10 Red Flags in Relationships - A Couples Therapist Explains
We don’t know anything about relationships until the moment we enter them. That’s the point when we start figuring out that there is a big difference between “love” as an abstract concept and “love” as a conscious, proactive, mindful decision. Unfortunately, sometimes we learn all those lessons about relationships through the hard way: we break up, we get rejected, we get abandoned, we get betrayed, we get traumatised, we get hurt, we get divorced, we lose ourselves in the relationships.
But how can we know whether a relationship is a “thumbs-up” or a “no-go”?
Identifying Red Flags In Unhealthy Relationships
Let’s see some of the indicators that can help us pause and take a closer look at what might be different than what it looks like. Having said that, I am well aware that relationships are far from being a place of rational decisions: even though a relationship might seem to bear some red flags, it is difficult, and yet so human to find it difficult to say goodbye “just like that” and leave this person. Especially when your happy hormones (oxytocin and dopamine for starters) are throwing a party since you met them.
However, if being aware of these red flags might be something that will protect you from pain later, or help you set some important boundaries from the beginning of the relationship, then it’s integral that we talk about them and keep them in mind just in case.
10 Red Flags To Look Out For
#1 You are not yourself around this person.
You notice that you have to hide some aspects of yourself, as if your partner would judge you for that. You are trying too much to be liked by them and on a subconscious level they do set the bar too high for you. Consequently sooner or later you are abandoning your own true self in order to create a persona that will fit in this relationship.
#2 Inconsistency, Lying & Gaslighting
You notice that there is an inconsistency between their words and their life events. For example, they say that they have never met a person, but later on they reveal a different reality. Or they promise to meet, but they cancel too often, or days go by without contact and they appear out of the blue. Or they say they are ready to commit, but they keep fleeing the relationship. In regards to gaslighting, it refers to moments when this person questions your own memory or emotional experience, and they dismiss what you feel, what you need or what it’s important to you.
#3 No space for your feelings and needs
You feel that everytime you are expressing your feelings, your partner will either dismiss them as “too dramatic”, an “overreaction” or “here we go again with the tears”, or they will respond by blaming you for “ruining their mood/feelings”. As time passes, you learn that it’s essential for you to keep the peace and to avoid expressing your emotions as you know that they will backfire.
Even though it’s a beautiful moment in your life to feel important, admired and loved by another human being, there is something worrying when someone wants to be with you 24/7, constantly calls or texts you, reminds you that you are soulmates, doesn’t allow you to have your private space, or complains or gets grumpy when you want to meet your friends or have a day with yourself (a.k.a. love-bombing). Giving you all their time is a covert expectation that you also need to give all of your time to them.
#5 No respect for boundaries
Boundaries can come in many types: physical, emotional, intellectual, sexual, etc. A person is violating your boundaries when they are commenting on your body and how you should be looking instead; when they disrespect your opinion and ideas; when they load all their emotions and traumas on you from your first date even (there is healthy bonding and there is trauma bonding); when they pressure you for having sex even if you don’t feel ready. In general, when your “no” doesn’t mean a lot to them.
#6 Either all about you or all about them
There is an obvious imbalance in the relationship: either they focus solely on you, wanting to learn everything about you, creating space for you only, or it’s all about their needs, their feelings, their achievements, their decisions. Being with someone who can balance the “you and me” space is like a light fresh sea breeze in your life.
#7 Victim mentality
Either they are talking about their stories and relationships with other people, or they are talking about your relationship, they tend to present themselves as innocent victims; that whatever happened to them, they had no control and other people abused them and disrespected them. When you hear too many of these stories, but you don’t hear them acknowledging their own share of responsibility, be prepared to be the next one who is going to be blamed for their misery and their problems.
#8 Avoiding vulnerability
Not everyone is able to handle emotions and feelings with mastery. Not everyone knows how to comfort and support in overwhelming moments. Not everyone feels comfortable admitting mistakes, apologising and sharing deep fears and complicated feelings. I get that. But being with a person who doesn’t want to try and learn all these, step by step, together with you, so that they can be the first person to comfort and support you, is what makes this flag a little bit redder.
#9 Always tiptoeing around them
You find it difficult to relax when you are with this person. You are trying hard to be one step ahead and predict what they need. You scan their face trying to guess what they might be needing and how you can comfort them. But even worse, you are questioning your own needs, thoughts and opinions, and you weigh your words and decisions before you share them, because you don’t want to bring more conflict or turbulence in the relationship. That’s a lot of tiptoeing for a relationship that should feel safe and open for both.
#10 You are responsible for your partner’s happiness (or any other feeling or emotional state).
Your partner depends on you to a degree that you feel responsible for their life. They wait for you to take initiative and be proactive. They expect you to be the one who fixes things when they don’t go right. They blame you when they feel angry or sad (“Look how you made me feel now”). This is too much of a responsibility on the shoulders of one person and too little on the shoulders of the other. When in a relationship we do want to make the other person happy, but this is something we want to feel out of love and not out of fear, guilt or obligation.
Relationships are hard.
However, at the end of the day they should be a place to feel safe, to heal, to get comforted, to be loved, to feel accepted, to feel free.
It is possible to find these relationships, and it’s even more possible to create these relationships. Not all relationships are perfect from their beginning.
Relationships need work.
But it’s important if we can protect ourselves from patterns and behaviours that might escalate in no time and we will be paying a heavier price down the road.
Remember: you are important and you deserve to be loved and accepted as you are.
YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHERS.