Partner Violence, Its Dynamics and Cycle

Dynamics of Partner Violence

Contributing Factors: Cultural and Psychosocial

Effective partner violence prevention requires a clear understanding of underlying and contributing factors. Domestic and partner abuse is a complex issue, and usually, it is not exactly easy to pinpoint one particular event or action that triggered the cycle of violence. Both partners’ backgrounds and their relationship dynamics should be taken into account. For instance, it has been shown that economic dependency on one partner may lead to the abuse of power in the other (Conner, 2014).

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Economic dependency may be interpreted as one person’s full or significant reliance on the other for financial support or one person’s control over the partner’s finances. Apart from apparent income disparity, additional contributing factors may be found such as the presence of young children, one partner’s sickness or disability, and lack of access to income sources other than salary.

One may speculate that contributing factors may be gender-specific. For instance, even outside toxic relationships, pregnancy may be a challenge for a woman. However, when involved in an unhealthy dynamic, the situation may spiral out of control. Usually, the presence of abusive behaviors before pregnancy, lack of family planning, lower education level, and lower socioeconomic status, in general, are aggravating conditions (James, Brody, & Hamilton, 2013).

Another factor predicting a woman’s victimization is her emotional dependency. One should note that emotional dependency may appear even in women who are otherwise self-autonomous and capable of meeting their needs on their own. Nevertheless, specific relationship dynamics or other influential circumstances may enable them to experience an unhealthy longing for nurturance, protection, and support. It is crucial to understand that women often operate self-imposed beliefs about their passivity and helplessness whereas their partner’s convictions regarding their aptitudes may be secondary.

As for cultural contributing factors, one partner’s immigration status may predispose power imbalance in a dyad that may or may not result in domestic violence. A study by Reina, Lohman, and Maldonado (2014) showed that Latina women married to US citizens and suffering from domestic abuse experienced significant difficulties in contacting formal advocacy agencies. First, they were unsure if they were entitled to legal services and counseling due to their immigration status. On top of that, they could not interpret some of their partners’ actions due to their insufficient understanding of cultural norms. Hence, they could not tell if something their partner did was socially acceptable and if they had the right to seek help. Lastly, language barriers created major obstacles for those women.

Dynamic Patterns

A couple is a complex interconnected system characterized by constant interaction fostered by learning and feedback. To better comprehend the typical dynamics of partner violence, one should first outline three primary dynamic patterns. First, researchers single out periodic patterns within which actions and consequences have a direct association. If one analyzes a person’s behavior in the past, his or her current and future behavior may be predicted with a high level of precision. Periodic systems in a couple with abusive dynamics are constant, regular, and responsive to interventions in a predetermined way. The possibilities of a different outcome are relatively limited. Periodic behavioral patterns correspond to the theory of the cycle of violence.

Chaotic systems retain a strong tendency towards consistency; however, they are more sensitive to small changes which have the potential to alter the dynamic in the long haul. One may still trace a particular association between a trigger and reaction, action and outcome. However, these two constituencies are usually separated in time. Lastly, random dynamic patterns arise in a system with a vast amount of constant stress. This type of dynamic may be explained by the presence of various interdependent elements within a system each of which has its predilections. Both chaotic and random systems are deemed to be non-linear since input and output are not proportional.

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It is essential to understand the behavioral patterns mentioned above for both the victim of domestic/ partner abuse and his or her therapist. The choice of effective treatment and uninhibited recovery may be bound to correct observations and analysis of partner dynamics. If a man or a woman had not left a toxic relationship by the time they contacted a therapist or signed up for a support group, journaling could be recommended (Haeseler, 2013).

Journaling will allow the victim to refer to the entries when needed and prevent the distortion of facts. Processing experiences through writing may expose behavioral patterns; however, one needs to understand that chaotic and random patterns are still common and may not be revealed adequately.

Cycle Of Violence

There are three predominant theories regarding partner violence: the cycle theory of violence, the systems theory of violence, and the power and control wheel theory. Each of the theories is paramount to understanding the tremendously complex issue of domestic abuse. The systems theory explains that each incident of violence and aggression increase the likelihood of the person being abusive again.

The power and control wheel theory shows that conflicts are not isolated: they exist in a broad context of interpersonal dynamics. Violence such as battery does not occur on its own but alongside other abusive patterns. Lastly, probably the most well-known and resonant of them all, the cycle of theory reveals that victims are not continuously abused. Instead, they live inside a cycle where aggressive behavior alternates with seemingly genuine remorse and affection. This theory is relevant because it explains why victims do not terminate a relationship after the first incident.

The cycle theory of violence was developed by Walker who described three main phases through which an abusive relationship moves before a violent event and following it. The first phase is characterized by slowly but steadily increasing tension between an abuser and his or her victim. It may start with minor offenses such as mocking or nitpicking. However, the dynamics inevitably intensify and escalate to include insults, yelling, and verbal diminishing, and humiliation. At this stage, the victim may attempt to comfort the abuser by offering treats or services; reasoning is also common. Growing tension leads to an acute explosion which corresponds to the second phase of the cycle.

During the second phase, the abuser is likely to resort to threats and physical violence such as choking, grabbing, and punching. A violent incident may also include property damage as the enraged abuser may throw or break objects around the house. At this point, the victim may want to fight back or leave, but the next phase makes him or her reconsider this decision. The third stage is called the “Honeymoon” phase for a reason, for the abuser becomes exceptionally attentive and loving. However, soon, the first signs of tension buildup manifest themselves, and the cycle repeats itself.


Conner, D. H. (2014). Financial freedom: Women, money, and domestic abuse. William & Mary Journal of Women and Law, 20(2), 339-397.

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Haeseler, L. A. (2013). Women’s coping experiences in the spectrum of domestic violence abuse. Journal of Evidence-Based Social Work, 10(1), 33-43.

James, L., Brody, D., & Hamilton, Z. (2013). Risk factors for domestic violence during pregnancy: A meta-analytic review. Violence and Victims, 28(3), 359-380.

Reina, A. S., Lohman,B. J., & Maldonado, M. M. (2014). “He said they’d deport me”: Factors influencing domestic violence help-seeking practices among Latina immigrants. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 29(4), 593-615.

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