We all want to get our way in relationships, and for our partners to meet our needs. But sometimes, this very normal desire to be seen and heard by another person can venture into an attempt to control. While control in a relationship can look like threats and belittling, in some cases, romantic partners disguise controlling behavior — accidentally or purposefully — with what looks like love.
“Love bombing,” as it’s known, is a manipulative tactic — ultimately, a form of emotional abuse — partners use to get their way in a relationship. It may seem romantic to excessively shower a partner with loving words and behaviors, but according to therapist Kimberly Panganiban, love bombing is more about gaslighting the other partner than actually connecting.
“Love bombing can keep a person disoriented and so wrapped up in the feeling of being loved so deeply that they don’t recognize the ways their partner is steadily gaining more and more control over their life and relationship,” says Saba Lurie, a Los Angeles-based therapist. If your partner’s behavior looks loving, you’ll have no excuse to bring up your concerns or even leave the relationship. To a love bomber, this is exactly the point.
The love bomber, says Panganiban, uses their partner’s empathy, caring, and compassion to try to get their way. “Either they don’t do what their partner wants and feel like a bad person, or they do it and give up their own needs,” she says. “It’s a no-win situation.”
The Signs of Love Bombing
As love bombing is usually intended to manipulate a specific individual, it can take many forms. According to Lurie, people who love bomb commonly splurge on big gifts or grand gestures, try to convince their partners they’re meant to be or that the relationship is special, and make ongoing efforts to be in constant contact with loving messages throughout the day to reinforce the relationship. If you’re early on in a relationship, you may try to move things along quickly by spending too much time together too soon.
No matter how it plays out, the goal of most love bombing is to instill trust, affection, and, ideally, fixation so the other partner focuses more on the good parts of the relationship than the bad ones. As a result, they feel guilty even thinking about standing up for themselves.
Not sure if you’re the one being love bombed? The best indicator of love bombing is your own feeling that something is off, says Panganiban. You may feel like you don’t have a voice, and that you’d be a horrible person for entertaining the idea of leaving the relationship or even bringing up your discomfort with your partner.
“Tuning into your own discomfort and anxiety during these conversations is key,” says Panganiban. “We should never feel anxious, guilty, or uncomfortable when we express an opposite need or desire than our partner in a relationship.”
What to Do If You’re Guilty of Love Bombing
While love bombing can be damaging to a relationship, it can be a hard habit to break. “Oftentimes people use this tactic because they learned it somewhere and may even feel that it is normal,” says Panganiban.
Think you may be guilty of love bombing? It’s important to figure out where your behavior is coming from, what you’re trying to get from it, and how it’s affecting your partner. It’s normal to feel defensive, or like you’re not doing anything wrong by showering your partner in affection — or attempting to meet your own needs.
If you recognize you’re engaging in love bombing behaviors, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a manipulative person with ill intent. Sometimes, Lurie says, people unknowingly “love bomb” because they’re desperate to keep their relationship from deteriorating. In these situations, love bombing could be apologetic in intent to make up for an earlier wrongdoing.
“Rather than engaging in this behavior further, it might be helpful to think about what it is you’re trying to communicate and if there may be a more sincere way to do so,” Lurie suggests. If you feel stuck, Panganiban suggests working with a therapist to help you uncover what’s beneath your behaviors and how to change them.
What to Do If You’re Getting Love Bombed
And if you’re the one getting love bombed? Lurie encourages you to trust your instincts. Take time to have an honest, open conversation with them about your concerns. It’s possible the love bombing you’re experiencing stems from a place of insecurity rather than manipulation.
That said, you’ll need boundaries, too. Let your partner know you won’t tolerate love bombing, and don’t give in when it happens. You’ll not only protect yourself from manipulation, but help your partner identify their role in the dynamic.
“Stand your ground and no you have no reason to feel guilty for asserting your own needs, ” Panganiban says. If you are afraid to set boundaries out of a fear for your own safety, seek professional help to navigate the situation. While all relationships are a two-way street, compromise should never come at the expense of your well-being.