Trigger Warning: The below article contains information on domestic abuse. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, please visit the Women's Aid website for support.
Love bombing is a recent entry into the dating dictionary, and many people are unaware of what it is and how to spot it.
Experts describe it as a form of emotional abuse and a situation where a partner overwhelms you with love and affection, but ultimately doesn't respect your boundaries, manipulates you or tries to control your life. "Women don’t see it as abusive because it makes them feel special," explains media psychologist & relationships expert, Jo Hemmings. "That’s the whole point of love bombing, to make you feel that this person will do anything for you."
If you are experiencing love bombing, know that there is support available. Here, experts explain what love bombing is, and the most common signs.
Plus, two women who experienced love bombing share their experiences in the hope they can help others spot the signs and reach out to the resources below for support.
What is love bombing?
Jo defines love bombing as a situation in which your partner is actually attacking you with constancy. "They’re always wanting to know where you are, constantly sending gifts, aren’t respecting boundaries... it feels like one way traffic that doesn’t stop," Jo explains.
"Domestic abuse can take so many forms and although an extravagant gift from a new partner or him turning up at your workplace unexpectedly because he 'just wanted to see you' or he 'just missed you' might not seem like typical abusive behaviours, this can just the start of a pattern of more controlling pattern of abuse," explains chief executive of Women’s Aid, Farah Nazeer.
Love bombing often begins at the start of a new relationship. "It's that first stage, it’s meant to make you like them and make you feel secure before they go on to do something that will confuse you,” explains Jo. Farah adds that “controlling and coercive behaviour can be very subtle but it can escalate quickly”.
But, that's not to say love bombing can't happen in long-term relationships too. It can show up after explosive arguments or attempts to leave a relationship, which was the case for Helena, 53, a love bombing survivor who's ex-husband used physical abuse to prevent her from leaving.
"One time he hit me and three weeks later I went running back. It's the sweet-mean cycle, it goes round and round because you're always waiting for him to be nice again," Helena told Red.
"With love-bombing, the abuser is controlling the narrative of the relationship," explains Farah. "But, it gets to a point where it can’t go on forever. Often at this point, the woman is too invested to simply just walk away, she’s fallen in love with the romance and the rush that she felt at the start and believes that the responsibilities are with her to keep her abuser happy."
So, how do you know if you're experiencing love bombing in your relationship? Often it's about trusting your gut.
"If you feel uncomfortable and like it’s moving too quickly then it probably is," Jo explains. But, there are key signs to look out for. And, if you spot these signs it's important to get seek help from someone you trust, or get support from a domestic abuse charity.
5 signs of love bombing
1 . Showering you in attention
When Darcy* first met her ex-partner she thought he seemed kind. "He’d make sure the door was open, in the car he’d have his hand on my leg. He was very charming. like a 1950s gentleman," Darcy explains.
Similarly, Helena had an ex-partner who showered her in attention. "It was like a high, a dopamine hit," she explains."It’s a drug and I was addicted to him. Once you get a taste you think 'I need that again'... You put up with all the bad because you know they’ve got you."
But, this affection is unsustainable, once a love bomber has established trust and dependency they go through a withdrawing stage. This is where they demonstrate another side. Women's Aid point out that this abuse doesn't have to be physical, it can be emotional and mental, too. "Lots of love bombers go through this curve of pulling away from you. They discard you almost, and then they’re back when they feel that their control isn’t working as well," explains Jo. "They’ll throw some more of the love bombing out to pull you back in."
2 . Buying you lavish gifts
Love bombers often use gifts to shower you in affection, and this was the case for Helena. "He’d think nothing of taking me to the best restaurants and paying. He’d send flowers to my house. One time we were driving through Hampstead and I said 'ooh, I like that dress', he pulled over and went into the shop to buy the dress. After a year he even bought me a brand-new car." These displays of "affection" might not "seem like typical abusive behaviours but this can just start a more controlling pattern of abuse," explains Farah.
Darcy’s story echoes Helena’s. Her partner started off by sending flowers to her work, but then escalated into deciding what she wore. "If we went shopping, I could have anything I wanted. I thought he just wanted me to look as nice as he does, but it was really his way of getting me to dress how he wanted me to dress," Darcy explains.
"Movies and the media have a lot to answer for – romcoms and Disney movies often give such a false idea of romance to women and girls from a very young age,” says Farah. “Media plays a big part in how we see romance, and jealousy and control are dangerously romanticised.” A healthy and sustainable relationship will involve thoughtful gifts and your partner taking an interest in you and what you like, as opposed to expensive gestures which are designed to condition you into becoming dependent on them.
3 . Not respecting your boundaries
"Healthy relationships are based on trust, openness, and equality. Actual romance shouldn’t be about fairy tales,” says Farah. A partner disrespecting your boundaries can take on many forms, this might look like constant texts and phone calls throughout the day, turning up at your workplace unexpectedly, or trying to convince you to take part in behaviour that isn’t what you would normally do. Helena recalls an incident where her partner made her drink sour milk to prove her love for him. "This is them pushing the boundaries they think ‘what will she do? What can I get her to do?’”
If you feel that your partner is crossing your boundaries, then don’t doubt your instincts. "If something doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t. Your experiences of feeling unsafe are important," Jo says. "Your friends can alert you as they don’t have hidden agendas. You can talk through it with them and get assurance about behaviour that you’re not sure about."
4 . Discussing your future too soon
In healthy relationships there will be a gradual progression and at some point you will both start to discuss your future together. You’ll have open conversations with your partner about what you both want, and what your future together will look like. But, these decisions about the future will be made together.
However, in abusive relationships, it can feel like there’s no “gentle build to a relationship,” says Jo. You might feel like you’ve totally skipped past the getting to know each other stage.
Your partner might ask you to go on holiday or move in with them very soon after meeting, "This might sound wonderfully romantic but this intensity early on often isn’t the sign of a healthy relationship,” explains Farah. If you’re unsure about your situation, talk to a trusted family member or friend who may be able to help you navigate the situation. They may even alert you to an unhealthy dynamic that you have not noticed yet.
5 . Taking control of your life or isolating you
Abusers often try to isolate their victims to create dependency. Your partner might tell you what to wear, they might offer to drive you everywhere, and they might try to cut you off from your loved ones. This can seem, on the surface, like you’re the only person in the world for them, or that you’re living in a fairy tale where neither of you need anyone else. But, this is the abuser trying to take your autonomy away.
"They might tell you that they don’t want to hang out with some of your friends and plant negative thoughts in your head about people, particularly those you’re closest to," notes Farah. But, it’s vital to maintain the pre-existing relationships that you have with your support network. "Try to focus on not being isolated – even if you have one friend, that’s someone you can trust,” Farah emphasises.
What to do if you think you're being love bombed
Farah stresses the importance of talking to someone you trust. "Talk to someone, but not your partner. If you’ve been isolated from your friends and family please contact Women’s Aid, a local service or the National Domestic Abuse Helpline."
The Women’s Aid Survivor’s Forum is an excellent way to connect with other women who may be experiencing a similar situation. For both Helena and Darcy, Women’s Aid allowed them to find a community of women they could learn from and lean on for support.
"In the end, thanks to the internet, I went to the forum, and I read all the stories. I thought 'oh my god, they’re the same'. Thirty years of being in that situation and I thought it was just me," Helena says. She now happily lives with the youngest of her three daughters and has completed Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. "Once I understood that they [abusers] never change there was no way I was going back."
For Darcy, the forum allowed her to label the behaviour she was experiencing and realise that she wasn’t alone. "Throughout all the stories it’s the same. The rhythm is the same”. Darcy says she "found her power" through learning about trauma-bonding, love bombing and abuse via the forum. Stories from survivors gave her the strength to escape and start a safe, new life with the help of a professional counsellor and connecting with a spiritual mentor.
It's important to know that love bombing and abuse can happen to anyone, and it is never your fault. You cannot change an abuser; they are responsible for their own behaviour. If you are in an abusive situation or if you're unsure if your situation is abusive, there are specialist domestic abuse services here to support you.
Women’s Aid is a national charity working to end domestic abuse against women and children, with over 170 organisations providing just under 300 local lifesaving services to women and children in England. The charity offers support via its Live Chat, email services and Survivors’ Forum. It also has a Survivor’s Handbook. To find your local Women’s Aid service, visit the directory on the website.
National Domestic Abuse Helpline
The National Domestic Abuse helpline offers support for anyone who is experiencing any form of domestic abuse. You can contact the free, 24-hour helpline on 0808 2000 247 or visit the website for more information
Better Help is an online therapy service that allows you to speak with professional therapists and avail of counselling via chat, phone or video call. Visit the website for more information.
*Some names have been changed to protect sources.
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