Just like stop signs and red lights on the road, red flags are a sign to pump the brakes and assess the situation at hand. They can pop up in any kind of relationship, whether it's relatively new, strictly casual, or something more long-term.
The tricky part: When you're swept up in love or lust, red flags can be easy to miss — or even ignore.
While there are some common red flags (think: jealousy, clinginess, and mismatched relationship goals), others may vary from person to person.
But at what point is a red flag a deal-breaker? A deal-breaker is something that will immediately cause the relationship to end (for example, one partner wants to have children and the other doesn't), whereas red flags can sometimes — key word: sometimes — be resolved through communication.
The longer you let a red flag go on without discussing it with your partner, the more attached the other person might become. Even more important, the harder it might be to address your concerns to them in the future.
What Exactly is a Relationship Red Flag?
A red flag is a behavior trait or value that shows you the future incompatibility with a person. This can be anything from someone having a history of infidelity to conflicting lifestyles and beyond.
A red flag can also be a sign that the person you are involved with can't have a healthy relationship with you. If you were to pursue this relationship, it could be potentially psychologically, emotionally, and physically dangerous.
A red flag is basically a reason to either stop the relationship altogether or back away a little bit because it's a clue or a hint of an underlying issue.
Although most red flags can be easy to spot, people don’t always address them when they first appear — or even at all. And as soon as you have feelings, it’s really hard to turn away from a red flag, even though you’re like ‘I knew all along.’
But if red flags aren't addressed, they can become even more problematic since they don't go away on their own.
It's an opportunity for you to assess the situation and see if it's a dealbreaker or if it's something that can be worked through. Either way, you have a choice to make.
What to Do When You Notice a Red Flag
Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Communication is a big part of it, talking it out and even seeking professional help.
Getting outside help is important. In terms of social support, connect with friends and family to get their thoughts on your current situation. The important thing is to really listen to them and not defend the person you are seeing. The people around you are able to see things you may not see. Or you may see the same things, but choose to blind yourself from the red flags.
Relationship Red Flags to Look Out For
One example is a partner that will text a lot and then go silent for a few days. That's inconsistent. If someone is interested in you and invested, they're going to show consistent behavior. The same goes for emotions, whether it's being very hot and cold or being very available or not available.
Verbal or Physical Abuse
Any form of violence or dangerous behavior is an immediate red flag. They can't channel their emotions properly in a healthy way. Disagreements are inevitable in any relationship, but if things escalate to any form of abuse — verbal, physical, mental, and/or emotional —it's important to remove yourself immediately.
Mismatched Relationship Goals
Many people believe their partner will change their goals in the future — but that's not always the case. People show you who they are — and what they want — pretty early on. If they say they want something casual at the very start, they usually mean that.
Trust is at the heart of any healthy relationship. So, if your partner showcases extreme jealousy, it might be a sign that they don't trust you. Aside from that, jealousy can also stem from your partner's own insecurities, which might make you feel bad about yourself as well. On some occasions, extreme jealousy could also be a sign of their own infidelity; there will project it onto you. If there are any trust issues, you have to decide if that's something that you want to manage in your relationship.
History of Infidelity
If a person has a history of cheating on someone else or on you, you may spend most of your time in the relationship worrying that it'll happen to you (possibly, again). Infidelity can also take a toll on your mental health and self-confidence, causing you to think you're not good enough for your partner.
Different Life Goals
It’s important to find someone that shares similar goals to yours, especially if you're pursuing a long-term relationship. While, in many ways, it's a good thing if your partner challenges you, having conflicting life goals might leave you unhappy in the long run. Watch out for misaligned goals like marriage or where you want to live or whether you want to have children or financial differences.
If you have a partner who regularly uses substances in excess, then they may have an addiction.
But while substance abuse can be a red flag, there are always situations where you can work through substance abuse issues. If your partner is willing to self-correct or get themselves into treatment, then there may be hope, but it’s on a case-by-case basis. It’s up to you to decide if it’s something you should stick around for, or if it’s something that wouldn’t be healthy for you in the long run.
No Effect to Know Your Family and Friends
Their distance from your loved ones might be an indicator that they don't value their own family or friends — both in the present moment and in the future. People who don't have any friends can become very clingy and co-dependent people to the person they are dating.
The Relationship Moves Too Fast
Sometimes, this may be mistaken for something positive, but you should question it if the other person is accelerating the relationship. It's possible that they don't have bad intentions, but it could also be a manipulation tactic, aka “love bombing.”
These situations tend to turn abusive and toxic. They're using that quickness and intensity to get you on board and gain your trust. They may act and say that they love you more than anyone else they have ever met. They will be charming and you may feel swept off your feet, but once you’re married, another side will start to show. A toxic side.
A controlling partner doesn't trust you or the decisions you make. Be aware if your partner starts to limit your social interactions, setting restrictions on who you're allowed to see and when. Keeping you away from your friends and loved ones can be a safety concern and a blatant form of manipulation.
Honesty and trust are the hallmarks of any healthy relationship. That said, if your partner keeps secrets from you or often beats around the bush, it may be a sign that they don't trust you enough to share what's really going on. Or, they may have dark secrets that you should know about, but they keep hidden. While some lies might not come off as too big of a deal, you should be wary if you feel like your partner frequently lies to you or doesn’t tell you the full story.
Healthy conflict is one thing, twisting the truth is another. Gaslighting can be used by your partner to make you feel bad about yourself and hinder your self-esteem. If they’re doing things that make you feel insecure, that’s usually a red flag. If you notice your partner gaslighting you, address them and seek help.
When you do not take heed to red flags, it can be disastrous. It’s important to take care of your full self physically, mentally, and emotionally. Both couples counseling and individual counseling can help you learn the tools you need to get through hard times.
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