One of the most universally compelling experiences is the beginning of a new relationship. The feeling is like no other. You just met someone new and special, and the chemistry is electric. Suddenly you are swept up in a whirlwind of romance. They shower you with affection, shower you with compliments and pretend to be your knight in shining armor.
Dreamy, right? They seem eager to get involved. They are spontaneous and romantic. They are protective and caring. In the heat of the moment, this can feel like a perfect romance. However, research shows that these behaviors could be potential warning signs in disguise. As intoxicating as a budding romance can be, it’s important to remember that love can sometimes wear rose-colored glasses, glasses that make red flags look green.
1. Love bombing
Imagine Sarah, who just started dating Alex and was completely overwhelmed by his overwhelming affection. From the moment they met, Alex showered Sarah with grand gestures of love and affection. He sent her flowers every day, wrote her love letters and constantly assured her of his eternal devotion. Sarah, in love, felt like she was living in a fairy tale. She enjoyed the thrill of being showered with affection and feeling cherished by Alex’s passionate expressions of love.
Many in Sarah’s position would assume Alex is a catch; feeling loved and appreciated is something everyone longs for. However, this endearing behavior isn’t necessarily a green flag. In the early stages of a relationship, excessive grand gestures and displays of attention and affection can be a sign of love bombing: a big red flag in disguise.
According to research, individuals who engage in these excessive displays of affection may struggle with insecurities rooted in their attachment style. Those with an insecure attachment may seek validation and reassurance from their partners as a means of filling a void or soothing underlying fears.
The researchers discovered that many love bombers actually have low self-esteem. This may cause them to view excessive displays of affection as a way to boost their self-esteem and avoid feelings of inadequacy. From this perspective, love-bombing acts as a coping mechanism and a guaranteed source of security.
Further research shows that love bombing can indicate much darker intentions, and can serve four dangerous functions:
- Appendix. To show how strongly the person feels and how committed he/she is to the relationship, and to track and record the development of a strong, pervasive bond.
- Virtue signaling. To prove how pure, authentic and well-intentioned the love bomber is.
- Gas lighting. To place the target in an immersive bubble where they are manipulated into believing in a shared fantasy – an almost cult-like experience.
- Incitement to addiction. To lure the target into a self-centered illusion in which they are idolized, creating an addictive cycle that reinforces the love bombers’ control.
Once the relationship has developed, love bombers may occasionally withhold affection from their target. Placed in an ongoing cycle, the target can become addicted to the thrill of regaining the love and affection they once received unconditionally. The constant switching between the cold shoulder and adoration can put the target in an emotionally manipulative relationship.
At the beginning of a budding romance, it’s crucial to trust your instincts. Pay attention to the subtleties of your interactions. Real love is consistent, patient, and respectful of boundaries. Most importantly, true love is something that grows slowly over time; the speed at which your relationship develops should always be closely monitored. Remember, love is not about grand gestures or constant reassurance, but rather about quiet moments of connection and support.
Imagine Michael, a devoted friend who always put his girlfriend Emily first. He cared for her very much, was constantly concerned about her whereabouts and always volunteered to accompany her wherever she went. Emily felt flattered by Michael’s attention. She appreciated his protective nature and the sense of security it provided, and cherished and appreciated his unwavering commitment to her safety and well-being.
In Emily’s shoes, it’s easy to see Michael as a dream partner. After all, who doesn’t want to feel cherished and protected? Yet this seemingly ideal behavior may not be as comforting as it seems. Michael’s seemingly desirable actions may actually be a sign of a deeper problem, camouflaged as a caring concern.
According to research, there is a fine line between protection and overprotection – and crossing it can lead to possessiveness and distrust. An overprotective partner may try to rationalize their behavior by downplaying its negative implications, emphasizing that he or she is “just looking out for you” or that this is “what any good partner would do.” While this is an enticing story, it also masks the underlying problems.
While caring for a partner’s well-being is undeniably important, it is equally important to recognize when protection becomes the domain of control. Real care should not begin and end with safety and vigilance. It’s also about respecting boundaries, trusting a partner’s judgment, and supporting their autonomy. In contrast, controlling behavior attempts to limit freedom and independence, ultimately eroding the foundation of a healthy relationship.
In a whirlwind romance, it’s all too easy to turn a blind eye to red flags waving furiously before us, especially the ones that seem green at first glance. Perhaps it is out of fear of hurting our partner’s feelings, or the nagging fear of being alone, that we are unsure whether we will find someone better. Whatever the reason, ignoring these warning signs can lead us down a path of eventual sadness. By doing this, we are betting against ourselves and risking our own happiness and well-being in the process.
Not sure what signals you’re receiving in your relationship? Take the evidence-based Relationship Satisfaction Scale to get clarity.