"Future Faking" Is a Relationship Red Flag Worth Knowing

It's normal to envision a future with someone you're interested in, especially after a great first date or when you're in the honeymoon phase of a relationship. It makes it all the more exciting when the person sitting across from you reciprocates those intentions, but this can also make it especially jarring if suddenly they pull away, stop texting back, or don't follow through with plans you've made together. This is sometimes called "future faking."

Future faking is a manipulation tactic often used by someone with narcissistic tendencies to "shift attention away from the present moment to the future, so they can maintain control over the relationship and avoid taking accountability for their actions," says Joel Frank, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and owner of Duality Psychological Services. This might look like stringing you along with plans for a big wedding or a secure financial future but failing to deliver on these promises.

When you're invested in a relationship, it's only natural to focus on your partner's good qualities and feel hopeful about your future. The problem is that future faking can create a lack of stability that can turn unhealthy if left unaddressed. We spoke with experts about what this type of manipulation might look like in romantic relationships and how to address the harmful behavior.

Signs That Your Partner Is Future Faking

The term future faking refers to when people make false promises to cast themselves in a positive light, says Patrice Le Goy, PhD, LMFT, an international psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist. Future faking isn't unique to romantic relationships, but when it's coming from a partner, it might look like them asking you to meet their family or promising you a special date night and making excuses whenever this fails to happen.

If it's early in the relationship, you may notice a pattern of love bombing where your partner comes on strong with compliments and wants all your time and attention. They'll shower you with gifts, claim you two are destined to be together, or demand a commitment. This might feel good at first, but it can also be overwhelming since it's meant to feed the love bomber's ego rather than benefit the recipient, she says.

Another sign of future faking involves using a partner's insecurities against them. Let's say you're unhappy with your job because of a long commute or low salary. A future faker might pressure you to quit or insist on paying the bills while you're unemployed. "It's really a way of taking over someone's life and taking their autonomy away," Dr. Le Goy says. Instead of empathizing with you, the future faker's goal is to step in and solve the problem for you, which allows them to gain control in the relationship.

Common Qualities of a Future Faker

This type of manipulation tactic is sometimes employed by those with narcissistic tendencies. People with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) show a consistent pattern of grandiosity, self-absorption, and a lack of empathy, according to a 2023 report in Frontiers in Psychiatry. That means they may seem confident and charismatic on the outside, but on the inside they are plagued by insecurities, self-doubt, and poor self-esteem. They're not able to risk disappointing someone or being seen as imperfect, Dr. Le Goy says.

One of the ways they deal with these insecurities is by "building up a narcissistic supply," Dr. Frank says. "This means having reassurance or developing relationships that disprove the internal beliefs they have about themselves of not being good enough." So, they'll look for a partner who tends to dive into relationships quickly and tells them how amazing their plans sound.

Often, people with NPD aren't aware that they're using future faking to mask their insecurities. "It's just how they've developed through childhood into adulthood," Dr. Franks says. Dr. Le Goy agrees, adding that narcissism can be related to a person's genetics, or it can develop in response to certain parenting styles. (For example, if someone's parents were overly critical, they may feel as though their authentic self isn't good enough and therefore act like someone else to gain acceptance.)

Still, "there's a spectrum when we are talking about narcissism," Dr. Le Goy says. There are also people who aren't necessarily narcissists but engage in future faking to avoid disappointing others. "Maybe they haven't been able to evolve their emotional intelligence to deal with those situations," she says.

In these cases, future fakers might routinely make grand statements accompanied by little to no action, Dr. Frank says. They'll ask you to move in or promise to buy you a house. All the while, they could be unemployed or refusing to save money. When you ask about their plans, they'll become defensive or accuse you of overreacting or being impatient.

Although the line can be blurry, there is a difference between someone who is future faking due to narcissism versus someone who is future focused.

How to Tell If Your Partner is Future Focused

Whereas power and control are important to a future faker, this isn't the case for a future focused individual. In the latter case, this person has hopes, dreams, and ambitions. They genuinely want to better themselves and their relationship even if their plans aren't realistic or they have different goals from their partner, Dr. Frank says.

Someone who is future-focused is open to discussing their plans. Their timeline may shift somewhat, but you can see progress toward a goal. If they're eager to switch careers, for example, they might start taking courses or updating their résumé.

Why Future Faking Can Be Harmful

Future faking is a form of gaslighting and can leave you feeling anxious, depressed, or isolated, Dr. Le Goy says. You may begin to doubt your instincts or feel like you're the problem in the relationship. Remember, future fakers are adept at shifting blame and telling people what they want to hear.

They'll promise you a big wedding or a new apartment and avoid discussing it again. As months go by, you may find yourself pulling away from friends and family, so you don't have to explain why you aren't married or haven't gotten a new place. Another isolation tactic is saying things like, "I can't get a new job with your mom looking over my shoulder" or "I can't give you a wedding with your friends putting me down and saying I'm a bad partner."

Future fakers count on their partner feeling ashamed and not wanting to tell other people what's going on in their relationship, she says. Her advice is to try to figure out if your partner is willing to change without blaming yourself for their actions.

How to Address This Behavior with Your Partner

Talking to your partner can help you decide if you want to stay in the relationship. Dr. Frank's advice is to choose a time when you're both feeling calm and prepared to talk. He encourages the use of "I" statements like, "I feel hurt that we made these plans that didn't happen" or "I'm disappointed that we've been in a relationship this long and haven't moved in together."

It's helpful to have specific examples of broken promises. Just be careful not to overload your partner, since their natural response might be to deflect or blame others. The idea is to explore what you can do together to help make your goals a reality, he adds.

If they're not willing to own up to their behavior, they might dismiss or deflect your concerns. Conversely, if they say something like, "I really meant to do this sooner. Let's talk about how we can make this happen," this shows that they are willing to change.

Giving your partner timelines or ultimatums can backfire. They might follow through on this one occasion and then revert to future faking. If this happens, consider seeking help from a professional like a therapist or couples' counselor.

If your partner refuses to acknowledge the hurt they've caused, it's probably time to move on because they have some work to do on their own. "You can't heal someone by being a model partner," Dr. Le Goy says. It's healthy for them to have goals and aspirations. What's not healthy is "bringing you along for the ride and not being honest with you."

Nandini Maharaj, PhD, is a trained therapist with a master's degree in counseling and a doctorate in public health. Her writing on health, wellness, relationships, and dogs has been featured by POPSUGAR, Self, Well+Good, Business Insider, Apartment Therapy, American Kennel Club, and more.