We all think we’re good judges of character. However, when it comes to dating and relationships, that isn’t always the case.
When entering a new relationship, you may get swept up in the attention from another person, intoxicated on hormones and distracted by looks. This leads many people to ignore glaring red flags from partners who aren’t able to be healthy partners.
Outside of the relationship, your partner’s behavior would be obviously rude, inconsiderate, destructive, or manipulative, but because you’re so close to this person, you make excuses for them. Every relationship goes through its rough patches, but repeated patterns of toxic behavior without meaningful change is a cycle that only ends with the relationship.
Oftentimes, by the time we realize that a relationship is toxic, it’s hard to escape it. We’re too invested, or we really love the person, or ending the relationship is just too difficult. Addressing red flags early on in a relationship — whether that means separating or working through issues together — prevents heartache down the road.
Before we get into relationship red flags, it’s crucial to establish that emotional and physical abuse is the biggest red flag of all. Never put up with a partner who physically hurts you or verbally abuses you. Partners should never threaten you, your pets, or your children, damage your property, or coerce you into sexual activity.
If you feel unsafe in a relationship, please reach out for help with someone you trust. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is open 24/7.
The dating red flags listed below may hint at more abusive behavior down the road, but, sometimes, they just indicate that you aren’t meant for each other. These are some common red flags that many relationships run into. Keep these in mind when you’re beginning to see a new partner.
Your partner failing to trust you is a major cause for concern. For a relationship to work, the two individuals need to be able to rely on each other and believe the other person’s words and actions are genuine and true.
By the same token, a partner who is not transparent or upfront with you is something to be wary of. If they refuse to tell you where they’ve been, keep secrets, or straight-up lie, it may be time to move on.
If your partner is overly jealous when you hang out with other people, this is a red flag. Partners should never ask you to stop spending time with friends or family because of their insecurities. As long as you’ve done nothing to betray your partner’s trust, they should be happy and supportive of your other relationships outside your romantic partnership with him/her.
While in a relationship, listening to your partner is an important way to get to know them and bond. However, your partner should not control every moment of your waking day. Telling you what to eat, how to dress, or what to do are all signs of a partner who is toxic. If they punish you for not obeying them, that’s abuse.
Your partner should be understanding when you need to spend time away from them — it’s very healthy and necessary! They should not make feel you guilty for taking time to pursue goals or hobbies that do not involve them.
To follow up on the last point, some partners may be unwilling to “share” you with other people — even your own family. A partner discouraging you from seeing your friends and family is something you should never compromise on.
Some controlling people may test your boundaries early in a relationship to see how far they can push you or what they can get away with. For example, they may keep teasing you long after you’ve told them to stop or they keep pressuring you to advance further physically. Even if the boundary testing isn’t that serious, its existence is a red flag. Your partner should respect your personal autonomy instead of seeing what they can and can’t do.
It is important that you can trust a partner to help you as you go through life’s struggles. Your partner should be able to handle their finances responsibly and take care of their own life decisions. If your partner struggles in this area, they might have some growing up to do before they’re ready for a long-term relationship.
It takes time to get to know another person intimately, and love at first sight doesn’t exist outside of the movies. Be cautious of any partner who wants to take big steps, like moving in together or getting married, long before you are ready. Of course, every relationship moves at a different pace, but your partner shouldn’t rush things that don’t feel ready.
Your partner should be interested in hearing about your day and listening to your feelings. It’s a red flag if a partner doesn’t listen when you speak, fails to be present in the moment, or brushes off your feelings and thoughts.
If your partner is dealing with mental illness, such as depression or substance abuse, it is important that they seek professional help or attempt to deal with their struggles. Even if these are issues from their past, make sure that they are willing to keep working on themselves and know their warning signs for a potential flare-up. It is not your job as a partner to heal them or solely take on their health struggles. If your partner is dumping their health problems all on you, your own mental health will begin to suffer.
If you notice your partner being unkind to others, especially to people you care about, they might just be a bad emotional partner. How does your partner interact with waiters and waitresses? Do they have polite manners with strangers? These little everyday interactions are good indicators of an individual’s emotional capabilities.
We all have problems with our self-esteem from time to time, but your partner can’t expect you to be their crutch. If your partner needs constant reassurance, or relies entirely on your validation, it could become a problem long-term.
Constructive criticism is a healthy part of any relationship. Your partner should genuinely want to help you have a healthier and more productive life. But if your partner criticizes you constantly, is overly harsh, or criticizes you in order to control your behavior, this is a major red flag.
If your partner never apologizes after causing you harm, this is not something to overlook. If they expect you to apologize for accidents but won’t say sorry for things that are their fault, this may mean that they hold you more accountable than they hold themselves. Your relationship should feel equal, where both of you are responsible for your own actions and words.
Some toxic people like to overpromise and under-deliver. If you are in a relationship with someone that is displaying a pattern of behavior where they keep making unfulfilled promises, this is often a characteristic that shouldn’t be swept under the rug.
The point of a relationship is to build a life with someone who makes you happy. If you’re not happy, end the relationship without looking back. If your partner doesn’t make you happy after the honeymoon phase of a relationship, you’re probably not compatible. However, a partner can also exacerbate this by breaking down your self-esteem.
When you first enter a relationship, it is important to keep your eyes open. Don’t get so swept up by new love that you overlook important warning signs. To catch red flags early on, try the following pieces of advice.
When you start dating someone new, make sure to have them meet people you trust early on. Afterwards, ask for their thoughts about your potential partner. Do they think this relationship seems good for you? Do they have any reservations about your partner? Do they think you seem happy?
It’s especially important to get dating advice from people who are in healthy relationships that you admire, as they have experience telling the difference between normal relationship problems that you can work through and red flags you should walk away from.
You may have had a toxic relationship before, whether or not it was romantic. It could have been a relationship with a friend, a teacher, a coworker, or your parents. Learn from the past and reflect on what went wrong. What made you feel hurt, unhappy, or dissatisfied? Do everything you can to avoid romantic partners who behave similarly or who make you feel those same emotions.
Every new relationship is a chance to learn from previous relationships. Know your “deal-breaker” traits that you don’t want in a partner and watch for them in the early stages of a relationship. At the same time, think about the positive traits that make a relationship more likely to be a healthy and happy one.
However, you should be mindful to not project previous transgressions and trauma onto new relationships. Every relationship is different and should be given a fresh slate to build upon.
There is power in writing things down. Writing down your goals signals to your brain that you’re serious about them. It also helps you better remember your goals and makes it more likely that you keep them.
Write down the things you want or desire in a partner, and write down the things you want to avoid. Check the list occasionally to keep yourself grounded and centered on your needs. Consult this list frequently when first getting to know a new partner.
At the same time, stay flexible when it comes to positive traits you’re looking for. People aren’t a set of boxes to check. A new partner might have something you never expected you’d be attracted to, but you’d be surprised at what might grow on you.
When people go on first dates, they put their best foot forward. They dress nice, spend extra time on their hair, and hide the parts of themselves they don’t like. Unfortunately for you, this could mean that an initial meeting could hide potential red flags.
First impressions are important, but don’t put too much stock in them. Instead, examine long-term behavior. Most people can put on a good face a handful of times, but, over time, you’ll begin to see their true colors.
Someone who really cares for you and wants to be around you will be with you, give you their time, and be sensitive to your feelings. Watch to see if your partner shows affection through their action as well as through words. Chocolates and a card on Valentine’s Day is nice, but will they pick you up cold medicine when you’re sick?
Did any of the red flags on this list apply to you? If many of your relationships ended in a similar manner, or you’ve had the same issues over and over with your exes, this may be a sign that you need to change your behavior as well. Working on yourself before getting into another relationship is always a good idea, especially if you’ve just broken up with somebody.
The toxic traits you carry may attract people with similar toxic behaviors, leading you into bad relationships that will keep making you unhappy and unsatisfied with love.
Codependence can be thought of as a “relationship addiction,” where both parties are unable to function without the other. These relationships are unhealthy because they don’t allow the partners to see themselves as individuals.
Examine your relationship and make sure that you are in it for the right reasons. Are you really interested in this person, or do you hate the idea of being alone? Talk to your partner and make sure they are in it for the right reasons too.
A relationship should be two lives and identities working together. Each partner needs to put in an equal amount of effort to make the relationship healthy and successful. Watching out for common red flags will put you in a better position to leave a potentially toxic relationship sooner, or help you identify when the right person finally does walk into your life.
Hi, I’m Raghed!
Founder and lead relationship coach at HeartAppeal.
Our blog will be your new favorite place to go for advice, laughs, and comfort through all the stages of dating. We stay up-to-date on all the latest dating trends, so you don’t have to. Have a topic you’d like us to cover or a story you’d like to share with our community? Send me an email; we’d love to include it!