Learning of the existence of this well-known pattern of behaviour is often a shock down to the very core of the abused’s soul. When that passes, a wave of immeasurable relief sweeps over this wife feeling uniquely alone, isolated, and trapped. It is the confirmation of her sanity after all. Let’s take a closer look at how this works.

The incident

Life’s routine is flowing when the abuser starts getting more demanding, belittling, and selfish than normal. At this point, his wife desperately puts every ounce of her energy into thwarting the intensity of the coming explosion by cheerfully submitting to every command—no matter how unreasonable—and looking for ways to please him. Impossible to avoid, violence erupts. He lashes out with pushes, slaps, restraining her while he pours out hatred, insults, and false accusations, putting his fist through the door, pulling hair, smashing favourite objects, and on and on. When he finally allows her to escape, her obvious deep hurt and withdrawal cause him to fear losing control. He is not sorry for his pre-meditated actions, but he does fear the consequences. Apologising enough to appease her, he promises it won’t happen again—a promise he regularly breaks. He minimises and justifies the abuse and habitually throws it back on her with statements like “If you would only ____, then I wouldn’t have to ____.” He will even claim it didn’t happen or claim she was the abuser and label her delusional.


He may act as if nothing happened or he may charm her with flowers and kind words/actions at this point. The wounded wife, wanting to believe the delusion so her world holds together and her sanity is not lost completely, starts to emerge. He may strive to make her believe that she’s the only one that can help him change and that he loves her. A wife wanting with all her heart to please God will see only one option: to change herself. Despite doing all she can to resolve issues, she will accept at least some of the blame (“it takes two to fight”), “forgive and forget,” strive harder to “live peaceably,” remind herself that God is sovereign, remember that Jesus suffered too, and definitely she will pray for strength to be more submissive. She will squelch any expressions of opinion, feel like a failure as a wife, then exchange her “spirit of heaviness for a garment of praise,” giving her husband another chance. After all, what option does she have? “Til death us do part,” right?

Out of control?

It may appear that the abuser’s anger is out of control, but he can switch it off instantly if the police show up or his boss calls, for example. Conversely, he can be the life of the party, but be instantly violent as soon as the couple is alone. It’s all about control. Rather than mindless rage, he usually carefully aims his kicks and punches where the bruises won’t show. Secrecy is his cloak.

A day in the life of John and Sara

After hitting his wife, John said, “Sara, I’m sorry” but didn’t voice his next thought “because I might get caught.” Much to Sara’s horror, he then rationalised his behaviour by making the bizarre accusation “If you weren’t having an affair, I wouldn’t have to hit you.” Acting contrite and promising it wouldn’t happen again, John sent Sara to the store to buy groceries. When she was held up in traffic, he felt justified to assault her when she came in the door and claim she was having an affair with the store clerk. As was typical, he had set her up intentionally.

Boundaries? Consequences?

She never puts boundaries in place or enforces consequences because it never enters her mind or she believes God does not give her the right or because she fears the consequences to her and her children. She has been isolated, often has no money to enable her to leave, and fears condemnation from her family and friends. It’s absolutely sure her husband would effectively discredit her character because he’s been floating under a blanket of secrecy all this time and, as is often the situation, everyone likes him and would not believe her anyway (more on why the abused stay in later posts).

The time period between each cycle can vary from a few months to a few minutes, but one thing is certain: it will continue rolling as if headed downhill, picking up speed and intensity. Everything in life will continue to revolve around his moods and needs. Our next post will discuss the equally painful world of emotional and mental abuse. Our little termite friend from my introductory post is relentlessly causing irreversible internal damage and what the abuser sows, he will reap.

You can access domestic violence resources here.

this is part 3 of 6 in the series
How to Spot an Abuser

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About Joy Harris

Joy studied elementary education before going on to teach at the primary school level as well as homeschooling for twenty-six years. Joy has touched the lives of thousands through her ministry in state Religious Education, Sunday Schools, and Holiday Bible Clubs as well as through her speaking at various seminars and retreats. Joy is also a gifted musician and has collaborated on multiple recording projects as well as maintaining a private teaching studio for over thirty years. Joy is retired and lives in Cairns, Australia. Joy has seven children, twenty-one grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. You can contact Joy at joy@jasonharris.com.au.