Love bombing: What is it and what to do if you're experiencing it
Jun 14, 2023
You’re in a new relationship and it feels like a fairy tale. Your partner adores you, their attention is focused solely on you, and they spoil you with compliments and extravagant gifts.
Just when you think it can’t get any better, they drop the L-word, and you’re floating on cloud nine. Before long, you’ve discussed the prospect of moving in together, walking down the aisle, and starting a family. It’s as if you are the sun around which their world revolves.
But is this whirlwind romance the happily ever after you’ve been waiting for – or could it be a trap?
Love itself can be a beautiful story, and in a healthy relationship, there is an equal balance of power between partners. But love bombing goes beyond the realms of genuine affection and can be a warning sign of an unhealthy relationship. In this article, we’ll explore the concept of love bombing, what you should keep an eye out for, and most importantly, explain what to do if you are experiencing it.
What is love bombing?
Love bombing is a manipulation tactic used by abusers and narcissists to gain control and power over a romantic partner. It begins with an intense and overwhelming display of affection during the early stages of a relationship – a “bomb of affection”– that creates an illusion of a perfect partner.
The recipient quickly becomes charmed by the partner’s actions, believing they have found a soulmate who genuinely cares for them. But behind this facade of love and devotion is a hidden agenda driven by the perpetrator’s need to control.
Once the recipient starts feeling secure in the relationship, the perpetrator drops their mask and reveals their true colours. Suddenly, their behaviour does a complete 180, entering into abusive and manipulative territory without warning. It’s like a sneaky bait and switch maneuver, often leaving the recipient bewildered and hurt.
Love bombing alone doesn't mean someone is inherently being mentally or emotionally abusive – but it can be an early warning sign of an unhealthy relationship.
The art of love bombing
While love bombing can take various forms, its essence remains the same: to overwhelm and entrap a partner.
Sometimes love bombing comes in the form of big, grand gestures, like those you might see on reality TV dating shows. (Imagine this: you’re going on a third date, but your partner tells you to bring your passport!) These acts are designed to impress and astonish you, leaving you in awe of what they’re capable of. A partner might get a little touchy if you don’t respond with the expected level of enthusiasm.
But love bombing isn’t always about the big, flashy moments. It can also manifest in more subtle ways that target your vulnerabilities and desires. Your partner might engage in seemingly caring acts, such as fixing up your house, taking care of errands, or attending to all the tiny details in your life. Love bombing intersects with what narcissists learn about you, with that knowledge used to manipulate your emotions and establish control. It’s a masterclass in manipulation.
How is love bombing different from genuine affection?
Meeting up for coffee and gradually spending more time together? Those are the normal beginnings of a new relationship. A sweet gesture like showing up with flowers or whisking you off to a fancy dinner? You can still enjoy those small romantic displays without assuming the worst.
The key distinction lies in the pace and intensity of the interactions. If the attention becomes overwhelming, boundaries start to blur, and your personal preferences are completely disregarded, it might be a sign of love bombing.
In a healthy relationship, you should feel balanced with your partner and both respect each other’s boundaries. It’s a good sign when you can openly communicate your preferences or even cancel plans without the other person freaking out or taking it personally. It shows that they respect you and understand that you have a life outside the relationship.
The signs of love bombing
On their own, these signs may not necessarily be love bombing, which is why it can be easy to overlook. But the truth is, the most skillful love bombers are masters at disguising their true intentions.
Here are some common signs to watch out for when dealing with a love-bombing partner.
- Extravagant gift giving: They shower you with lavish and unnecessary gifts, even when you express disinterest.
- Rapid declarations of love: They proclaim their love for you within a short amount of time, often before a genuine emotional connection is established.
- A disregard for boundaries: They can’t take ‘no’ for an answer and may persistently push their own agenda.
- Constant communication: They frequently call or text you, seeking constant attention and control over your time.
- Excessive praise and compliments: They go overboard with flattering words and compliments, aiming to overwhelm and manipulate you.
- Unwanted favors: They perform favours or acts of kindness without your request or consent, disregarding your preferences.
- A rush of commitment: They try to quickly escalate the relationship, pushing for moving in together or discussing marriage and kids prematurely.
- Controlling behaviour: They make decisions on your behalf, such as ordering for you at a restaurant, attempting to dominate and diminish your independence.
- Isolation: They try to isolate you from friends and family, insisting on spending all your time together and preferring when you are alone.
- Sob stories for sympathy: They share vulnerable or sad personal stories to elicit sympathy and manipulate your emotions.
- Pressure and guilt-tripping: If you try to slow things down or set boundaries, they apply pressure and guilt, attempting to sway your decisions.
- Anger and aggression: They react negatively or become angry when you fail to respond as expected, displaying signs of emotional manipulation.
Watch: Check out the below video from the Queensland Government's domestic and family violence campaign for more information.
What to do if you're being love bombed
If you find yourself faced with a love bomber, here are some steps you can take to protect yourself.
1. Prioritise your well-being. Make your mental and emotional health a top priority. Recognise the signs of love bombing and acknowledge that it is a manipulative tactic used by abusers. Remove yourself from any abusive situation as soon as possible.
2. Seek support. Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or professionals who can offer valuable insights from an objective perspective. They can help you navigate through the confusion and offer guidance on how to handle the situation.
3. Have a conversation. If it's still early in the relationship and you're unsure whether it's love bombing or just intense infatuation, initiate a conversation with the person involved. Choose a neutral location to discuss your feelings and the need to establish boundaries. Express yourself honestly, using a simple statement like, "Hey, things are moving fast, and I need to set some boundaries." Pay attention to how they respond and whether they respect your concerns.
4. Be prepared to walk away. If the person does not respect your boundaries or show genuine care for your feelings, it's a clear indication that they may not have your best interests at heart. Prioritise your own well-being and walk away from the relationship.
5. Cut ties and seek support. Recognise that it's not your responsibility to change a love bomber's behaviour. Cut ties with the love bomber, remove them from your life, and surround yourself with a strong support system. Seek professional help if needed to process your emotions and heal from the experience.
6. Rebuild trust at your own pace. Understand that love bombing can leave you feeling confused and impact your trust in future relationships. Take the time to heal and rebuild trust at your own pace. Trust your instincts and hold onto your freedom.
Remember, love does not equal control. You deserve a healthy and genuine relationship that respects your boundaries and values your well-being.
There are many resources available, such as Relationships Australia at 1300 364 277, DVConnect Womensline at 1800 811 811, DVConnect Mensline at 1800 600 636, and 1800 RESPECT at 1800 737 732.
From controlling behaviours to something just feeling a bit ‘off’, the red flags of domestic violence and coercive control present themselves in different ways for different people. Learn how to spot the red flags of domestic violence in your own relationship – or someone else’s.