220239 — On Oct 06, 2011

I am so sorry to hear about the distressed in your lives. I too have been abused, and to the person whose husband was a gambler, I experienced that too. We could share horror stories. But I want to give your hope that you too, as I have, can rise above your circumstances. I don't say that out of theory; I say that out of experience, but you, like me need divine help, and that's the only way to get out.

To the woman who's so depressed that she stays in her room, been there done that. It's all part of the crazy life we lead as victims of domestic violence. But it's time to come out of the 'room closet.' You do have a life and children and they need you.

If you sincerely want to change your life respond to this post. There is hope for change!

By anon152383 — On Feb 14, 2011

i have been mentally abused and over our 27 years of marriage. i didn't know he was a gambler. he lost all my money twice he always had a good excuse and because he was a good liar and i believed him, he was having affairs and also not just looking and talking on the porn website. i found naked pictures of him that were disgusting.

before all this started, we moved to live on a Greek island and i left him and went back home. After six months he rang to say please come back, that he was sorry and would never do it again. once again i believed him. i came back to Greece and it lasted three weeks and it started again. he said all he wanted me back for was money and his woman friend is a liar too, as she said to me there was nothing going on, that she was still grieving for her dead husband. what a lot of tommyrot. He is only with her because she has money and i found out he did the same to his first wife. what a man.

I am going through a divorce and have been in Greece. it is taking a long time and i still cry a lot and have days of depression, but i do have some good friends, but i do not want to become a burden to them so i often just sit alone at home. i know that is not helping but i have no family here and sometimes i feel so alone.

I sometimes don't know where my money is going to come from to pay my rent and other bills but i do have a very good sister. i have trouble sleeping but i do not want to get used to tablets so i only take them when i get desperate for sleep. after reading some of the letters i don't feel alone and yes i have thought about ending it all but then i come to my senses and think if i do he has then won.

Yes, it is good to talk to people but there is only so long you can do this because rightly so they can become bored and i don't want that to happen.

By anon34934 — On Jul 01, 2009

I am sorry to hear about your situation. I have experienced the same crazy making during in my 13 year marriage. When an abuser tries to control your reality to the point of disbelieving your own eyes and ears, this is called gaslighting. I myself carried a tape recorder around for over a year when my husband was around so that I had proof for myself that I could trust what my own ears were hearing. He was violent and verbally abusive as well. Because he charmed everyone else, I knew I would have little support from those around me. After PTSD symptoms appeared, I really became a wreck. The more unhealthy I became the harder it was to leave. The important thing for you to remember is that you need to be in a psychologically, emotionally and physically safe environment to function. I too walked around in a "haze" and cried throughout the day for several years. You don't need another person who is controlling your reality to admit reality. You need to distance yourself from this person in order to get your bearings back and *very important*, find a group that can support you during this time! Put yourself around healthy, caring people without the mind games and you will once again become strong within your own ability to trust yourself. Churches and support groups can be found in throughout many cities. I feel so passionately about this subject and so very thankful for the people who helped me that I plan to get involved at a domestic violence shelter to help other women. Education and support- and distance from the abuser or liar is vital. Your children need a healthy Mom too :) You all deserve it!

("An Affair of the Mind" by Lauri Hall is a great book- even if it's "just chat lines" it's cheating on a level that is destructive.) My favorite chapter: "Liar, Liar, House on Fire"

By anon7545 — On Jan 29, 2008

i've been married for 13yrs to a man who has cheated a lot.. He gets on phone chat-lines and meets women. he once said he gets off to the sound of the women's voices. that it was nothing. he had an affair with one of the women 7yrs ago and produced a child out of it. found out he was living a double -life. when busted he told the woman the only reason he led her on was because he wanted his child and he lied to me to save our marriage. Trust has been really down hill. Since then in 07 i found out about another woman he met online that he had an affair with ..The crazy part about it is he has gotten them to go along with lying to me about the affairs till she was fed up with the lies he was telling her and came clean. he got a std from her so he could not lie anymore. He plays this role as if he is this really nice caring man in front of the kids and family. he will go out of his way to prove to me that what i'm feeling and seeing are all wrong to only find out he has been playing mind games lying to me. He travels a lot so he always has women's numbers from out of state and tell me they are work issues. I cry a lot now, and every time i try to talk to him on how i feel he shortens my feelings by telling me we are fine and he loves me but the numbers keep growing. he tells me I'm over reacting and always remains calm when talking to me. If i ask too good of a question and he can't give an answer he then will walk out on the conversation to return in a good mood telling me I am the problem to why we cannot be happy. He tells me if i just did not worry about what he does when he is not at home I will be okay. How do i keep trusting the same thing he has lied and cheated on me before? And he still goes on out of town trips? he says he has an addiction to the chat-line, but i should trust that that is as far as it goes is that he is just getting off to their voices. I've asked for a divorce but he tells me we are fine. I don't answer his phones anymore, nor read his texts. I'm afraid that what i may see i will only be told I'm wrong or just mistook the message or they just play like that.. I don't play like that with males, but I'm a stay at home mom with 5 kids. i need help .. I feel like nothing is real. I get so depressed i cry at night and when i 1st awake in the mornings.. The kids avoid me for i'm always sad now. i stay in my room .. and I use words like I'm ashamed of being married to him, He promised this time he has changed ... I just want something to be for real. what do you think ???


depressed/angry/ and about to scream

By baba — On Sep 02, 2007

If you are being..... abused, contact the police for help right away. Good advice.

However, many times the abuser is smart enough to be able to convince the police that even physical abuse is not taking place. If the abuse is emotional or psychological or otherwise not physically evident, it is even easier to fool the police. I experienced police who were as abusive as my husband when I would call them for protection from him. The police need to be educated about D.V. before one more person is further victimized by any police officer.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like...
Learn more
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