Many of our characters struggle with abusive relationships--either currently or in their past. I thought delving into the psychology behind abuse might be helpful for today's Therapeutic Thought.
Take a look at the diagram. The yellow Honeymoon Period and the red Tension Building Period are indicative of "normal" relationships. Most all husbands and wives (or partners or what have you) go through these two stages--swinging back and forth like a pendulum.
The Honeymoon Period is just like what it sounds like. All fun and games, gifts, flowers, promises, and apologies (especially after a Tension Building phase). But the Tension Building phase brings in the little criticisms, some yelling at each other, swearing, even. It's when anger sets up a tent in the living room and people can feel they are walking on eggshells in their own home.
Alternating between the two is considered normal, even healthy. A relationship isn't tested until it hits a few bumps in the road, and when the bonds hold, the relationship is that much stronger for it. While this isn't the best news for married people, it's great news for writers. Tension makes our stories unputdownable. (Yes, I know that's not a word.) All you women's fiction writers out there who like to focus on the married couple instead of the sexual-tension-dating-phase couple usually create something huge that happens between the husband and wife, upsetting the Honeymoon Period and beginning a page-turning story. Usually, this is infidelity, pornography, or drug addictions coming to light.
But for an abuser, they can't go back to the Honeymoon Period without complete the cycle and Exploding. The Tension Building phase gradually escalates to psychological abuse--also called "gaslighting" (where they play mind games on the victim and make them think they are going crazy). They will isolate the victim from all support systems (see diagram below), and drug/alcohol addictions add to the mix in a horrific manner.
The abuser's inability to manage their anger is so lacking that they spiral out of control, sometimes blacking out in rage and not being fully aware of what they do. They can attack someone else physically, emotionally or sexually. A lot of women get raped during this time. Burns, broken bones, stabbings, bruises...and so much more.
The abuser then slips into the charming, charismatic, loving partner they were in the beginning when things were so good. They apologize, give gifts, flowers, cry, and say "I'll never do it again." The victim, desperately wanting to believe they haven't fallen in love with a monster, believes them (or doesn't, even) and it starts all over again.
One thing I recently found out in a domestic violence training is that a battered woman typically tries to leave her partner EIGHT times before she successfully disentangles herself from the relationship. Eight times of trying to make it in a shelter or with a friend, trying to take children away from the home only to be brought back by some financial insecurity or emotional connection with the abuser that renders the woman powerless in the situation.
Abuse is rampant in the world, so it's little wonder it shows up in our fiction. Understanding the mindset of the abused is difficult, as we're on the outside, looking in. What we often don't realize is that the abused woman has been trained/brainwashed to not seek out help or attention, to blend in to the scenery by trying to hide/cover their bruises. They often get upset or agitated when someone asks a pointed question or probes too deeply. But deep down, they do want help--they are just scared to get it. It's such a psychology trap.
If you have any specific questions about this cycle, I'd be happy to field them in the comments section if I can.
Q4U: Have you ever tried to talk a woman out of an abusive relationship? What were her reasons for staying? How did that feel?