First comes love, then comes marriage… It’s a familiar children’s nursery rhyme for many, but in truth, there are several other stages that need to happen in order for a healthy relationship to thrive. Love is a complicated thing that takes time, investment and work.
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So, if your relationship is burning hot in the beginning but something doesn’t feel right, ask yourself what’s making you feel overwhelmed. Are you showered with over-the-top gifts? Are you pressured to pick up the pace and make your relationship exclusive? Are you missing out on time with family and friends, or does your partner get angry when you spend time with other people? If any of these ring true, you may be experiencing psychological and emotional abuse in the form of love bombing.
“Initially, you might feel safe, secure and swept off your feet because grand gestures are a self-esteem boost and make you feel important and desired,” says psychologist Alaina Tiani, PhD. “But the love bomber’s ultimate goal is not just to seek love, but to gain control over someone else. Over time, those grand gestures are an effort to manipulate you and make you feel indebted to and dependent on them.”
Dr. Tiani dives into the details of what makes love bombing so complicated and the signs you should look out for along the way.
Love bombing is a form of psychological and emotional abuse that involves a person going above and beyond for you in an effort to manipulate you into a relationship with them. It looks different for every person, but it usually involves some form of:
Love bombing can happen intentionally or unintentionally. Although it’s most often recognized by romantic partners, your family members and friends can love bomb you, too.
It’s usually driven by a person’s insecurities, inability to trust and dependence on other people. Although anyone can do it, love bombing is most often associated with people who have an anxious or insecure attachment style or narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). People can also pick up on this behavior by learning it from their parents (like passive-aggression) or from past abusive relationships. It can also be a side effect of unresolved childhood trauma (though, this isn’t always the case).
“If you turn down advances from a person who’s love bombing you or they feel you’re not responding to their needs, they might threaten or berate you,” explains Dr. Tiani. “They want that constant reassurance that they’re loved and worthy and this stems from their underlying insecurities.”
And while they spend the early days over-extending themselves to win your favor, when the honeymoon phase ends and real life kicks in, a person who love bombs may resort to more manipulative tactics like gaslighting or domestic abuse in order to keep their partners around.
“Love bombing is a situation that can be hard to get out of because you may not know how genuine someone is until it’s too late,” says Dr. Tiani.
Love bombing tends to occur in three phases:
“When it ends, you might have conflicting emotions because while you’ve had this attachment or love for the person who love bombed you, you also might feel anger or sadness about how things went down,” acknowledges Dr. Tiani. “Often, they will try to come back and repeat the process by checking in with you — and that’s when you run the risk of getting sucked back in.”
So, how do you know if your relationship is even real? Is it actually love bombing or are they just that into you? Dr. Tiani explains that your best bet in figuring this out is to identify whether or not they bulldoze over your healthy boundaries.
“Have an open conversation with them about how you’re feeling and what your boundaries are and see how they respond,” advises Dr. Tiani.
“If you voice something that’s made you uncomfortable and somebody takes that feedback and incorporates it and changes their behavior moving forward, they probably respect you and care about your relationship. But if they’re combative, argumentative or continue to disrespect your boundaries, those are red flags.”
Another litmus test you can do is to check in with your family and friends to get a fresh perspective. You’ll also want to check in with yourself and trust that gut feeling you have when something feels wrong.
“Good relationships feel good,” states Dr. Tiani. “If it feels too good to be true, that’s probably an indication that there’s something going on. It’s important that when those feelings surface, you tune into that instead of pushing it aside.”
When you’re caught in a love bombing cycle, it can be hard to spot signs of trouble — but the signs are there, if you know where to look. Here are some common signs of love bombing:
A love bomber might shower you with unexpected gifts as tokens of their affection. Though gift-giving is a love language for some people, this becomes a problem when the gifts are unnecessary, unwanted, extravagant or over-the-top. If you make it known that you don’t want these gifts and they keep giving them to you anyway, this is a red flag that you’re being love bombed.
“It’s more than just flowers on a first date,” notes Dr. Tiani. “These gifts are usually something quite elaborate, expensive or big purchases to win you over.”
People who love bomb tend to jump the gun. They’ll be quick to call you their soulmate, fantasize about eloping (and talk openly about those fantasies) or they’ll talk about meeting you as if it was a lifelong dream. They might even be interested in introducing you to close friends and family members right off the bat, even when it feels too soon. And they’re likely to bring up the idea of commitment early in a relationship, or even skip major milestones to rush toward a happy ending.
“They want to create a sense of intimacy, closeness and commitment very quickly,” says Dr. Tiani. “After three dates, they may say things like, ‘You’re my soulmate,’ and while that feels good, it can also be overwhelming.”
A person who love bombs will appear to depend on you more than other people for comfort, time, energy and dedication. Over time, as your relationship builds, they may become more demanding by getting angry with you or jealous of other friends or family members.
When this happens, they may present unfair ultimatums that force you to choose between them and other people you care about — and even other responsibilities you have to work, hobbies and more.
“They prefer you to spend time with them as opposed to other important people because they want to monopolize your time so that you rely solely on them,” says Dr. Tiani. “Over time, they can start guilting you into staying with them or putting them first before other people and things you care about.”
No means no in every circumstance. Period. Full stop.
But if you tell a love bomber you’re not OK with their behavior or try to set up healthy boundaries, they’re likely to become argumentative, question your line of thinking and may even push you into believing you’re wrong for saying no in the first place.
“If it feels like a boundary or many boundaries have been crossed, that’s a sign that your voice isn’t being heard and your opinion doesn’t matter in the relationship,” Dr. Tiani states.
By isolating you from your family and friends, a person who love bombs amplifies their control over you and the activities you participate in.
Sometimes, this can be very obvious, like if they refuse to allow you to do certain activities, go to certain locations or spend time with other people without having them present. Other times, their imposed isolation is more subtle, like if they get moody, angsty or sad whenever you try to do something without them.
Either way, if your partner tries to coerce you into doing something you’re not comfortable with or they make you feel unsafe, this is a sign of emotional abuse.
Love bombing doesn’t always involve obvious displays of gift-giving, grand gestures and face-to-face manipulation. Sometimes, it can happen more subtly in day-to-day conversation.
A person who love bombs might check in frequently about what you’re doing when they’re not around. Maybe they over-communicate how they feel about you or check up on your location. Sometimes, they can even overdo it online by posting too frequently how they feel about you in an attempt to gain public acceptance of your relationship.
“A lot of it can be verbal,” says Dr. Tiani. “If it’s excessive and it feels like you’re moving too quickly, that’s a sign you may be getting love bombed. As the relationship goes on, these instances can get even more intense.”
Sometimes, it’s OK to wonder whether you’re on the same page as your partner. We all love at different paces and in different stages, and what feels right for someone else may not feel right for you. If you ever feel uneasy, off-balance or overwhelmed — and you communicate these feelings to your partner but they don’t reciprocate those feelings or respond in healthy, positive ways — these are signs trouble may be brewing.
Can a relationship survive when you’ve been love bombed? The answer is that it’s largely up to the individual who’s doing the love bombing.
“It can be helpful to take a minute and create some space from the person who’s love bombing you to examine how you’re feeling and how you want to approach the situation,” advises Dr. Tiani.
In some cases, you may want to revisit the conversation about your healthy boundaries, define what behavior is acceptable and see if there’s an opportunity for your partner to learn and adapt. But if you try to have this conversation and their behavior continues or gets worse, you’ll want to consider how to end the relationship safely.
“It’s important to recognize that it’s not likely you’re going to be able to change their behavior or make them treat you in the way you want to be treated. You might feel embarrassed that you fell for this person, but it’s important to remember that it is not your fault,” reassures Dr. Tiani. “Instead of blaming yourself, seek support from family and friends during that time.”
Seeing a therapist can also be helpful to untangle the confusing web left behind by the act of love bombing, as you’re likely to experience a flood of emotions that include depression, anxiety, anger, sadness, confusion, mourning and loss.
“A therapist can help validate what happened, how you’re feeling about it and help you navigate your emotions, the stress you’re experiencing and — if you need it — advice on how to end the relationship,” she adds.
More importantly, if you ever feel unsafe or you’re experiencing physical violence or abuse, you can talk to your doctor about what’s happening or contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800.799.SAFE (7233).
While love bombing is confusing and controversial, it’s something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. In many cases, long after you’ve moved on from the relationship, it can be difficult to trust other potential partners and trust your own feelings when it comes to dating. But there is life after love bombing, and it starts with being open and honest with yourself about your experiences and setting healthy boundaries with new partners right from the beginning.
“In any relationship, having check-ins along the way and being open about where you and your partner are at with things is always a good idea,” says Dr. Tiani.