Select Page

Understanding Grooming in Adult Relationships

by | Jan 28, 2021 | TRAUMA

This is a pouter of an adult woman being groomed by a male boss.

When grooming is discussed, it’s often in the context of adults using the manipulation tactic to abuse and exploit children. However, children are not the only population at risk of being groomed. Many adults in toxic or abusive relationships will experience grooming as their partner’s attempt to build a false sense of extreme emotional connection, create a sense of dependence, and overall more vulnerable to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.

What Does Grooming Look Like in Adult Relationships?

Similar to child grooming, grooming in adult relationships are all about control and dominance. Grooming is a form of manipulation that is often extremely difficult to spot when a person doesn’t know what to look for. Grooming is meant to feel good in the beginning, ensuring the person being groomed has no idea they are being primed for abuse.

First, the groomer will attempt to build a friendship or emotional connection with a potential partner that will appear safe and genuine. As time goes on and connection and intimacy builds, the groomer will be slowly and covertly manipulating the victim of grooming to be dependent on them.

Maybe the groomer has convinced their partner to open a joint bank account that only the groomer has control over. Perhaps the groomer has been convincing their partner that their support network is actually toxic and that the groomer is the only person who truly cares about them. These tactics may seem obvious, except to someone in the throes of covertly abusive relationship.

Once a person realizes they are in a relationship in which they were manipulated, the groomer has likely already done significant damage to their partner’s life. If the groomer has been successful with their covertly abusive behaviors, they will have isolated their partner from their support network, instilled a sense of physical, financial, and/or emotional dependence, and manipulated their partner to get what they want, sexually, emotionally, and otherwise.

What Kind of Person Grooms?

While anyone can be capable of engaging in grooming behaviors, it’s not uncommon for groomers to suffer with a personality disorder. Having a personality disorder certainly doesn’t justify someone to groom others, though it can provide some context as to why they do what they do.

For example, a common symptom of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is using others for personal gain, without consideration of the other person’s experience of being used. Of course, it’s not true that every person with NPD is a groomer, but they are more capable of grooming than the average person due to their compulsion to use others.

Aside from certain personality disorders, other personality types that are susceptible to groom others are often those with a pattern of exposing partners to domestic violence, sexual abusers, and other forms of predators. Groomers are often hard to identify because they usually are able to significantly charm their victims, create what feels like a sincere emotional connection, and facilitate this false sense that the groomer is all their partner needs.

Know the Signs of Grooming

One of the most successful ways to dodge adult grooming in intimate relationships is by knowing the red flags. When a person first meets a potential romantic partner, it can be helpful to make note of how fast the relationship is progressing. If it’s moving faster than you are comfortable with, it’s often a sign that your partner is attempting to gain trust, or create a sense that their partner is so special and their love is so unique that it makes sense to move faster than usual.

The partner being groomed is likely also being love bombed, another form of manipulation that enforces strong emotional connection and dependence. The quicker the process, the less chance the person has the opportunity to take a step back and realize the reality of what’s happening.

Another red flag is a groomer’s desire for unconditional control. This can look like controlling what a partner wears, who they see, where they go, and what they do with their free time. It can also look like a groomer using social media to cyberstalk their partner. When a groomer is successful, they will be able to cut their partner off from their social circle, even their online persona.

A third red flag is an inability to take no for an answer. For example, in cases where someone grooms their partner sexually, they may coerce their partner into sexual encounters they do not wish to be a part of.

They may attempt to convince their partner that they need to fulfill their sexual needs, despite the groomed partner’s sexual safety or autonomy. The groomer may implement messaging that it’s their partner’s job to satisfy them sexually and over time, wear down the partner’s sense of autonomy.

Like many other forms of abusive and toxic relationships, grooming is a strategy that perpetuates the traumatizing cycle of abuse. It’s often a crazymaking spell that wreaks havoc on those who experience it. However, furthering education on what people can look out for to avoid grooming can hopefully put a stop to the malignant manipulation.



Modern Intimacy is a group therapy practice, founded by renowned Psychologist and Sex Therapist, Dr. Kate Balestrieri. This inclusive blog is designed to provide a wealth of information and resources for mental health, relationships, and sexuality. Subscribe today to get the latest information from our expert contributors from all around the world.


Author Bio

Kayla Tricaso

Kayla Tricaso is the Office Manager and Patient Intake Specialist at Modern Intimacy. When she is not working at Modern Intimacy, Kayla is in graduate school to become a therapist who specializes in trauma.



Subscribe to our Newsletter

You’ll get weekly sex and relationship tips, news, updates, podcast rundowns, and more!
You’ll also receive our 82-page e-book + journal for FREE!

You May Also Like…

1 Comment

  1. Lisa Bailey

    Hi Kayla
    Wanted to express thanks for education on Adult grooming. Unfortunately I had this experience on a dating app…I have been desperately trying to find out ways to receive help and support. It seems that from a legal perspective Adult grooming is not recognised or even in the law system. I want to see changes, education make law happen. How will my abuser learn and be accountable…..It’s highly distressing that he has been able to walk away leaving behind damage….and not be held accountable in any way gor his actions. I’m sure I’m not the only one in a long line of used and abused women. We need a voice this needs to become open and law changes made….Kayla can you assist me with this or point me in the right direction.
    I appreciate your listening.
    Thank you
    Lisa Bailey


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *