The Love Bombing Cycle: All The Phases, Explained

When it comes to love, there's nothing like the beginning of a new relationship. You and your new boo are totally sweet on each other, you spend all your time together, and things couldn't feel more perfect. But when the honeymoon phase fades, people show their true colors. If you find that one minute you and your partner are totally in love, then the next minute you feel like everything is your fault, you may be a victim of love bombing.

Love bombing is a form of manipulation that often happens when you've fallen in love with a narcissist. The love bomber will do everything they can to seem like the perfect partner, from buying extravagant gifts to giving their partner all their attention. But once their victim's defenses are down, they begin to sabotage the relationship they've built. Victims of love bombing have found that they have become isolated from their other relationships with family and friends and have even felt a loss of identity amid their unhealthy relationship.

If your relationship feels too good to be true, watch out for these signs and stages of love bombing.

At first, love bombing may make you feel extra special

Relationship coach Jillian Turecki analyzed the cycle of love bombing and found that it happens in four distinct stages: love bombing, devaluing, discarding, and hovering. She explains, "Love bombing drawers in their supply of attention and validation, but it is a false image they are presenting and the mask soon slips." In the beginning, the relationship consists of excessive communication, expensive gifts, and an overt amount of affection. A narcissistic love bomber will make their partner feel so good and loved that they couldn't imagine their lives without them. The recipient of love bombing will begin to feel dependent on their partner, with the expectation that they will continue to receive this form of love.

The first phase of love bombing is difficult to differentiate from the honeymoon phase that most relationships experience. The main distinction is that love bombing is primarily from one partner to another, in the narcissistic partner's attempt to gain control over their other partner. While this takes the form of what seems to be thoughtful, romantic gestures, they often go overboard.

The second phase of love bombing leaves you feeling devalued

After the narcissistic partner has showered you with gifts and effectively established the relationship expectation, they will completely subvert it almost overnight. Suddenly, a partner that was extremely loving and generous becomes cold and judgmental. Victims of love bombing often remember the beginning of their relationship when they were showered in gifts and affection and wonder what they have done wrong to be deprived of the love they once received. This allows the love bomber to easily manipulate and withhold affection in order to feel in control of the other person. According to The New York Times, Psychology professor Dr. Chitra Raghavan discussed patterns of behavior in love bombing cycles: "You lose the sense of who you are because little things are being managed for you and these little things can be anything from how you dress to how you present yourself."

It also manifests in everything from how you speak to how your manipulative partner perceives you. The love bomber won't be shy when telling you how they feel about your shortcomings and may often gaslight you if you try to defend yourself. People in cycles of love bombing feel like their partner is constantly evaluating them and often feel like they don't measure up. Victims of love bombing often remember the beginning of their relationship when they were showered in gifts and affection and wonder what they have done wrong to be deprived of the love they once received.

Your love bombing partner may suddenly leave in phase three

Once a victim of love bombing has experienced excessive criticism, gaslighting, and emotional manipulation, the love bomber will begin to pull the rug out from under their partner. By phase three of this vicious cycle, most recipients of love bombing are so wounded and devastated by their partner's drastic change in behavior that they are no longer interesting to manipulate. This causes the love bomber to either leave the relationship with little warning or push away their partner and cause a break up.

In their partner's absence, the victim of love bombing is often left with low self-esteem, confusion, and feelings of guilt. Love bombing is one of the sneakier forms of emotional abuse in relationships since many of the victims feel that they are the reason for their mistreatment even after the relationship has seemingly ended; from their point of view, it must be their fault for no longer receiving the love and affection they were once given by their love bomber. Because of this, it can be hard for people to move on to new, healthier relationships.

In phase four, the cycle of manipulation continues

Just when you think the love bombing cycle has ended, the narcissistic partner will return with more manipulation tactics. The biggest red flag in the fourth phase of love bombing is the increased amount of gifts and affection that will begin again in an attempt to rekindle a relationship. According to relationship coach Jillian Turecki, "They may try to prove how much they have changed, reach out for help, [or] claim they will never find anyone that compares to you." 

A love bombing partner may also repeatedly cross boundaries in an attempt to control someone — they may continue contacting their ex after a breakup or showing up to places they know they can find their partner to see how they will respond and how easily they can manipulate their ex's emotional state. It may seem like they have genuine regret, but in reality, they most likely missed the control they felt while in a relationship. Unfortunately, the cycle often continues because the victim of love bombing has been manipulated into thinking that their partner is genuine when they begin to receive the familiar love they enjoyed in phase one. 

If you've been love bombed, here's how to cope

While being a victim of love bombing absolutely feels personal, psychotherapist Ami Kaplan told Cosmopolitan that your partner is usually not love bombing on purpose – it's more of a subconscious symptom of narcissism. "It's about really getting the other person. Then, when they feel like they really got the person and feel secure in the relationship, the narcissist typically switches and becomes very difficult, abusive, or manipulative," Kaplan revealed. Although love bombing can be unintentional, that doesn't make it any less harmful. If you have experienced love bombing in a prior or current relationship, there are ways to cope that will help you heal for your next relationship.

The most effective way to end the cycle of love bombing is to end the abusive relationship and cut off communication altogether. Don't allow your ex to entice you with gifts, big promises, or even guilt. It is easy to long for the early stages when you felt loved and adored, especially when your partner has lowered your self-esteem. Going no contact with the love bomber is the best way to begin healing.

After you have cut ties, experts recommend identifying what a healthy relationship looks like and what narcissistic red flags to watch out for. People with traumatic pasts and vulnerable relationships with their families are at higher risk of falling for narcissists. Victims of love bombing have also found success with the help of a trusted mental health specialist.