What is IPV?

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is a pattern of coercive behavior used by adults or adolescents to gain power and control over their intimate partner. IPV involves many forms of abuse including:

  • physical abuse (hitting, slapping, pulling hair, strangulation, isolation, stabbing)
  • verbal abuse (name calling, put-downs, threats, yelling)
  • psychological abuse (crazy-making behavior, lying, denial of abuse, stalking, intimidation)
  • sexual abuse (unwanted sexual contact, sexual assault)
  • financial abuse (extreme control of financial resources, reckless spending on the part of the abuser, damaging a victims’ credit or employment opportunities)
  • spiritual abuse (humiliating a victim’s personal spiritual beliefs, using a person’s belief system to justify the abuse)
  • emotional abuse (integrated within each of these types of abuse)

At the root of an abusive relationship is power and control. The wheel below demonstrates how an abuser uses different tactics to gain power and control over their partner.


Power_and_control_wheelNot all victims experience every form of abuse, but many of these tactics are used in conjunction with one another to manipulate the victim and give the abuser power and control. These different types of abuse manifest themselves in a cycle of violence.


Tension Building 
In the beginning of most relationships, violence is rarely shown. The abuser will come on strong, often proclaiming that the new partner is “the only one that I could ever talk to” or that the abuser has “never been loved like this before.” The relationship is often one of infatuation.

As the relationship continues, the abuser’s demands (mental, emotional, and physical) increase along with the victim’s stress. Many victims describe living in the tension building phase as walking on egg shells. The abuser may become obsessively jealous and try to control most of the partner’s behavior and time (i.e. where the partner can go and with whom, how the partner dresses, etc). The abuser may also try to isolate the partner from family and friends. The tension building phase varies in length and severity.

Incident of Abuse
The tension building phase leads to an incident of abuse. An incident of abuse is characterized by a violent outburst. Often it involves physical harm to the victim (pushing, hitting, slapping, stabbing, strangulation), but could also be characterized by verbal and emotional outbursts (including yelling, throwing objects, shredding clothes, harming pets, making threats, etc). An incident of abuse may look like an outburst of uncontrolled anger, however, it is used by the abuser to gain power and control over the victim through fear.

This phase is often referred to as the “honeymoon phase.” After the incident of abuse occurs, the abuser may beg for forgiveness, promise it won’t happen again, shift blame to the victim or minimize the incident, give gifts to the victim, etc.

After the reconciliation phase, the relationship moves into a period of relative calm. The victim begins to see some of the abuser’s promises coming true, giving the victim hope that things have changed and the abuse won’t happen again. After a period of calm, tension slowly starts to build and the relationship will continue through the cycle of violence.


The cycle of violence will continue until there is an intervention where the victim leaves or the abuser is removed. This cycle may happen hundreds of times in an abusive relationship. Different relationships will move through the cycle at varying speeds, but over time the abuse will increase in severity and the relationship will move faster through each phase. It is important to remember that not all intimate partner violence relationships fit the cycle completely. Often, as time goes on, the ‘reconciliation’ and ‘calm’ phases disappear.