In between the abusive periods, is your husband vulnerable, loving, and making effort to change, or is he love bombing you?
Laurel, a member of the BTR.ORG community is on the podcast today, talking about 3 ways to know he’s love bombing you. Tune in and read the full transcript below for more.
False Vulnerability Is Love Bombing
Abusive husbands weaponize false vulnerability – they’ll abuse their wives then reel them back in by love bombing them with false vulnerability. This can look like:
- Confessing “sins”
- Admitting to affairs, porn use, dark secrets
- Opening up about their traumatic past relationships or traumatic childhood
- Admitting insecurities
Abusers use the concept of vulnerability to generate compassion from the victim to keep her in the relationship.
Is He Mirroring You? That’s Love Bombing
Often, abusive men use “Mirroring” to love bomb victims. This can be subtle, like mirroring the victim’s:
- Religious beliefs
- Family values
- Academic interests
- Political views
Or more specific, like mirroring the victim’s:
- Facial expressions
- Favorite foods
- Saying that he’s had the same experiences, dreams, or traumas as the victim
The abuser uses mirroring as a love bombing tool to generate feelings of intimacy and as a form of image management. This form of love bombing has the potential to make the victim believe that he relates to her; it may manipulate her into feeling seen and understood.
But How Do I Know It’s Love Bombing, And Not Just Life?
Many victims want to give the abuser the benefit of the doubt:
- Maybe he’s just going through a mid-life crisis
- Maybe he’s just stressed out and that’s why there are these extreme ups and downs
- Don’t all relationships go through periods of romance and connection and then pain?
Please understand that gaslighting, lying, secret pornography use, sexual coercion, and marital rape are NOT “just life”. They are NOT present in healthy marriages. If you are experiencing any of these abusive behaviors in your marriage, you are not safe. If the abuser shows vulnerability, mirroring, and other forms of love bombing in addition to overtly abusive psychological, emotional, and sexual behaviors, then you can be sure that the loving, vulnerable behaviors are simply his attempt to groom you into staying.
BTR.ORG Is Here For You
We believe you. We trust you. Listen to your intuition. Our Group Sessions can provide you with immediate support. We’re here for you.
Welcome to BTR.ORG. This is Anne. On today’s episode, we have a member of our community, we’re going to call her Laurel. She spent nearly two decades constantly scrambling to please and be enough for her unpleasable and abusive husband. She had vetted her partner for nearly a decade before marriage and she believed that he was the exact opposite of her abusive upbringing. She really genuinely thought that she was getting something different. And so little did she know that she had quite literally chosen a partner who was exactly like her abusive father in the end.
We’re gonna talk more about that, but the other part that’s really interesting that I can’t wait to get into is that this love bombing stuff that she experienced. I know a lot of our listeners have experienced that. She did experience love bombing, and her husband progressively gaslit her into believing that she was the source of every difficulty in their relationship and that her childhood abuse actually made her inferior and damaged. He used that against her and weaponize that against her, so she spent basically the entire marriage in therapy, working on herself to be enough. He was unfaithful; he also abused alcohol and all of that seemed to fuel his contempt for her. A lot of us have that experience. So without further ado, I wanna get it straight from her. Welcome, Laurel.
What Did The Love Bombing Look Like?
You’re about four years out of living with him, right?
So let’s go back to the beginning when you are vetting him for these years, looking for someone who’s not abusive, keeping in mind your own history of abuse from your own family. You talk about that love bombing at that time. What did that look like for you over those years?
“I Actually Did Not Know At the Beginning That I Was Looking at Love Bombing”
I actually did not know at the beginning that I was looking at love bombing. I didn’t know what I was dealing with because I did not know anything about narcissism or any of the terms that go along with it. We were friends for seven years before we ever started dating, and he used to call me on the phone and just leave a voicemail saying, “Marry me”, and hang up and not say anything else. But because he was always asking me to marry him and I thought he was just kidding, I thought it was a joke and I didn’t take it seriously. So we continued our friendship mostly long distance for several years.
We met in college, but then went away to our various experiences after that. He would continue to leave these voicemails for me and would continue to be what I thought was a friend at the time. When we started dating, he didn’t do those things at that time. He seemed like he had become a very mature person who was extremely patient, was very sure of himself, was deep into his relationship with God and exploring his faith.
Love Bombing in the Form of “Image Management”
He was kind outwardly, it seemed, to other people. What really struck me the most was how centered and calm and patient he seemed being able to handle adversity and how deep it seemed he was becoming in his faith. So although I experienced love bombing, I did not know that’s what it was at the time. It seemed to me that I was dealing with a person who was mature and was honest and decent. That’s what I thought I was getting into when we started dating.
This is interesting cause it’s not the form of love bombing and flowers or extravagant dates or something like that. But what you’re also describing is the type of grooming that is focused on image management, right? To make sure that, it doesn’t seem like it, but that he’s healthy and patient and spiritual and et cetera.
Correct. And what I have learned about narcissism since has helped to put some of the pieces together for me so that I see that he actually does that in all of his relationships. Whether they’re professional relationships in his artistic pursuits, whether they are work relationships, community relationships; I have seen him do this same pattern with everyone.
Narcissistic Abusers Often “Love Bomb” Everyone
Does he use different things with different people?
I’ve noticed this too. For example, if someone’s really interested in science, then he’s becoming more and more in tune with the scientific community or something. And if someone over here is more interested in being a vegan, then he’s learning more about the environment. Is he sort of like a chameleon in where he’s really growing and learning in what the other person is interested in?
Love Bombing & Mirroring the Victim
Absolutely. And looking back, I not only see that he did that with me regarding my faith, but also in our artistic pursuits. We both majored in the same artistic field, which is how we met. And when he was in graduate school for his artistic pursuit, one of his primary professors and advisors was very faithful and was studying to become a religious leader in his community. My ex, at the time, perhaps because of that professor’s interest, became very interested in his faith. Also, I think because of my interest in faith, that was something that he mirrored back to me as values that he held.
After we got married I did see that while we did attend a marriage workshop together and we talked about our faith and prayed together more at the beginning, the deeper we got in our relationship, the more I realized that that wasn’t who he really was.
At the end of our relationship he actually blamed me for all the time that he had ever spent in church. He made it out to be my fault, and that he should have been at home performing his artistic pursuits instead. What he said to me was, “I did everything I was supposed to do. I prayed, I gave money, I served in the church and all these positions and God didn’t give me what I wanted.”, talking about his artistic desires. And he said, “Therefore, F God.”, and he basically abandoned his faith like God was a vending machine. I now wonder if his faith was ever genuine or if he was just mirroring.
“His Grooming Was Very Systematic”
Or even thinking he could groom God: “If I convince God that I care about him, even though I don’t, if I convince God that I’m obedient, even though I’m not, if I convince God that I’m this certain type of person, then I’m going to get these blessings. So say my church people.”
Correct. Yeah. That behavior is consistent throughout all of the relationships I saw him hold in jobs and the arts and clearly with me and with his faith as well.
So his grooming was very systematic and extreme.
How Did Laurel’s Abuser “Self Assess”?
Toward the end of the relationship when I started to get a little bit smarter that things were really off, I was starting to Google all these things. I’m starting to read “narcissism, narcissism, narcissism”, and I’m like, what’s going on here?
I found some questionnaires online for narcissistic behaviors and relationships and I stripped the title off of it. I separated the questions out and put them into an Excel spreadsheet and we both took the questionnaire. He self-assessed as very high in narcissistic behaviors and relationship. He admitted in that questionnaire that he’d even lied to people in his professional career about his successes and qualifications in order to impress them and get ahead. Which was a shock to me. I did not know that he did that. And also he lied with intent, even, on the questionnaire because there were direct questions about stealing and hiding money and other things that I later found proof that he did, that he lied about on the questionnaire. So he would’ve assessed much higher. He did assess at a problematic level and it would’ve been much higher if he told the truth about all the things I later found out.
BTR.ORG Helps You Determine Your Level of Safety
That’s interesting cause you would think they would know how to take the test to not score highly. So it’s interesting that maybe they don’t. I don’t know.
We don’t diagnose here at BTR, right? We’re not a place that says, “Okay, come here; we’ll help you diagnose your ex.” What we do here is- women come to us and say, “These are the behaviors that I’m experiencing.” And we’re like, “Oh, that’s abusive, that’s abusive.” So regardless of the cause of the “cause”, whether they have a brain lesion or they’re a narcissist or they’re just abusive or something, we don’t ever quite know the reason. Our job here at BTR is to help get women to safety to help them start making their way to being emotionally and psychologically safe. So the reason I bring that up is, I’m not an expert in them taking tests, but that strikes me as really interesting. How did you feel about that when you got that back?
I was surprised by some of the things that he said that he did. Especially the one about lying to other people professionally was a big surprise to me. That’s just where I started to get a clue that things were more wrong than I thought they were.
Love Bombing & Manipulative Vulnerability
But he wanted you to know that.
Yes. And that’s a very interesting point because yes, he could have lied more. He lied about a lot of the things that had to do with me specifically, but did admit some of the others and we can only speculate as to why he did that and what the motive was. And we obviously don’t know whatever issue he actually has going on. But yes, this is a pervasive pattern of behaviors.
Absolutely. I wonder if it’s sort of a false vulnerability.
Hmm. That’s interesting.
So many women will tell me, “Well he did say that he had had an affair with his previous wife.”, or “He did say that he struggled with porn in high school.” So they feel like he’s being honest because if he were lying he wouldn’t have said that. It’s sort of like you can’t know if they’re being honest unless they tell you a little bit because they have to seem a little bit vulnerable, and so they pick and choose what they want you to know. I think that’s probably what was going on there. Is this a pseudo vulnerability in order to groom some more in order to control the narrative: “Yeah, I would never lie to you, but yeah, I have lied to these other people. Everybody does that, right?”? This is the “acceptable” form of lying over here: “I’m gonna admit to that because then it will make me seem more vulnerable.”
Love Bombing & False Victimhood
Yes. I think that’s very likely the case. And when I look back at the things that he did admit to before we ever started dating, they were things about poor him, how this or that relationship didn’t work out and he just doesn’t have any luck with relationships, et cetera, et cetera. There was a lot of that “poor me” victimhood, but it was more like a hapless, “Oh I’m just not lucky” kind of victimhood.
Mm-hmm <affirmative> rather than an outright “I was abused by my previous girlfriend” or something.
Correct. He did have a lot of resentment for other people who had money, wealth, status; people who had the kinds of professional successes in the arts that he wanted to have. So I did see a lot of that, but he masked the other things.
Trauma Mama Husband Drama
I’m gonna take a break here for just a second to talk about my book Trauma Mama Husband Drama. You can find it on our books page which has a curated list of all of the books that we recommend. My book Trauma Mama Husband Drama is a picture book for adults. So it is the easiest way for you to explain what’s going on to someone who might not understand it. It’s also just a good reference for yourself because it shows what’s happening with very telling and emotional illustrations as well as infographics at the back. When you go to our books page and click on any of those books, it just takes you directly to Amazon and you can throw those books in your cart after you have purchased the book. Please remember to circle back around Amazon and write a verified purchase review along with a five star rating that helps isolated women find us.
Abusive Grooming Explained
Back to our interview.
So you got grooming obviously while you’re dating and then you marry and you continue to have grooming episodes. The grooming periods don’t look like abuse at the time. They feel normal and good. If a hundred percent of the relationship was awful and felt terrible, women could pretty much figure out what was going on sooner rather than later. But they don’t recognize that those good times are grooming in their abuse as well. So this is happening. When do you start to see changes in how he’s treating you, and what did that look like?
When we were dating, he made sure to tell me all the time how he encouraged me to be myself, how it was okay to make mistakes, how it was okay to not be perfect, how I was allowed to show my vulnerabilities. But after we got married, the way that I was treated was different than that. So for example, we lived with his parents for the first few months after we were married. We lived in an extra space that they had. And I recall him coming back home from work one day where I was working on my thesis at the time and apparently I had not cleaned the room to his standards and he was very angry and very disapproving and withholding from me.
This was just within like the first month of marriage, and I remembered being surprised because it was so very different than the person that he had shown me for the past several years prior to that. That’s really my first inkling that things were not the way that they had been before we got married.
“What He Said Was Different Than What He Did”
Was your relationship mostly long distance before you got married?
Yes, it was. We met in college, in undergrad, and we knew each other for two years before we ended up going. I stayed to continue my undergrad and he went on for graduate school. So we were a few years apart in school.
I think that’s interesting too because when you say it changed, this happened with my relationship as well. I actually didn’t meet him in person for five months. I knew him online and through phone calls and stuff for three months and then I knew him in person for two months before I married him. Smart. Yeah. Anyway, I realized that when I thought, “He’s changed”, it wasn’t that. It’s just that I’d never actually been around him in person a lot and that what he said was different than what he did. Is that kind of your experience too, where he’d say, “Oh yeah, it’s so important to do this”, but then when he was actually there, he didn’t act according to the way that he had talked?
“After We Got Married is When It All Changed”
I only saw that change happen after marriage. So like you, we had a lot of telephone conversations. We wrote letters, we wrote emails, you know, cause that was a way back in the day. <laugh> We didn’t have all this video and all the other things we have now. When we were dating and before we got married, he was very much walking the talk during the short periods of time that we were together. But again, this is impression management, like you said, and after we got married is when it all changed. But in addition to that, another point that you made is that absolutely not- no woman would want to stay in a marriage where it was terrible all the time. Then, you’re right, it would be become obvious to us that something is wrong way after the fact.
I read Lindy Bancroft’s book, Why Does He Do That? and it was very eye-opening for me. Something he says in the book is that the good periods, just like you said, are as critical to the abuse cycle as everything else. And so there were plenty of good periods where it seemed like, “Oh, we’ve turned a corner again.” “He’s not raging at me anymore.” “He’s not throwing things, he’s not breaking things, he’s not…” you know. So while there were some overt things, it was the covert stuff in between that I didn’t recognize, and the good periods help to mask that.
The Intent of Love Bombing is to Mask Reality
Well, and that’s their intent. It doesn’t only just help to mask it, it’s the intent of the grooming: to mask it. I think it is abuse. Those good periods are also abuse because it’s not genuine. The intent is to control, and the intent is to control the narrative. And that’s so heartbreaking; a stab in our hearts when we realized that those good times weren’t actually good for us, they were bad for us.
Yes, it was very painful to look back. And also for me, in my particular situation, it was painful for me to look back and realize that the kind of relationship that I thought I had and the love that I thought I had was not reciprocated in the way that I perceive love. So looking back, it’s painful for me to say I don’t think my husband ever loved me the way that I perceive love should be.
And the other thing that’s hard for us to understand is that we genuinely loved them.
Always Pornography – This Dude? No Exception.
It’s like a true real love, and there was no grooming on our part. We were just being ourselves. Wrapping our head around that is just, ugh, it’s the worst when it comes to pornography. When did you realize that there was a pornography issue; that he was using?
I did not see any evidence of any kind of issue with pornography or problems with sex. In fact, he told me that he was intentionally celibate for seven years, for one period of his life because that was important to him. So I had no idea that any of that was going on until after we were no longer living with his parents. We had moved to another state. I was working on my thesis one day and I went to go look up something on the internet. I had started to type an address and all of this stuff came up- this huge long list of addresses that started with the same character I started typing and it was all these porn sites. I had no idea until then that this was happening.
BTR.ORG Is Here For You
I approached him about it because, number one, I was horrified and I felt ashamed. I was embarrassed because I felt like something about me must be wrong; that I’m not enough for you that you need to go look at porn. And we had this conversation and he was angry at me, which was interesting. But in addition to that, I was also upset because that computer held all of our professional artistic work- my thesis, his professional artistic work. And if it got infected with something from one of these porn sites, we could have lost everything.
Laurel and I are going to pause the conversation here and continue next week, so stay tuned. If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. And until next week, stay safe out there.