Love bombing: Affection today. Abuse tomorrow.

On Valentine’s Day 2021, we ran the #FleetingLove campaign to highlight how abusers shower their partners with affection as another chance to use coercive control. 

#FleetingLove gives a stark reminder of how ‘love bombing’ can play a part in the cycle of abuse. Just like in real life, abuser’s romantic words are soon replaced with intimidating behaviour and other forms of abuse.  

Women in abusive relationships live their lives in a hyper-alert, anxious state, not knowing what mood or message awaits them each day.

We’ve put together some information about love-bombing and coercive control from the work we do on the frontline supporting survivors of abuse.

What is love bombing?

Physical violence is only one aspect of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse can involve a wide range of abusive and controlling behaviour, including threats, harassment, financial control and emotional abuse.

Love bombing is where an abusive partner is bombarding ‘love’ onto their victim and is part of emotional abuse and coercive control. It could include excessive affection, excessive compliments, declarations of love, gifts and praise. It may also be wanting to move quickly into a commitment because they ‘can’t live without you’, showering of gifts or lavish treatment, and promises of a perfect life together.  

Love bombing can be part of early signs of abuse in a relationship, what we often call ‘red flags’. It can also be used in the ‘reconciliation’ phase of the abuse cycle, especially after an incident of abuse.

Love bombing becomes an effective tool to abusers as they exert coercive control over a partner. This quick acceleration of romance quickly breaks down barriers we put up, it causes us to become attached to our perpetrator, they ‘hook’ us into the relationship. This strategic affection and declarations of love are also accelerated when the abuser feels they are losing their control, that the survivor may be wanting to flee or to make up for an abusive incident. They promise the survivor a future with them that she ‘could’ put up with.

Identifying love bombing and coercive control 

An abusive person is rarely abusive at the beginning of a relationship, as very few women will get involved with someone who is abusive from the very start. In this way, some abusers need to charm their victim in order to ensnare them. There has to be a hook. Healthy excitement at a new potential partner is good. However, here are some warning signs of an abusive relationship that you can look out for: 

  • Fast relationship progression –the abuser can be intense and seek early and premature commitment
  • Constant affection and gifts 
  • Speaking very soon about relationships, soul mates, marriage, moving in together.
  • Jealousy or always wanting to be with you or in contact with you.
  • Lots of compliments but little real conversation or listening
  • They get upset when you put boundaries in place.
  • They get annoyed when you have other plans or get the ‘hump’
  • Trying to “take over” the woman’s life, for example by offering to solve her accommodation, child or work-related problems
  • Try to disable women through the support that they offer, stepping into the decision making process and encouraging reliance on him/her very early on  

These gradual attempts to isolate women and gain control over them by using charm and jealousy/possession disguised as care, sets the picture for an abuser to begin using behaviours in order to keep the woman under their control.

How it feels to experience love bombing

Although everyone’s experience of abuse in a relationship is unique, here are some of the common effects of love-bombing.

  • It breaks down a survivor’s walls and makes her invest in the perpetrator as he is ‘too good to be true’. She is flattered into love.
  • We often hear women saying it all felt ‘too good to be true’ and use terms like ‘he seemed perfect at the beginning’, ‘I was the apple of his eye at the start’ or ‘he was the dream man’.
  • It keeps the survivor hopeful when it all goes bad (the reconciliation part of the abuse cycle).
  • It can give survivors false hope of a real loving relationship and an incentive to stay with the abuser.
  • It sometimes makes survivors feel guilty to leave as they owe the perpetrator another chance due to kind behaviour.
  • It gives the abuser something to look back on, ‘we started to well, let’s get back to that’, which is called ‘retrospective trauma bonding’.
  • It can leave survivors feeling confused, isolated and exhausted

Emily’s Story

In the early days of our relationship I remember my ex-partner was so overly affectionate and full on. It started pretty soon after we got together – he would buy me lovely gifts and take me on elaborate dates, I was really flattered and amazed that he was doing so much to impress me. He always said ‘I’m obsessed with you’ and ‘you’re the first person I’ve ever felt like this about’ – it made me feel really special but looking back it was a red flag that things weren’t right. Our relationship moved really quickly – he wanted to meet all my friends, and soon he didn’t want me to see them without him. He said it was just because he wanted to be with me all the time – I had no space to be myself. 

He pressured me to move in with him and got me to change jobs, and always masked his controlling action as his care for me ‘I’m trying to show you how much I care’ he would say and ‘I’m doing it all for your own good’. 

We had some really good times – especially when we went away on holiday and had a break from reality – he showed me type of person I wanted him to be. But as soon as it came, it disappeared again and I was left waiting and hoping that things would be good again.

When the physical abuse started he used to use affection and gifts to make me stay, to make me think he cared, to make me forgive him. I remember one night he attacked me violently and the next day he was so being kind and asking what food I would really fancy and where he could take me for dinner. It was so confusing at the time – now I can see it was all part of the control and manipulation of an abusive relationship.

What to do if you’re worried about your relationship

If you have concerns about your relationship, are feeling uncomfortable or worried about some of the ‘red flags’ we’ve identified, remember you are not alone and there is support available to talk things through and you can get if you need to. 

Listen to yourself and ask yourself some questions about your relationship – if things feel ‘off’ then try talking about it with someone you trust or 

  • How does the pace of the relationship progression make you feel?
  • Do you like texting/speaking to them all the time?
  • Ask yourself questions around genuine connection, shared interests.
  • I’d say that its ok to want to be loved because it feels good, but love bombing isn’t obvious. We often do not see the signs as our abusers don’t want us to.
  • What have they been like when you’ve made plans with others?

Get advice or support

Everyone has the right to feel safe and comfortable in their relationship. If you want to get some advice and help there are many support services available

Solace Advice Line – 0808 802 5565

24hr National Domestic Violence Helpline – 0808 2000 247

If you are in immediate danger contact the police on 999

Lydia’s story

When Lydia met her partner he was obsessed with her, he would want to see her all the time and check up on her all the time. At the time she thought this was romantic. When she tried to break up with him after he became abusive he wouldn’t let her, he said he would change and that he loved her. He would call her phone every second of the day for 2 days straight so she couldn’t receive any calls until she picked up. He would say he would harm himself if she broke up with him. The abuse she suffered included coercive control and isolation as well as violent physical and sexual abuse. Her abuser made threats to get others to harm her, threats to kill and sold her pet without her knowing.