It’s hard to predict how any new relationship will turn out. But this does not mean that every aspect of love and dating has to be a mystery. In fact, you can avoid a lot of heartache just by knowing a few research-backed ways to detect clear warning signs.
If you are stuck in a pattern of toxic relationships or have a tendency to pick the wrong Mr./Ms. Right, psychological research suggests three ways to approach your relationships with a more discerning eye.
#1. Don’t let yourself live on crumbs
A ‘breadcrumber’ is an individual who leads someone on romantically without any clear plans to pursue the relationship. Breadcrumbing can leave you feeling exploited because it forces you to invest time and effort into a false narrative.
A ‘hot-and-cold’, non-committal attitude is the hallmark of a breadcrumber. The most effective way to address a breadcrumber is to identify their behavior early in the relationship. According to an article published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the following signs are indicative of breadcrumbing:
- Faking enthusiasm to get together but never seriously following through. Breadcrumbers do this by never finalizing a date or coming up with excuses on the day of.
- Talking about shared interests to show a sense of connection.
- Dropping small texts, often memes or social media posts, to maintain the false pretense of a relationship without investing too much time and effort.
- Communicating erratically without any explanation to create the false sense that something may be wrong.
- Texting based on convenience.
- Indicating interest in sex but not spending non-physical time together.
The best way to confront a breadcrumber is to put them on the spot. Call out their lukewarm signals and demand an explanation for their behavior. The more lenient you are with a breadcrumber, the more you prolong your suffering.
Giving clear signals from your end might even encourage the breadcrumber to take a solid stand on the relationship. It is important to remember that people don’t always lay breadcrumbs for their own personal gain, they could be trying to protect themselves from heartache just like you.
#2. Take cover from love bombs
We usually expect manipulative behaviors to be stealthy, but a love bomber uses nonstop grand gestures of ‘love’ to turn a romantic relationship into a soft prison. Love bombing is a form of manipulation characterized by excessive displays of affection, gifts, and attention early in a relationship as a means to gain control over another person. Love bombers typically have a history of broken relationships and feel the need to be in constant control.
According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Arkansas, what lies behind the facade of extravagant gestures of love is a fragile self-esteem.
To avoid being swept over by the charms of a love bomber, you can follow two simple steps:
- Set boundaries and assert your independence. It is important to let your partner know what is and isn’t acceptable to you to avoid being overwhelmed by them. Just because your partner showers you with excessive displays of affection does not mean that you owe them all your time and space.
- Test your partner by gently refusing their extravagant gifts and gestures. If they are a love bomber, this might not sit well with them. If they still continue to give you unnecessary amounts of attention, it will be clear that they do not respect your boundaries in the relationship.
#3. Call out emotional cheating
We often ignore our inner voice when it tries to warn us about something that might be going wrong in our relationship, especially with a phenomenon as ambiguous as emotional cheating.
The gray area of emotional infidelity or forming deep, emotional, relationship-like bonds outside of one’s primary relationship can hurt people just as much as sexual infidelity. Emotional cheating also leads to lasting feelings of betrayal, jealousy, and insecurity.
Technology and social media have made emotional cheating a common theme in today’s dating milieu. Here are two ways a partner might cheat on you emotionally:
- Too much flirting. The line between harmless flirting and a ‘flirtationship’ is defined by regularity and secrecy. If your partner keeps returning to the same person for their flirtation kick, it may be time to have a conversation about it.
- Oversharing. When someone begins to share intimate information about your relationship with someone outside of it, it can snag the fabric of your emotional bond. A study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin confirms that a person experiencing emotional intimacy outside their relationship is more likely to be unfaithful sexually as well.
If you suspect your partner to be cheating on you emotionally or simply want to establish boundaries to avoid emotional infidelity, the best option is to have an open and detailed conversation with your partner. It is always helpful to bring a mental health expert into the conversation as complex issues like emotional infidelity can be tricky to navigate alone.
Bonus tip: stop playing yourself
If things keep falling out of place in your love life even after following all possible precautions, it might be time to come to terms with the fact that you are getting in your own way.
Self-sabotage in one’s love life does not get the attention it often deserves because we usually try to project all of our problems onto our partners. We do not consider what we bring to our relationship because we’re so busy raising our own standards.
If you have a history of sabotaging your relationships, psychologist Raquel Peel recommends working on five elements of your relationship: trust, commitment, communication, safety, and acceptance. You’d be surprised how much your relationship changes once you recognize and resolve your own toxic patterns.
“Although we do not have much control over what others will do and how they might behave when in a relationship with us, we can work on ourselves,” says Peel. “Learning about your fears and reasons for self-protection can teach you ways to navigate the experience of feeling vulnerable and be open to the possibility of connecting with others in a more genuine way.”