The cycle of violence is a concept used by all the battered women's shelters I’ve ever spoken to (google it up or just visit www.domesticviolence.org/cycle.html), referring to the recurring nature in abusive relationships of violence-remorse-tension-violence-remorse-tension...
My experience with domestic violence comes from working on a hotline for survivors for 15 years, and from the experiences of me and my friends, experiences that include being directly involved as well as being part of the community it was happening in.
One of the fascinating things I found about working on this issue is how similar, almost formulaic, the relationships are (at least as they have been told to me). The person who is eventually going to be abusive usually starts out extremely kind and considerate, and there is a gradual build up of inappropriate behavior, eventually violent (whether emotionally or physically or both), in what I believe is a testing of the waters… frequently with a jump in the severity of the violence when and if something dramatic happens, like marriage, or a baby, or moving in together, or losing a job.
From what I can tell, something major has to happen (like the survivor leaving the relationship, or the two of them going in to good therapy together) for anything to change in the pattern of abuse.