Home > Abusive relationships, Borderline Personality Disorder > Relationship Roller Coaster Ride: The Cycle of Abuse

Relationship Roller Coaster Ride: The Cycle of Abuse

rollercoasterDo you feel like you’re going around in circles in your relationship? Are there so many emotional highs and lows that you feel as if you’re on a roller coaster? Have you tried and tried to make your relationship better, but to no avail?

You may be involved in a cycle of abuse. If so, here’s what you need to know.

Not only is it possible for women to be the emotionally abusive partner, it’s quite common. In fact, women have been found to be more relationally aggressive than men.  Women use verbal assaults, withhold affection, the cold shoulder or shut you down to inflict hurt instead of physical blows. However, women often commit physical violence, too. In fact, recent studies show that it is a 50/50 split.

  • Although your partner’s attacks feel very personal, they’re not. You could be anyone–meaning that you’re not “bad” nor is there “something wrong with you.” She’s an abusive personality type and as such, she’d be the same way with any man as she is with you. This also means that if you finally decide to end the relationship, you don’t need to worry that your ex will miraculously get better and be the dream girlfriend or wife with the next guy. Pending a brain trauma, a frontal lobotomy or a lesion to the amygdala; she won’t change.

You don’t have to stay in a relationship in which you’re devalued, tormented, verbally savaged, and made to feel worthless. You can end it. There are women out there who are kind, loving, and supportive. You can have that kind of relationship if you have the courage to break the cycle of abuse in which you’re currently stuck.

The Cycle of Abuse or “Jane, Get Me Off this Crazy Thing!”

Lenore E. Walker wrote about the cycle of abuse in The Battered Woman (1979). She used it to3_jane-get-me-off-this-craz describe the pattern of tension that builds into violence against women by their husbands or boyfriends. This is a limited use of the model. It can also be applied to abuse in which the woman is the abuser and the man is the recipient.

There are generational cycles of abuse and episodic cycles of abuse. Abusive behaviors, be they physical, sexual, or emotional, are learned.

The abuser learns at an early age (usually from their family) that bullying and humiliation are how you get others to do what you want. For example, when your wife was a child, she probably observed her mother deride, criticize, and belittle her father. She learned that this is how you treat the people you “love.” Now she subjects you to the same treatment. If you have children, they are likely learn this pattern of behavior, too, hence, generational.

Episodic cycles of abuse involve specific periods of tension building behaviors that inevitably erupt into a rage episode or vicious verbal attack in which she alternates between name-calling and tears about some imagined or distorted transgression. Sometimes, you can predict these episodes; other times, they come out of the blue. Typically, men who experience this kind of recurring abuse deny that it even occurs or minimize the severity of it. This serves to perpetuate the problem and refutes the need to seek help.

female time bomb4 Stages of the Cycle of Abuse

1) Kaboom! The cycle begins with a loud verbal explosion, yelling, screaming, accusations, verbal harassment, needling, or threats of abandonment. “You’re lucky I put up with you. No one else would tolerate what I do. If you don’t shape up, I’m going to dump your sorry ass, you loser!” Meanwhile, she’s the one behaving like a lunatic. She’s not going to leave you. It’s an empty threat. You should be so lucky. However, one of the effects of emotional abuse is that you believe her nonsense and actually fear being abandoned.

2) Let’s be friends. Next, a period of remorse, rationalizations and/or excuses follows. She will either:

  • Apologize and vow it will never happen again.
  • Pretend like it never happened, which is also highly abusive.
  • Blame you for her outburst. If you didn’t do x, y, and z, she wouldn’t have to be that way. Abusive personality types never take responsibility for their own actions. It’s always someone else’s fault.
  • Deny the incident occurred.
  • Minimize her behavior and insist it wasn’t that bad.

Usually, you’re so relieved that the screaming and insults have stopped, no matter how she spins events, that you go along with it. You hope the recent attack was the last, but it never is.

3) The calm before the next storm. Things go back to “normal”–for a time. This is referred to as the “honeymoon phase.” No overt abuse is taking place. You’re getting along, while simultaneously waiting for the other shoe to drop and hoping that it won’t. She appears sincere in her efforts to be kind and loving, but what she’s actually doing is lulling you into a false sense of security that the worst is over. It’s not.

4) Tick, tick, tick… Tension begins to build again, replacing the all too fleeting honeymoon period. Irritability surfaces. Communication deteriorates. She makes veiled accusations, blaming you for her unhappiness, frustration and anything else she can think of. She emotionally withdraws and gives you the cold shoulder. Eventually, this escalates into another full-blown rage episode, verbal attack, humiliation party or completely shuts you out.

This repetitive cycle of abuse will leave you feeling insecure, fearful, worthless, broken, and dependent upon the abuser. Eventually, your entire life revolves around trying to second-guess her moods and needs in an effort to stave off the next attack. You become a non-person in that your needs don’t matter because your entire focus shifts to keeping her happy, which is an impossible task. You won’t be able to make her happy, no matter how hard you try. Nor will you be able to change her behavior; only she can do that.

The only way to end the cycle of abuse is to end the relationship. You can try some kind of formalized therapy, but the abuser usually denies the fact that there’s a problem. Alternately, if she does agree to attend therapy, she typically sabotages treatment by either labeling the therapist as a fraud, especially if she gets called on her bad behavior, or finds a therapist who colludes with her and piles more blame and abuse onto you.

You don’t have to suffer in silence. You don’t deserve to be treated this way. Please find a source of support and end this vicious cycle. Life is way too short.


Dr Tara J Palmatier_Shrink4Men_02Counseling, Consulting and Coaching with Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD

Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD helps individuals work through their relationship and codependency issues via telephone or Skype. She specializes in helping men and women trying to break free of an abusive relationship, cope with the stress of an abusive relationship or heal from an abusive relationship. She combines practical advice, emotional support and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Schedule a Session page for professional inquiries.

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Photo credits: Roller coaster by english invader on flickr.


Female time bomb by Something to See on flickr.

  1. Bri
    April 16, 2017 at 9:10 pm

    I habe just separated from my abusive wife of 1,5 yrs together. We had a whirl wind romance and married after dating 7 months I saw some red flags but ignored them trying to be the knight in shinning armor. I got her in counseling and she was diagnosed with unspecified depressive disorder put on antiphycotic and antiaxinty medications. Her anger was very intense and there was no reasoning . We frist lived in a condominium owed by her family I wasn’t on the lease . Each time she would get angry with me she would make me leave. This went on for months one night I was very sick in bed she got upset with me made me leave. I would just go to avoid further conflict. Her Phychiatrist told me that her mind was not well and they where trying to fix it. But when she got in her destructive moods it was best to leave. It go to the point I would attempt to leave and she would try to stop me making me shove or move her out of my way. Then she would call the police on me. I would get charged then she refused to testify In court the last episode my 74 yr old mother had stopped by my house as she was on a rant. My mother attempted to console her and she shoved her in the floor.
    She has now an assult charge on her and I have 3 charges on me 1 for going to my home when she wasn’t there to get clothes then a assult charge she made up telling the police I dragged my fingers across her face telling her to shut up. Plus another volilation of protection order for forwarding her mail to her with a simple letter that said I was sorry the marriage failed can we end it peacefully.
    I have never been involved with a woman so vindictive and hateful . She’s multi degreed and beautiful but truly a Luna tic. We are now split up and I have to face her in court 3 times and testify against her for Assulting my Mother . I’m truly lost and distributed over it all

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