Understanding the Different Stages of Domestic Violence

The domestic violence statistics in the United States are disturbing. In Minnesota, domestic violence affects one in four women and is the leading cause of injury to women. It is hard to imagine that so many people, specifically women and children, have to live through cycles of domestic violence each day. Abusive relationships and violent partners can lead to domestic violence. Abuse is a learned behavior, and it can be very difficult for victims to break free from the neverending cycle of violence. Understanding the different stages of domestic violence can help recognize when to seek help and leave a volatile situation. 

What Is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is any behavior intended to gain power and control over a partner, spouse, or intimate family member. The behavior does not have to be physically violent to be considered domestic violence. Minnesota law defines domestic abuse as “physical harm, bodily injury or assault, or the infliction of fear or imminent physical harm, bodily injury or assault, when done by a family or household member. Terroristic threats, criminal sexual conduct and interference with an emergency call are also forms of domestic abuse when they are committed by a family or household member.” The range of acts categorized as domestic abuse is vast, which is why it’s crucial to stay aware if you think you may be in danger.

How to Recognize Domestic Violence 

As mentioned, domestic violence can occur in a multitude of ways. Different abuse types include physical, emotional, financial, digital, sexual abuse and coercion, and reproductive coercion. Recognizing domestic violence when it occurs is crucial to stopping the cycle and finding a way to escape an abusive relationship. Below are several examples of each type of abuse to be aware of the different ways domestic violence can occur. These lists are not extensive but give a broad idea as to what behaviors are considered abusive.

Physical Abuse

  • Forbidding you from sleeping or eating
  • Withholding prescriptions
  • Driving recklessly or dangerously while you’re in the car
  • Using weapons to threaten or hurt you
  • Damaging property when angry
  • Punching, slapping, kicking, or biting you
  • Preventing you from seeking medical attention or calling the police
  • Harming your children
  • Forcing you to use drugs and alcohol

Emotional Abuse

  • Acting jealous or possessive
  • Blaming you for any abuse
  • Controlling your appearance with clothing, makeup, etc.
  • Referring to you by the wrong pronouns
  • Humiliating you
  • Punishing you by withholding affection
  • Isolating you from family and friends
  • Accusing you of cheating
  • Cheating on you then blaming you for their behavior
  • Telling you that you’re lucky to be with them
  • Threatening to cheat on you
  • Always needing to know where you are

Financial Abuse

  • Giving you an allowance
  • Demanding receipts from purchases
  • Preventing you from having or viewing a bank account
  • Refusing to provide you with money for shared expenses
  • Living with you but refusing to work or contribute to rent
  • Stealing money from you
  • Maxing out credit cards or refusing to pay your credit card bills
  • Limiting the number of hours you can work

Digital Abuse

  • Uses apps or social media to keep tabs on you
  • Limits who you can connect with on social media
  • Sends you unwanted or explicit pictures
  • Demands explicit pictures or videos from you
  • Looks through your phone frequently or without asking
  • Regularly texts you to check up on you
  • Insists on knowing your passwords

Sexual Abuse and Coercion

  • Forcing you into having sex
  • Involving other people against your will in sexual activities
  • Pressuring you to do things you don’t want to
  • Forcing you to dress a certain way
  • Making you feel like you owe them
  • Drugging you or giving you alcohol to loosen your inhibitions
  • Making you feel threatened if you say no
  • Demanding sex when you are sick, tired, or hurt
  • Holding you down
  • Hurting you with weapons during sex

Reproductive Coercion

  • Removing protection during sex or refusing to use it
  • Forcing you not to use birth control
  • Withholding finances to purchase birth control
  • Forcing you or preventing you from getting an abortion
  • Monitoring your menstrual cycles
  • Continually keeping you pregnant
  • Sabotaging birth control methods

Stages of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence stages are considered a cycle because they can be ongoing if something doesn’t happen to stop the abusive behaviors. There are four stages in the cycle of domestic violence: tension, incident, reconciliation, and calm. If you’ve been in an abusive relationship before, you may already understand how this cycle works. Each stage has its own characteristics and warning signs, but you may not recognize you are caught in this cycle until after the fact. Understanding how it works is the first step in realizing you need to seek help to escape the abuse.


Before any violence or abuse occurs, there is usually a period of high anxiety where you feel like you have to be hyper-alert to your abusive partner’s needs. Abusers can lash out as a response to external stressors, like troubles at work, family issues, illness, or fatigue. You may feel like you have to provide extra physical or emotional support at this time while trying not to set your partner off.


The abuse or crisis phase is when the abuse occurs. Any of the examples of domestic violence above are included under the umbrella of abuse. Threats count as abuse, even if actual violence doesn’t happen. You may fear for yourself or your children in this phase. The abuser is attempting to regain power by controlling you, which never excuses their actions. 


The period after abuse is referred to as reconciliation because the abuser will try to make amends. They may apologize for their actions and promise never to do them again. They often use gifts and kindness as a way to move past what just happened. This behavior may make you feel more closely bonded to them and lead you to think you have your relationship back. 


After reconciliation, both parties might try and come up with an explanation for the abuse. You might think that your partner would never do anything like that again. They will show remorse and blame outside factors. Your abusive partner might even try to minimize the abuse or accuse you of provoking them.

Seeking Help

Seeking help from a domestic violence situation can be a complicated decision. There are many reasons victims can’t “just leave” their abusive partner. You may be isolated, married with children, suffer from separation anxiety, depend on your partner financially, or have to deal with property fallout division. Also, leaving an abuser can be dangerous. If there is ever an emergency, call 911. You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for crisis intervention and resources at 800-799-SAFE (800-799-7233). 

Consider seeking help from your health care provider or a women’s shelter or crisis center. Create a safety plan with their help, then pack an emergency bag with items you’ll need when you leave. Remember critical personal papers, medications, money, extra clothes, and keys. Know where you’ll go and how you will get there. While making your plans, protect your location and communication. Clear browser history, use computers and phones cautiously, remove any GPS devices from vehicles, and change your passwords. When the time comes to leave, and you have escaped, seek professional counsel to remain safe and start healing from the abusive relationship. 

Understanding Domestic Violence

Once you have a clear concept of the cycle of domestic violence, it’s easy to see how it occurs over and over before the victim can find a way to leave. Unfortunately, domestic violence is very common in dispute resolution cases. Abusive partners seek to control, and in doing that, they harm their partner and others in their way. After the abuse, periods of calm and reconciliation may persuade a victim to stay in an abusive relationship much longer than they should.  Understanding how the different domestic violence stages play out can help victims recognize abuse when it’s happening and find a way to leave before it’s too late.