The Routine Makes It Easier to Stay in Abusive Relationships

September 22, 2014 Kellie Jo Holly

The routine merges the honeymoon & tension-building phases of the cycle of violence and abuse into one. The abuser abuses freely & the victim barely reacts.

The cycle of violence and abuse typically consists of three phases: tension-building, abuse, and honeymoon. The first two phases describe themselves and the honeymoon phase occurs after the abuse and gives the abuser a chance to beg the victim's forgiveness or otherwise convince the victim to stay. Over time, the tension-building and honeymoon phases tends to shorten or disappear, leaving us to wonder why abusive relationships can last so long. This routine makes staying in an abusive relationship manageable; both victim and abuser come to accept this routine as normal.

The Abuse Routine Over Time

The routine merges the honeymoon & tension-building phases of the cycle of violence and abuse into one. The abuser abuses freely & the victim barely reacts.

After enough cycles of violence and abuse come to pass, the tension-building phase becomes short or nonexistent. The victim sees the abuser as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, quickly changing from one persona to the other. As you can imagine, when the victim finds themselves living in a world where punishment occurs even if there is no crime, their feelings of anxiety and fear grow strong. At the same time, the stress of feeling constantly fearful (consciously or not) weakens the victim's mind and body and creates fertile ground for brainwashing (Brainwashing: Learn How It's Done So You Can Undo It).

Simultaneously, the honeymoon phase shrinks to relative nothingness too. With the victim weakened and apologizing for every problem in the relationship, the abuser no longer feels the need to make amends. Instead, the abuser uses the victim's weakened state to get on with the business of brainwashing.

Free to Live in the Routine of Domestic Abuse

At this point in the abusive relationship, the routine officially begins. The abuser can now freely abuse without apology and does not experience much backlash from the victim. If the victim continues to fight the abuser, then their resulting threats to leave, call the police, take the children or something equally as relationship-ending, falls flat because the victim does not follow through on the threats. Likewise, both partners know that if the victim pushes the issue at hand, it will result in the abuser hurting the victim's feelings or body. The abuser's stated or implied threat to hurt the victim is real, and both partners know that too.

Instead of pointlessly expending emotional/physical energy on a domestic disturbance, the partners fast-forward through the drama in their minds instead of in reality. This is easy because the drama has only one end: the abuser wins whether the victim can admit it or not. Brainwashing allows the abuser to win pretend arguments too. This shortcut past the drama is the routine that makes consistent abuse manageable for both victim and abuser.

Why Abusers and Victims Prefer the Routine

Both abuser and victim prefer the routine because it enables the abuser to feel in control and the victim to feel safer. After accepting the that the abuser will explode when the victim makes a decision contrary to the abuser's wishes, it becomes deceptively easy for the victim to convince themselves that they are making their own decisions instead of choosing to stay in the abuser's good graces (and out of danger).

If you asked a current abuse victim about the routine, they would not say they feel safer because they do not realize the danger they face. They love their partner, and it follows that you do not fear someone you love. Perhaps you get angry, frustrated, mean or spiteful, but the victim is so far out of touch with their fear that they will not see the routine as safe, if they see it at all.

Most likely, the victim will view the routine as a period in the relationship that

  • has minor problems that will work themselves out,
  • lacks intimacy,
  • will be better when, or
  • is perfectly perfect.

The victim comes to see the routine as normal and the abuse as merely a side note not worth mentioning. The victim's high anxiety-induced stress level becomes normal too. After years of the routine, domestic abuse victims often find themselves diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.

To the abuser, the routine proves their power over their partner. The abuser acts out when the victim says or does something the abuser would not say or do. However, during the routine, there are far fewer threats to the abuser's ability to control. Nevertheless, the abuser will abuse in the backwards thinking that it keeps the peace.

The routine exists due to brainwashing and dependency of the abuser and victim on one another. The relationship holds no love no matter how often the partners say "I love you." In fact, the only reason to call it a relationship is that there are two people going through the motions of creating family and career. There is no relating to one another and no real love during the routine or any other part of the abusive relationship. Even so, when both the victim and abuser accept the routine's dynamics, they lay the foundation for a long-term abusive relationship.

APA Reference
Jo, K. (2014, September 22). The Routine Makes It Easier to Stay in Abusive Relationships, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 17 from

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

July, 6 2022 at 5:28 pm

Hi there I’m going through alot if this myself…was really bad the first 4-5 years of the relationship we have been to councelling I always get threats of him leaving etc…the yelling and getting in my face being a huge bully! Here I am 9 yrs in…we all can’t be ourselves whether he’s happy happy or miserable…the anxiety and anxious feeling when his voice raises is not good! He can be so fun loving caring amazing chef romantic all of it the perfect one! Until…it’s so hard as you want to look at all that good and go with it!
I finally said I agreed with him 3 days ago yup your right maybe it’s time to call it quits!! Even tho I’ve mentioned to him I think it’s time to go back to councelling! Why all of a sudden now he’s doing this!!
Next day he comes home with I’m going to councelling I’m going to get on meds and we have a appt with a couples eft…I don’t want to be this person anymore I know I can be a good person I’m so in love with you and love my family I know I have to be in councelling for life…I don’t want to lose you or my family
He also said he’s never fought for anything usually he just walks off…I’m having a hard time whether this is to just make me feel warm and fuzzy and things will change or again in that web! 🤷🏻‍♀️
It’s hard to be checked in when I’ve been checked out with all the bullshit how do you move on and forget? Will it always be there? Can anyone actually carry on even if that person does change? I’m not sure anyone out there feel that way?

September, 11 2022 at 6:09 am

Hi Tanya. So sorry to hear what you’re going through. The short answer is he will not change, and he’s he will say and maybe even do anything to not lose his codependent supply, you, and may even mean it in the moment…But unfortunately it’s a cycle, the honeymoon phase will wear off and you’ll be right back to where you are right now, except worse and even harder to leave. If you give him another chance you will reach a point that you will regret why you didn’t leave when you had the chance, and you will realise that if you had left you would have gotten over the pain of breaking up by now. Please let him go for your sake, and quite frankly for his too.

May, 25 2017 at 1:19 pm

After an evening where my husband blew up at the dinner table over something trivial, and verbally abused the 5 & 6 year old we are caring for I relized that this can not be allowed. The verbal abuse that I have been privy to for 20 years is not something that I ever saw myself allowing for a child. And there I sat; so today I began the search for help and found your article; and type here in tears because you have described to a

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Connie Uhrig
November, 9 2017 at 2:22 am

Oh Crystal. Do something about it now. I was in a 30 year marriage and my son went through so much abuse. I look back all these years later and I cannot believe it was me, that I stayed and let this happen. I still don't know how it happened. My son is now 34, just getting divorced and still cries sometimes about the past. I implore you, these children are being permanently damaged. You can do something for them. It is your job. I failed at mine. It is not too late for you. PLEASE.

Cindy L
June, 12 2016 at 1:46 am

Thank you for this article. I had thrown around the term "verbal abuse" so often that I was complacent. Your writing helped so much to identify exactly what was happening, and just like you say, the reconciliation phases have gotten shorter & shorter. It was also very helpful reading your related articles. (The different types of abuse, how to "stop" abuse, and others).
So it seems the only real solution is leaving. Is there no capacity for change? Or do I need to remove myself from the situation & allow him to do the work, for once? I've been in this relationship for 15 years, and we have a 6yo son together. We own & operate a business together as well.
Yesterday was the first & only time I ever told him I was leaving; I told him I'm staying with my parents for a week, that I'm not coming to work, and that my son will be with me.
He's begging to speak to me. I don't know where to go from here. Hotline, counseling, groups? This is a complete revelation. I don't know what to do with it.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Jo Holly
June, 13 2016 at 7:42 am

Dear Cindy,
Yes, I would start with the NDVH at and then try to get into as many domestic violence group meetings as you can in your area this week.
In my heart, I hope you take this act of courage and use it to stay away. In the end, most abusers won't change. I don't know what separates the ones that will change from the ones that won't. However, in Patricia Evans' book, "The Verbally Abusive Man: Can He Change?" she presents the idea of a contract. Perhaps you could get the book and prepare a contract this week, too.
The contract I prepared showed me that my ex was NOT going to change. From reading comments in other forums, it appears that the contract serves that purpose for many. Preparing one for myself brought to light just how much abuse I was taking. After writing it, I almost didn't give it to him because my gut said to stay away. Even so, I recommend doing the exercise.
Give him the contract and don't go home until he shows change. Not when he SAYS he's changed, but when he proves change. I hope your parents can keep you and your son for awhile. In my timeline for reconciliation, I gave us a year to decide whether we'd get back together or not. It didn't take but a week to know we wouldn't.
Again, I hope you don't go back home. At least not yet. When you're away from him for a while, your perspective will change. Opportunities will open up to you that weren't there before. I congratulate you for leaving - just simply taking the opportunity and going. If you go back, it could be harder to leave next time. However, it takes an average of 7 attempts before some of us get out. Some people MUST leave the first time and stay gone. It may as well be you!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Connie Uhrig
November, 9 2017 at 2:27 am

Please, block him from your phone. DO NOT be in contact. He will do everything , falsely, to get you back. It is part of who he is. I was in a 30 year marriage of a man like yours. I got out, but guess what, I married a man just like my first. I did not give myself time to get out of my OWN CYCLE OF ABUSE. I am about to leave this man. Much wiser, but emotionally damaged, financially damaged. Do what you can to get out. Do the best you can to make a new life. A friend of mine told me , "Stay strong, stay the course!". Get a circle of people that SUPPORT you unconditionally. Good luck and God Bless.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Jo Holly
June, 13 2016 at 7:44 am

Here's a link to the contract I gave to my ex: The original had his name in it, so the copy has personally identifying information changed to protect his anonymity.

June, 22 2015 at 2:34 am

My boyfriend has BPD and has booked appointments to see a therapist. I'm just wondering whether it's a good idea to stay in the relationship while he goes to see the therapist. I understand that he will be facing emotions that will be uncomfortable on a regular basis and that he may unleash his anger on me. A lot of the time I feel that i want him by my side- even though i know he says a lot of things but doesn't follow through with them. But i don't want to be subject to verbal/emotional abuse any more. Will the abuse subside with therapy?
Kind regards

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Jo Holly
June, 26 2015 at 1:37 pm

I don't know if the abuse will subside with therapy, and I don't think anyone could know. Only time will tell if the therapy will help him end the abuse. If you live with him, you may want to find another place, at least for now. You could do well with some space and time to observe from a distance.

March, 31 2015 at 10:17 am

Just realizing I am in it . I thought u husband was just different- northern and military but now I'm seeing it as it is verbal abuse. Sadly I was in a previous codependent situation with a" recovering alcoholic" . That was my first marriage - totally abliterated my idea of love so next time I married" smart"
Now I am seeing I am in this unhealthy place again. I know that it will not " just get better" and further more we are in the middle of transferring . I see th writing on the wall. I should leave -- short and simple I'm afraid and don't trust my decision making

November, 19 2014 at 5:43 pm

I'm suffering through this too. Women are just as capable as men in this exercise of pain. I may lose all that I've worked for over 15 years. It's such a waste of time energy.
I'm not a stupid person but can't seem to get my head around how to get out of this.

October, 2 2014 at 9:09 pm

hi i have been with my husband since i was 15 yrs old and we have now been married for 41 years.
I have been " the good wife " and covered and made excuses for his behaviour all that time , typical behaviour i have now learned that enabled him to carry on and get worse and worse.
4 weeks ago i made the decision to divorce him - needless to say even though he is an alcoholic, an abuser , with no anger control and the true jekyl and hyde personality, he will be telling people that i am mentally ill and that i am the one who needs help not him. Luckily even tho i have hidden this for all these years i did not realise that other people were now realising what has / is going on and are now looking out for me.
I have two reports on him stating that he has denial issues with regard to anger and alcohol- i have not used these in the divorce papers , i am going to keep them as my trump card . I have been warned that he will continue to try and abuse me even after he has left the marital home. Now i realise that i have wasted 45 years of my life on someone who never gave me his love, attention, time, whom i "loved" and protected. Now i need time to be ME and the thought of starting again at 60 and not able to return to my family or home country for financial reasons is scary. But i have found true friends that now look out for me - so wish me luck

September, 28 2014 at 4:10 pm

Thanks Kelley, I am confused, I am a man, married for more than 32 years. The relationship has been abusive since the beginning. I have always taking the responsibility for the madness, never once has she initiated any peaceful end to an argument, taking any responsibility. The routine felt normal, I was the one always pursuing the love, always. I always accepted the blame, the honeymoon was the norm, I always wanted more, more intimacy in the relationship, more openness and sharing. Once this was understood by her it was never given or offered, withholding , not saying what you needed, where the weapons of choice. I have heard every criticism under the sun, nothing I have ever done has measured up to her expectations, the words sting harder with each passing year, the last five they have progressed, there is no more honeymoon, just the abuse and anger, and bitterness. Prophetically, I have become the image of her words, I have given up all control of finances, all vehicles are in her name, she punishes me with these vehicles for trivial things, such as leaving a container in a seat, its bizarre . I have become isolated from the world, family and not many friends left. Her family all view me as a Monster, and I hear this from her and she is telling me that even our own children see me as the Monster. She looks and acts like Sunshine with grandchildren and any other family member that has her blood in their veins, she has no friends beyond family. She is a Real Professional Victim! I have been brainwashed to believe this has been all my fault, all these years, I have been Verbally labeled with all kinds of mental disorders, from Bi Polar, ADHD, Psycho,, and yes I do suffer from chronic depression, anxiety thoughts of ending it all. I hear this abuse daily, from the time I get up , throughout the day, when I get home from work, at night, . And according to her it all true, and what is true is deserving , the verbal attacks in her mind is not abuse, but needed correcting and punishing domination. I believe it will get better if change this, or do this, or not do that, I believe she will be happy to see me when I get home from work, she will be nice on a phone call received during the day, I believe if only i had never protected and retaliated over the years, always trying to deflect and place partial responsibility on to her, a futile position, I have been provoked enough to lash out verbally, I have grabbed, and held, tried to get her to listen by pacing and not let her leave a room. The half a dozen times over thirty years that I have lost total control are her cornerstones that drive her to be justified in her continued verbal assault. I have really dug into this since last July, most of the articles and evidence for what causes is from a learned environment, or abuse growing up. I was not raised in an environment of abuse, never even seen my parents argue, they always left to go in private. She has a mother , which was verbally wicked to her husband and her children. As a man, this is hard to accept and realize is the truth. This video on youtube that i stumbled upon in the last few weeks sums up totally what i hear . Here is the link if interested:
Every-time I watch, this grips my soul on how relational each slide is to my experience.
Am I crazy to believe I am a Victim or am I the Monster?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Jo Holly
October, 5 2014 at 3:29 pm

Convincing the victim that they are the Monster is one of the most potent tools in the abuser's tool box! You can go round and round with that question for years. But don't. You know what behaviors constitute abuse. Refuse to engage in those behaviors, no matter what. If you have to leave her presence to keep your cool, then do that.
Learn the types of verbal abuse and recognize them when she uses them. Stop using those tactics if you find yourself abusing (it happens to the best of us - we get so mad we start acting like the abuser).
If you decide you are NOT the monster, then there is only one other person who could be that monster. You are the victim of abuse, but you're on your way to survivor status.

Kellie Jo Holly
September, 27 2014 at 6:27 am

Instead of being yourself up with the question, "Why don't I go?", what if you looked online to find a domestic violence safety plan? Fill out the plan instead of asking questions that make you feel bad about yourself. Action speaks louder than words even when we're acting alone.

Theresa Dosh
September, 26 2014 at 1:01 pm

Thank you for this article. I hope it helps someone in their relationship if you can call it that. Unfortunateley for me I didn't leave soon enough and have been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. I wonder how many relationships there are out there where an abused partner doesn't have the courage and strength to leave.

September, 25 2014 at 10:22 am

Do these people hurt at ANYTIME when they hurt you? Or are we dealing with deliberate psycopaths-narcissists?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Jo Holly
September, 27 2014 at 6:21 am

I'm not a psychiatric researcher or psychologist, but from what I know and understand, there is no way to know the answer to your question at this time. The disorders that might make up the psychology of the abuser include sociopathy & narcissism. People affected by those disorders don't seem psychiatric help because they like themselves just fine!
We do not know if all abusers have a mental disorder to any degree. Undoubtedly, some abusers are sociopaths and/or narcissists. However, because abuse can also be a learned behavior, implying that some can un-learn it, we must consider each individual separately.
As a rule of thumb, I tend to believe if it walks and talks like a duck then it may as well be a duck. I don't want anyone who walks and talks like a sociopath or narcissist in my life.

September, 25 2014 at 10:21 am

Thank you for the article and the other ladies posts were encouraging. Footnote: I once told him he reminds me off my mom who was verbally ean many times and emotionally a ghost. He asked me:" Why does she hate you so much? It's something about you as she doesn't hate your sister? So now I have learnt not to tell him anything he can use against me. Well that's a lie - as anything I say in HIS COURT OF LAW can and will be used against me.

September, 25 2014 at 10:05 am

I am reading where one lady said after 24 years. So glad you mmade it out.. Dunno how you managed that for so long. Its been a year for me. It became pronounced once I gave up my place to live with him. My chest and gut feel twisted most times. The smell of most food is sickening. My heart jumps when I hear the begining of the 'tension'.... He starts hissing. The last 4 days were so bad as we made a little trip to tthe country where he yelled at me in my uncles home once we got in at 2.30 am... simply becuz I lost my luggage bag and told him that I did not need to hear that it was my fault as I was hurting. All my new stuff was in it.... Then in the moning again. on and on... He yelled at me at my cousinns bar and my uncles motel and house so the workers could hear. It took me a day to recover once we got back. The scenes ran through my head over and over. Yesterday i went out and got drunk and came home and told the boyfrens cousin who stays with us about it. I could not stop talking. He- the BF was here. He left. He came back later and has not spoken to me since. By the way he does not work. My money does everything. Oty makes me feel even worse about the situation. It hurts to becuz I could be much further along. I feel FROZEN though. Imma big girl... 48,,, but I would love if someone would come for me,take me for ice creram take me and mythings outta here and just hug me. Why dont I go?

September, 23 2014 at 3:41 am

Thank you Kellie for this post. I too fell victim to this routine. Seems strange to me now as I've completely transformed from that woman that felt powerless and victimized into a world spinning with insanity. As a successful business woman and super mom I find myself wondering what happened to me to allow me to stay in that relationship that now effects my growing and grown children exposed to such insanity and abuse.
The bright side is now I can educate others to the outcome of becoming free as well as what I wish I had wrapped my brain around which was the impact on my children, their precious minds, souls and personalities. Not to mention how they evolve in their relationships as they become young men and women. This has been the shame that I will forever work on for myself and for them to undo the damage they suffered and now carry forth into their families...
Working with women now I find the challenges they face are exactly what I faced as well... It's not enough to just encourage and inspire them to see how life can be different, better when they are spinning in the daily grind of this routine fully embracing the fear and control they feel runs their lives...
It won't stop our plight... to change the lives of one life at a time!!!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Jo Holly
September, 27 2014 at 6:30 am

Yes, one life at a time <3 Or a couple hundred thousand at a time... I'll take either choice! Thank you for your work, Diana.

September, 22 2014 at 9:42 am

Thank you Kellie for another excellent article. I'm in the process of taking the necessary steps to be free of my abuser after 24 long years. I do see the Routine & it's importance. In my situation (& everyone's is different) it is very important for my safety & the safety of my children to not stray from the Routine. I fear for not only our safety, but the safety of our beloved pets (who he has abused in the past). In addition, I fear the destruction or removal of my personal belongings - both of which have happened in the past. Many people tell me to just "stick up for myself" or "take back your power". They don't realize that both of those requires straying from the Routine (which is my safety net at this point) & any straying from the routine is dangerous. I just want to keep everyone safe so that my escape plan can be put into motion.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Jo Holly
September, 27 2014 at 6:35 am

You are smart, Mary. I consider you free from the routine now because you are using it consciously and to your advantage. Deviation from the routine as you set up your escape is a bad idea... You don't want to tip off the abuser to any plan to leave.
You are a survivor. Your enemy is no longer the abuser, but complacency. Read your plan every day so you keep what you're working toward fresh in your mind and action.

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