Breaking the Cycle of Domestic Violence


What makes abused women return again and again to the type of man who will harm them?

For someone living outside of the cycle of abuse, this pattern, exhibited time and again, baffles them.  Once you escape this life, how could you ever allow yourself to be drawn into another violent relationship?

Breaking the cycle of abuse can take generations.  Why?  Because most abused women grow up in an abusive household. In fact, most abusers grow up in an abusive household.

Around the age of four or five, little girls fall in love with their fathers. Years later, they select a life partner based on his similarity to their dad.  It’s not a conscious choice.  This occurs at a deeper level.  Women are attracted to men who remind them of their first love.

For, I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers
to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me…
Exodus 20:5

So what is God saying in Exodus?  We grow up to be behave as our parents taught us.  It’s hard to break a cycle, whether it’s a cycle of alcoholism, drugs, abuse, greed, etc.  Children follow in their parents’ footsteps.  I didn’t repeat the cycle because my father was not abusive.  My first husband was nothing like my dad which made it easier for me.  I wasn’t one of those women lost in the cycle of generations.

Abused women, especially if they grow up in an abusive household, crave the kindness and love of a man, someone who will sweep them off their feet.  They believe in fairy tales and being rescued by Prince Charming.

Ironically, most abusers begin relationships as Prince Charming because they saw their fathers behave this way with their mothers.  They swoop in oozing with charm and romance.  They wear their hearts on their sleeves and give love willingly…and fast.  Part of their tactics involve drawing the woman away from her safe circle of family and friends, creating a heavy reliance on the man for companionship.  He wants her all to himself, and she responds to that need for all-encompassing love.  It’s a fairy tale come true.

I can spot these men a mile away.  Their smooth moves and professions of undying love set off warning bells in my head, but women who grew up knowing this kind of man don’t recognize the signs.  Once she falls under his spell, the true man surfaces.  Devastated, she has nowhere to turn.  She finds herself back in the same mess, separated, and often alienated, from everyone who can help her.  Plus, she must face her own inability to attract the right kind of man.  She begins to suspect she might not be loveable.  He  encourages and feeds this worry, while assuring her that he is all she needs.  Plus, after each violent outburst, Prince Charming returns promising to save her from this horrible existence.  He often brings gifts–jewelry, cars, even houses. She believes him because she wants to, needs to, or due to the reasons I wrote about in Why Abuse Victims Stay.

I used to look at that verse in Exodus and think what a cruel God we must have, but I missed the point.   God doesn’t punish our children for our sins.  In fact, in Deuteronomy, we find the following:

Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.
Deuteronomy 24:16

And for many of you, you’re already objecting because I didn’t include all of Exodus 20:5-6.  I highlighted the part of the verse we hear, but the reality is very different:

You shall not bow down to them [idols] or worship them; for, I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations, of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Exodus 20:5-6

The full verse still applies because anything we choose over God is an idol, whether it’s alcohol, drugs, our spouses, etc.  But notice the wonderful promise in verse six.  He will show love to a thousand generations for those who love and obey Him.

Can anyone break the cycle of violence?  Absolutely!  It takes trusting in Christ’s salvation and, in many cases, counseling to rid yourself of a lifelong pattern.

The cycle can be broken!

I can do everything through Christ who strengthens me.
Phil 4:13

Do you believe that promise?  You should.  It’s time to break the cycle.  What do you need to do to make that happen in your life or aid someone else in their own struggle?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /


8 thoughts on “Breaking the Cycle of Domestic Violence

  1. My first marriage was abusive, and this is right on the money. The other component to this is I thought that God would not forgive divorce, and it was up to me to fix it. I finally left for good when an Army chaplain said to me right in front of my abuser, “He is going to kill you. You need to leave and never come back.”

    • Carolyn, thank you so much for your encouragement. These are hard truths to share, and I’m glad to know that I managed clarity…I’m never sure about that when it’s so close to my heart.

  2. Pingback: October Is Domestic Violence Awareness Month – The Workbench of Faith

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