Aggression, remission, tension : the cycle of violence

Understanding IPV

Aggression, remission, tension : the cycle of violence

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It is very difficult for a victim to see clearly into a situation of intimate partner violence (IPV), since its dynamic is very unstable. Sometimes things are going well, sometimes less so but without manifest violence, and other times it is hell. This instability is explained by the cycle of violence. This cycle is often described in three phases: crisis/aggression, remission and tension. Violence and control are present in all three phases, but take on different forms.

Sometimes it was fine, really good even. He became the person that I loved... and that I missed. It's not easy, the ups and downs. I was constantly catapulted from drama to tenderness, from panic to relief, from disillusionment to hope...

Woman - 46 years old - Survivor

Crisis/agression phase

The crisis phase, or aggression, generally occurs when the victim tries to exercise power over a decision that affects the family or her own life, and the abuser uses violence to «win» and impose their will. No matter what form the violence takes (psychological, verbal, physical, sexual, etc.), it has great repercussions on the victim: fear, pain, doubt, confusion, etc. The victim doesn't understand why their partner reacted so harshly and how the situation got so out of hand. The victim feels helpless, because their efforts to appease the partner do not work. The victim may also react with violence in order to defend themselves or to try to regain legitimate power over the situation. After the crisis, the victim is destabilized and may question their partner's violence or the relationship. 

Remission phase

To prevent the victim from leaving the relationship, the abuser must do something to influence their perception of the situation and give them hope for the future. The abuser may thus begin by recognizing certain wrongs, promising to improve and may even apologize and express remorse. However, they do so in a way that minimizes the severity of the violence. The abuser may show affection for the victim, take care of them and be on their best behaviour. The victim's suffering subsides, they regain hope and are immensely relieved that their partner did not want to hurt them on purpose.

At the same time, the abuser also challenges the victim's perception of the crisis, to give them a share of responsibility for the situation. The abuser twists the events and explains why the crisis happened in a way that blames the victim. The abuser convinces the victim to be more careful. This part of the remission gives the victim a false sense of power over the situation, because they understand why the crisis happened and know what to do (or what not to do) in order to make things better in the future. The feelings of helplessness and confusion that the victim felt during the crisis ease.


After a while, the remission fades and the abuser uses subtle violence to reassert their power over the relationship (sighs, irritated looks, silences, veiled reproaches, disapproval...). The tension mounts but the victim has difficulty putting it into words because the behaviours remain subtle. The victim feels anxious and apprehensive and redoubles their efforts to keep the peace. The victim adapts to the situation without realizing that they are losing more and more power... until the day they try to exercise power over a decision that affects the family or their own life... and a new crisis begins.

Violence is present in all phases

One might think that violent behaviours are only present at the moment of crisis/agression, because that's when it's more obvious, more "striking". On the contrary, psychological violence is very intense during remission (manipulation, gaslighting, lies, false promises, etc.) and coercive control is very present during the tension phase. Each phase actively contributes to maintaining the hold that the partner has on the situation, and the victim never really gets a break from intimate partner violence.


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Bien que la violence conjugale touche majoritairement des femmes, elle peut aussi toucher les hommes et les personnes issues de la diversité sexuelle et de genre. Les services de SOS violence conjugale sont offerts à toutes les personnes touchées par la problématique.

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