When we think about Valentine’s Day, we tend to think about cliché images of romance; teddy bears, chocolates, flowers, cards covered in hearts. What we are less likely to think about is the context around these romantic gestures.

The National Centre for Domestic Violence estimates that roughly 1 in 5 adults experience domestic abuse during their lifetime, with 2 out of every 3 victim/survivors being female (NCDV, 2022). For people who have experienced domestic abuse, a bouquet of flowers may not simply be a romantic gesture, but a reminder of the cycle of abuse that they once were caught within.

In 1979, psychologist Lenore E. Walker developed her theory of the cycle of abuse. Within this cycle, reconciliation plays a vital role in persuading the victim/survivor to remain in the abusive relationship. Flowers and chocolates may seem to be simple, sweet gestures of affection, but they can play a major role in perpetuating a pattern of coercion which allows a perpetrator to maintain power and control in a relationship.

More recently, domestic abuse scholars Catherine Donovan, Marianne Hester, and Rebecca Barnes have named these strategic uses of affection “practices of love”. These practices of love, shown through expressions of neediness, gift giving, and declarations of love and affection, motivate the victim/survivor to stay in the relationship, and encourage them to feel a sense of duty or indebtedness to their abuser (Donovan and Hester, 2014; Donovan and Barnes, 2020).

Amiee Kealey, Team Leader for Foundation Durham’s Domestic Abuse Navigator (DAN) Team, says:

“In a healthy relationship, showing declarations of love is a welcomed gift, however, for victims and survivors, these declarations of love can fill them with fear and anticipation. Love bombing becomes an effective tool that abusers use to exert coercive control over a partner, who become attached to the perpetrator. They ‘hook’ victims into the relationship.

Declarations of love are also accelerated when the abuser feels they are losing their control, that the survivor may be wanting to flee, or to make up for an abusive incident. They promise the survivor a future with them where they could live together and be happy.”

Adam Kirkbride, Project Officer for +Choices, Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Programme, says:

“Love is an incredibly powerful motivator. When perpetrators feel a lack of power and control in their lives, they use the idea of love as a way to regain that power and control. But strategic and coercive practices of love are not conducive to a loving, respectful relationship.

True love is free from fear and abuse. It is constant, not tactical. It empowers all partners equally and is founded on one’s ability to withstand challenges without hurting the people who support you.

Love should motivate us to be better partners, but never at the expense of our own sense of freedom or safety.”

If you are worried that your partner may be using abusive behaviours in your relationship, you can access IDAS’ healthy relationships checklist here: Healthy Relationships Checklist (idas.org.uk).

If you are experiencing domestic abuse, there is support available for you:
For those in County Durham, call Foundation Durham on 0191 3862303.
For those in North Yorkshire, IDAS is available for support on 03000 110 110.
National resources can be found on the government website: Domestic abuse: how to get help – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

If you are worried about your own behaviour in relationships, there are programmes that can help you:
For those in North Yorkshire and the City of York, you can call +Choices on 01904 557491.
For those in County Durham, call Harbour on 03000 20 25 25.
The Respect phoneline is a national resource for those causing harm in relationships: 0808 802 4040.


Catherine Donovan and Marianne Hester, Domestic violence and sexuality: What’s love got to do with it? (Policy, 2014).

Catherine Donovan and Rebecca Barnes, Queering Narratives of Domestic Violence and Abuse (Palgrave, 2020).

Lenore E. Walker, The Battered Woman (Harper & Row, 1979).

Vicky Patterson has a podcast with BBC Radio 1 around love bombing: BBC Sounds – Love Bombed – Available Episodes.

Title quote from Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare.