MU Extension MU Extension       University of Missouri    ●    Columbia    ●    Kansas City       Missouri S&T     ●    St. Louis


Feature Article


Domestic Violence

Ann Huey, Human Development and Family Studies, University of Missouri-Columbia

Jennifer Hardesty, Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Nursing, Johns Hopkins University

Kim Leon, Former State Extension Specialist, Human Development and Family Studies, University of Missouri-Columbia

Stephanie McGhee, Human Development and Family Studies, University of Missouri-Columbia

What is Domestic Violence?

There are four types of domestic violence:

  • Physical abuse is what most people think of when they think of domestic violence. Physical abuse includes hitting, punching, slapping, kicking, choking, shoving, being hit with objects, or being held against one’s will.
  • Emotional abuse includes yelling, name-calling, repeated insults, isolation, threats, or hurting pets. Emotional abuse also includes “crazy-making,” a process that questions the victim’s sense of what is real and what isn’t.
  • Sexual abuse includes, among other things, unwanted sexual touching, demanding sex, and rape. Marital rape is also a type of sexual abuse. Marital rape is defined as any sexual activity by a married or cohabiting partner that is performed without the consent of the other partner.
  • Stalking includes following someone when they leave the house, harassing phone calls, purposefully running into the victim in public places, and calling or stopping by the partner’s work too often.

The abusers’ need for power and control is often woven through many domestic violence situations, regardless of the type of abuse.

Power and Control

There are many different ways that abusers may try to control their partners. They may:

  • Threaten to hurt their partners or themselves in order to get what they want.
  • Exert power over their partners by acting based on the idea of “male privilege.” Male privilege includes: treating partners like servants, making all of the decisions, and being the one to determine how men and women should behave.
  • Economically abuse their partners by preventing them from having a job, making partners ask for money, or not giving partners access to the family income at all.
  • Isolate their partners from family and friends so there is nowhere to turn if they decide to seek help.

Following break-up or divorce, abusers may:

  • Use the couple’s children to control partners.
  • Threaten to take children away or use visitation as an opportunity to harass their ex-partners.
  • Intimidate their partners by destroying property, showing partners their weapons, and abusing pets.

Cycle of Violence

Domestic violence tends to follow a specific pattern over time called the “cycle of violence.” The cycle of violence is a pattern of behavior that occurs over and over in a relationship. This cycle can occur in couples who are dating, living together, or married. It happens in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. There are several stages in the cycle:

Calmness: In this stage the relationship seems fine. To outsiders the relationship appears normal.

Tension building (sometimes called Stress): The abuser gets angry easily. Often abusers verbally harass partners during this stage. It might seem like the abuser is picking a fight. Conflicts may get out of control. The abuser may isolate the partner from friends or family. The partner may feel like she/he is walking on eggshells to avoid a violent episode. The abuser gets more and more controlling, demanding, and jealous during this stage. There may be some emotional, verbal, or "mild" physical abuse during this phase. Partners often make excuses for abusers’ behavior during the tension-building phase.

Acute abusive incident: This stage is also sometimes called the crisis phase. In this stage, the physical, verbal or emotional abuse is at its worst. There may be a violent physical attack (battering), severe emotional or verbal abuse, or a combination. Abusers are extremely unpredictable and often seem to be out of control. Abusers blame their partners for the abuse. At the end of this stage the abuser may say that his/her actions were wrong. The partner may feel some relief, as in “it’s over”. Partners often minimize the abuse (“It’s not that bad”) to themselves or others who may question them.

Honeymoon stage: During the honeymoon stage, the abuser apologizes over and over. The abuser may try really hard to “woo” the partner with gifts. The abuser may promise that it will not happen again and agree to seek help. In this stage the couple may feel really affectionate with one another, and believe that everything will be “ok”. The partner may feel even closer to the abuser and talk about how the abuser can be “so sweet” or a good partner.

The couple will then move from the honeymoon stage back into the calm stage and the cycle repeats itself. Over time, the tension-building and honeymoon stages get shorter and the battering increases. This pattern results in battering incidents that become increasingly longer and more severe.

This cycle works to keep partners in abusive relationships by controlling them. Partners hope that abusers do not mean to harm them and will change. Secrecy, fear, lack of opportunity, and low self-esteem all combine to make leaving an abusive partner extremely difficult. Leaving may also be difficult because abusers often escalate violence in order to keep their partners in the relationship. The most dangerous times for those who decide to end the relationship are when they leave and right after leaving. The abuser often feels like he/she has nothing left to lose or may feel a need to punish the former partner for breaking up. However, there are ways that survivors of relationship violence can remain safe and protect themselves.

For more information about staying safe, see:

Most couples need help from professionals who have experience working with domestic violence to end the cycle of violence. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).

Domestic Violence Intervention Services., March 23, 2006.

Flynn, C.P. (1987). Relationship violence: A model for family professionals. Family Relations, 36(3). 295-299.

Oakland County Coordinating Council Against Domestic Violence (2004) Domestic Violence Handbook. Retrieved from, March 23, 2006.



Last Updated 05/12/2009


University of Missouri logo links to

Site Administrator:
Copyright  ADA  Equal Opportunity

MissouriFamilies is produced by the College of Human Environmental Sciences,
Extension Division, University of Missouri