What does it mean if your partner is ‘cushioning’ you and why is it so toxic?

What does it mean if your partner is ‘cushioning’ you and why is it so toxic?
Cushioning: A Concerning New Relationship Trend
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The dating world can be challenging to navigate – without all the red flag behaviours to look out for.

It started with 'ghosting' and 'love bombing', an attempt to influence a person by demonstrations of attention. Then 'micro-cheating' got thrown into the mix, a complex list of flirtations that could be considered unfaithful.

Now, there's 'cushioning' – which could be happening right now.

The concept, which is also known as having a 'back burner', describes someone in a relationship who has a Plan B – just in case things don't work out.

It has been likened to a "pre-meditated version of rebounding," according to Marriage and family therapist Elisabeth LaMotte, and the partner is completely unaware.

A 2014 study delved into whether modern technology intensified the notion and found that people use their online presence to keep prospects waiting in the wings. They described the back burner as "a person to whom one is not presently committed, and with whom one maintains some degree of communication, in order to keep or establish the possibility of future romantic and/or sexual involvement."


This extra person effectively becomes their safety cushion. They begin to talk, flirt, and hang out more before possibly evolving into a full-blown affair. The phenomenon is more common than we think, with people candidly opening up to the Huffington Post about their experiences.

Writer Sara said she had been married for 14 years when a friendship became flirtatious. She fixated on this element, and the pair grew increasingly closer before sleeping together.

“My affair definitely started out as an emotional affair,” Sara explained, whose last name has been withheld by the publication to protect her privacy. “I think many people in steady relationships sometimes stagnate or get into tiffs that remain unresolved.”

“Whether it’s boredom, complacency or unresolved frustration, I’m not sure,” she added. “But it makes them see other people in a different light and can elevate the human connection.”

Marriage therapist LaMotte added: “With cushioning, you’re usually cultivating a secret flirtation with someone who represents an exaggerated rebellion against challenges in one’s current relationship. For example, someone who is dating a successful but anxious partner might cushion with a relaxed partner who is unable to keep a job,”

“But cushioning denies both parties a chance to see if the anxiousness (or any other challenges) might be lessened through communication and effort with our primary partners.”

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