How to know if your partner is love bombing you or if they're just anxious, according to a therapist
- Love bombing, or showering a new partner with attention and gifts then withholding intimacy later on, is an abuse tactic.
- Someone with relationship anxiety may love bomb their partner in an attempt to lessen their fear, but that isn't always the case.
When a new partner showers you with fancy dinner dates, flashy jewelry, and lots of compliments, the gestures can feel chivalrous.
But as you get to know each other, they may start to make their gifts into conditional rewards, only doling them out when you spend lots of time together or say exactly what they want to hear. Soon, you could feel suffocated and scared that if you step out of line, your partner will blow up, only to beg for forgiveness and shower you with even more gifts, continuing the cycle.
It's a classic case of love bombing, or when someone showers their new partner with gifts and attention right away, then later withholds intimacy or becomes physically or verbally violent. Love bombing recently became a criminal offense in the UK, signaling that the manipulation tactic can cause true harm and is indeed a form of abuse.
The intentional nature of love bombing is what makes it so insidious, according to trauma-informed therapist Amelia Kelley.
She told Insider that people who love bomb their partners are doing so from a place of insecurity. Deep down, they fear that their partner won't like them for their true self or will leave them, so they act out in unhealthy and abusive ways.
According to Kelley, relationship anxiety can "birth" love bombing. But that's not always the case, as there are plenty of people who feel anxiety at the beginning of a relationship and then learn to communicate their fears to their partner without trying to control them.
She said that a partner's true intentions will show as the relationship progresses.
Love bombing is a control tactic rooted in insecurity
When someone starts to love bomb their partner, it can look like they're being sweet or loving, Kelley said.
Insider previously spoke with a woman who said her ex-boyfriend exhibited love bombing, calling their first date "the best day he ever had" during it, then saying he loved her after just a month of dating. As their relationship progressed, he would pick fights if she didn't answer his texts, which came at all hours of the day. After fights, he would shower her with gifts like chocolate and money, she said.
Indeed, love bombers tend to lean into grand gestures like taking their partner on extravagant trips or buying them expensive gifts "just because." It could also look like lots of praise, always agreeing with their partner, or remembering everything their partner says or does, Kelley said.
But as time goes on, the intent of the love bomber's acts become more clear because they begin to withhold gifts and kindness as a manipulation tactic, only acting in loving ways when their partner does or says what they want, Kelly said. They do this consciously as a way to maintain control of the person they want to keep around, she said.
Anxiety also comes from insecurity
When someone acts out of anxiety in the early stages of a relationship, it can look similar to love bombing, Kelley said.
At the beginning of any relationship, it's common for someone to put their best self forward, complimenting their partner often or treating them to dinner and gifts as signs of their commitment. Someone with anxiety could even do these things, or act in a certain manner, because they feel like if they don't, they will be left and their fear will be actualized.
Anxiety and love bombing are both rooted in the fear of losing someone. But the difference between the two comes down to the decision to act on those insecure feelings, Kelley said.
When a relationship evolves in a healthy way, partners who first acted out of anxiety will naturally become more comfortable with being their true selves around each other, Kelley said. They also typically become more comfortable voicing their fear of being left to their partner as a way to soothe themselves, rather than using manipulative tactics to keep their partner around.
How to know if you're being love bombed — and what to do
Someone who handles their anxiety in a productive and healthy way might say something like, "Hey, I sometimes tend to fear you're going abandon me. I wanted to let you know, so if I'm getting a little insecure, you know why," Kelley said.
Love bombing, on the other hand, could lead someone to have thoughts like, "I'm feeling insecure and I can't lose this person. I need to do whatever I can to get them to obsess and attach to me," Kelley said.
Though a victim of love bombing may never know their love bomber's true inner thoughts, recognizing patterns of manipulation can help them see this isn't a healthy or sustainable dynamic, according to Kelley.
She said that it's possible for a love bomber to change their behavior, but it's unlikely they will unless the victim calls them out and they want to save the relationship. That doesn't happen often, she said.
"The problem is that love bombing is pragmatic, and kind of like slow boiling water. Even though it can come out fast and furious, it's very strategic manipulation," Kelley said.
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