Ah, the honeymoon phase. During the beginning of a relationship, everything feels so exciting as you're getting to know each other—it's a sweet time. With that in mind, when the term "love bomb" entered the zeitgeist recently, the way some people viewed what they perceived as healthy early relationship behavior started to change.
For the unfamiliar, love bombing is when someone—often a narcissist—employs emotionally manipulative tactics such as flattery, over-the-top gestures, and excessive affection early in a relationship as a way to control their target. As a result, many people on social media (we're looking at you, TikTok) began confusing love bombing with pure infatuation and early relationship bliss, both of which are perfectly normal and healthy at the start of a budding romance.
To help differentiate love bombing and healthy, honeymoon phase behavior, licensed therapist Ce Anderson, LPC, shares some tangible tips.
1. Differentiate between compliments and flattery
Dishing out compliments in the early stages of a relationship is totally normal. However, distinguishing between compliments and flattery is often tricky and where things start to toe the line between healthy and love bombing. To differentiate the two, it's essential to understand their definition.
A compliment, Anderson says, is simply a polite expression that is reality-based, comes from a true authentic appreciation, and has no ulterior motive. For instance, a compliment could be someone saying they appreciate the way you did something.
On the other hand, Anderson says, flattery is a love bombing tactic that is more exaggerated, excessive, insincere, and can feel out of place. It can include words like "you are the most..." or "you're the best..." Often, Anderson adds, a love bomber can use flattery to compare their target to others and, in turn, villainize another person, such as an ex (e.g., "You're so much smarter than my ex."). And, unlike genuine compliments, Anderson says flattery is done in hopes of gaining a favor of some sort as a result, such as building someone's trust and disarming how they intuitively perceive them. They are basically trying to butter you up with flattery to further their interests.
2. Notice if they seem to like everything you like
According to Anderson, when you're starting to date someone, you'll likely bond over similarities and shared interests. Maybe you're into the same type of movies or love the same foods, for instance. In the case of love bombing, though, Anderson notes that the love bomber tries to become their target's manufactured soulmate by essentially becoming a copy of them and using phrases like "we have so much in common" or "we're made for each other."
However, in a healthy partnership, you'll also have differences in opinions and interests. So, distinguishing between healthy early relationship vibes and love bombing comes down to noticing if the other person is expressing and valuing the differences between you versus simply liking everything you like as a form of manipulation.
3. Pay attention to how they respect your time
In the early stages of a relationship, it's normal to feel giddy to spend more time together and express your excitement for the next time you get to chat, hang out, or go on a date night. But Anderson says that if the other person desires to spend a copious amount of time with you, has no sense of individualization of your obligations or theirs, inserts themselves into your plans, and says seemingly romantic things like "I just want to be with you every moment of every day"— that leans into love bombing territory and should be considered a relationship red flag.
Anderson adds that the love bomber may also try to get you to spend all your time with them by saying things like: "Those people don't deserve someone as good as you. You're better off with only me." While this may initially come off as thoughtful and protective, it is just another possessive tactic to control and isolate their target from others.
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