What Is Domestic Violence?

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North Carolina General Statute Sec. 50B-1 defines “domestic violence” as:
[T]he commission of one or more of the following acts upon an aggrieved party or upon a minor child residing with or in the custody of the aggrieved party by a person with whom the aggrieved party has or has had a personal relationship, but does not include acts of self defense:

  • attempts to cause bodily injury, or intentionally causes bodily injury; or
  • places you or a member of your family or household in fear of imminent serious bodily injury; or
  • conducts continued harassment, that rises to such a level as to inflict substantial emotional distress; or
  • commits any rape or sexual offense.

What that translates to in “real” terms is a pattern of coercive violent behavior used by one person to gain power and control over another. Domestic violence can occur between heterosexual or homosexual partners who are married, living together, divorced or separated and can affect children, family members, friends and so many others.

For information on the characteristics of abusive behavior, see our Signs of Domestic Violence page.

The Cycle of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is generally thought of as cyclical; it is not just a one-time behavior. Many abusive relationships follow a cycle of violence that has has three (or four) phases: tension building, explosive, honeymoon and calm. Early signs of violence may seem that harmful in the beginning, but can grow in intensity as the cycle of violence continues – resulting in increasingly severe injuries or death. The length of each phase can vary from days to years and the cycle can repeat itself over and over again until the conflict is addressed and resolved.

  1. Tension Building. This “pre-abuse” phase is generally characterized by poor communication, passive aggression, rising interpersonal tension and fear of causing outbursts in one’s partner. It is usually a precursor to an overtly abusive act that can begin with frequent arguing between the abuser and the victim. Warning signs of abuse tend to appear in this phase which include the abuser:
    • Yelling at the victim for no apparent reason;
    • Accusing the victim of acts they did not do, such as sleeping around, flirting with other people, cheating;
    • Making the victim feel as if they cannot do anything right;
    • Silencing the victim;
    • Making the victim feel as though saying anything in defense will only make the situation worse.
  2. Explosive Incident / Acting Out. The is the abuse phase. While it may be physical, mental or sexual, it is characterized by outbursts of violent acts in which the abuser attempts to dominate the victim by:
    • Raping;
    • Sexually assaulting;
    • Threatening physical violence;
    • Actually hitting, grabbing, kicking, shoving, pushing or physically attacking;
    • Screaming and yelling;
    • Throwing objects;
    • Injuring a family pet or children.
  3. Honeymoon / Reconciliation. This “post abuse” phase is generally characterized by affectionate and apologetic behavior in which the abuser promises the victim that, “it will never happen again.” The abuser may:
    • Promise that this was just a “one time” ordeal;
    • Apologize repeatedly;
    • Attempt to justify, minimize or make up for their actions by treating the victim with overt kindness;
    • Tell the victim they love them;
    • Buy the victim gifts such as flowers or jewelry, to “make up” for the abuse;
    • Make the victim feel responsible for the abuse so they will not blame the abuser or press charges;
    • Ignore what happened altogether.
  4. Calm. Many psychologists believe that there is a forth, calm phase, in which the relationship is relatively calm and peaceable (although some consider it to be an extension of the honeymoon phase above). Regardless of where this phase “fits” in the cycle, the reality is that unless the conflict has been resolved, the entire cycle is likely to repeat itself over and over again. Eventually, the length of each cycle may decrease – resulting in more and more violent and dangerous behavior.

It’s easy to simply become “accustomed” to being in this cycle of abuse. In fact, some say that it often begins to feel ordinary and familiar. However, if you recognize this behavior or it has become part of your life, know that you can break the cycle. Help is available.


Charles Ullman & Associates provides you respected, experienced and knowledgeable divorce and family law attorneys. You can trust us to help you through the legal process efficiently and effectively so you can transition to the next phase of your life. Our community involvement reaches beyond charitable support of important causes. We launched our own movement in Fraternities4Family and provide scholarships to able students in need.