‘Love bombing’ explained and signs that someone really cares about you
You may have noticed the term ‘love bombing’ in your newsfeed lately – it came up with Kanye West and his displays of affection for Julia Fox, and in a recent episode of Australian Story with the writer, Stephanie Wood.
Relationships are complex and so is the subject of “love bombing”. To help you figure it all out, we talked to Lata Satyen and Rowen Burckhardt about the term and how to tell if someone really cares about you.
What is love bombing?
Love bombs are described as grand gestures or displays of affection, usually at the start of a new relationship, says Dr. Satyen, who teaches psychology at Deakin University.
It’s a subjective term, so “grand gestures” can take many forms.
For one person, that might mean a night at the movies or constantly receiving compliments, and for others, that might mean a date at a five-star restaurant or receiving expensive gifts.
Although it’s a hot topic of conversation right now, the idea of ’love bombing’ has been around for centuries, says Dr. Satyen.
“Historically, kings or potential mate suitors would always have grand gestures of affection,” she says.
Splurging on your date or showering someone with compliments doesn’t seem like a crime — after all, it’s nice to feel appreciated. But there’s a dark history with this way of getting someone’s attention that some experts say can lead to dangerous territory.
Love bombing wasn’t a concept that originally started in intimate relationships – this concept was invented by cult leaders of the Unification Church in the United States to recruit new members by constantly showering them with praise and affection, as a means of targeting and enticing people to join their cult.
Now it is used in the context of relationships to describe a person who showers their new partner with affection, gifts, and compliments, then stops when they get what they want or uses it as a tactic to take control of his relationship.
It can also happen in long-term relationships and that’s why some psychologists say it can be a sign of the beginning of an unhealthy relationship.
“When the person showing this grand gesture wants something back or their personality or behavior changes, that’s when it can be a danger sign,” adds Dr Satyen.
‘Love bombing’ or genuine interest?
Part of the process (and the fun) of dating is getting to know someone new — which includes understanding the different ways people give and receive love.
That’s why Dr. Rowan Burckhardt says jumping to conclusions about ‘love bombing’ can be counterproductive — and he says it’s not always a useful lens for assessing relationships.
“Love bombs view relationships as emotionally abusive or not,” says Dr Burckhardt, director of a Sydney-based couples counseling centre.
“People end up excluding themselves from relationships and end up feeling alone because they analyze every possible bad behavior.”
Acknowledging the many people who have lost their lives to domestic violence in all its forms and the victim-survivors who are still healing from their trauma today is one of the reasons Dr. Burckhardt encourages further examination of the behaviors called “love bombing”.
“What constitutes abusive behavior becomes that category, that you can very quickly fill that basket with a lot of stuff,” he says.
“What we [start to do] that is, any behavior, even the slightest bit bad, we put into that same category and that line starts to slip.
“We first have to be able to differentiate and read what our judgment of that person is.
“Or [are these grand gestures] derived from? And that only happens when we have the mental flexibility to be open-minded.”
These grand gestures may have signaled the “perfect partner” in your range of options initially, but thinking about the situation will help find true partners in the future, says Dr. Burckhardt.
“We are all imperfect and sometimes we allow ourselves to be seduced by excessive affection,” he says.
“That person [might not] being abusive, and that was that we couldn’t see through, and didn’t appreciate other people knocking quietly on our door and mentioning that they liked us.”
A helpful approach to dating
If you have the slightest idea that something is wrong, or if you are not sure what these grand gestures mean, here are some ways to help you, without jeopardizing your new relationship.
Dr. Sayten says it’s important to note how often these gestures occur and whether they’re discussed privately or always in front of others.
“It’s about how they show these grand gestures,” she says.
“Is it at regular intervals or is it really spaced out? Are they just discussing it among you or constantly in front of others as if they need to show off?”
If you’ve decided to end your relationship, Dr. Burckhardt recommends reflecting on your experience — both negative and positive — and using those learnings to help you find your next partner.
“There’s going to be a learning process to clarify and refine what’s important to us,” he says.
“We can make mistakes, but rather than adopting this ‘love bombing’ mentality, we can use negative experiences to help clarify what we are looking for, what we want and what we value. [in a partner].”
It might also be helpful to write down some of these qualities, so that when the whirlwind of emotions and hormones hits you, it will help you make a decision.
Three questions Dr. Burckhardt recommends thinking about:
- 1.Are they able to maintain their interest in me over time?
- 2.Are they a bit more consistent in their behavior?
- 3.What are their character and their ethical principles?
ABC Everyday in your inbox
Get our newsletter for the best of ABC Everyday every week