9 Relationship Red Flags To Look Out For
By Danielle Carney, LMHC
The term “red flag” has become somewhat of a buzzword these days. How many times has a friend told you that something the person you’re dating has done is a “red flag?” While there are certainly real concerns that warrant such a description, without proper discernment, people can start to become overly reactive to otherwise normal concerns in the course of a relationship. So that leads us to the question, what actually is a relationship red flag?
Let’s get into it.
What is a relationship red flag?
A relationship red flag is a behavior trait or difference in values that potentially points to incompatibility. It is a warning sign that there might be unhealthy dynamics between you and your partner.
As an example, if it’s important to you to spend time with your family, and your partner is always ducking out on family gatherings when you invite them, that could be important to take a look at and be a potential red flag.
Does your partner want to invest time and energy into the relationship? Do they have a history of infidelity? Do they speak poorly about all of their exes?
All of these questions could point to potential red flags. Not all red flags are immediately obvious. While some are very clear and easy to point out, others show up more as a clue or a hint that something feels off and there could be an underlying problem.
Relationship red flags can also be serious. They can be signs of aggression, victimization, or even abusive behavior. By becoming more aware of some common red flags, you can avoid getting involved in an unhealthy relationship.
Red Flags To Look Out For
1. Moving too fast
This one is tricky because it can feel really good to get attention and validation from a partner in this way, but when it’s very early in the relationship, it’s usually not healthy. Get curious – what’s the rush? Do you realistically know enough about this person to be moving forward at such a quick pace? If a candle is burning too quickly, it’s going to burn out. It’s not sustainable. This can also be a manipulation tactic called love bombing to develop trust in the relationship, only to be met later with the harsher realities of who someone is. Regardless of intention, moving too quickly can be a sign of emotional immaturity, and it’s important to consciously slow down if this is present in your relationship.
2. Substance use
Excessive substance use could point to a problem or addiction. While substance use can be addressed in the context of a relationship if someone is willing to work on it, you can decide if it’s something that’s healthy for you to be around or not as someone is working to get substance use more under control.
Someone who cares for you is going to want to show up in your life in a consistent way. Do their words match their actions? Do they do what they say they’re going to? You do not need to tolerate hot and cold behavior, and if it’s there, address it.
4. Controlling behavior
In a healthy relationship, there is mutual respect and trust. You are allowed to make your own decisions and even if your partner disagrees, they work to understand your choices. If your partner is trying to limit your interactions with friends or family, or is overly critical of your decisions, this is a real concern.
5. Jealous behavior
This also goes for jealous behavior. Jealousy can be a normal part of a relationship, but if it’s crossing a line into control and feeling like you need to manage their insecurities for them, it’s worth talking about.
6. Dishonesty and secrecy
Relationships are built on trust. If there is a pattern of lying or withholding information, that is difficult to move forward with. Granted, people can be dishonest out of fear of repercussions, and that’s understable, but there is no place for that in healthy adult relationships. Transparency and honesty are hallmarks of healthy relationships, and if that’s not possible, then there’s some work to do.
7. Abuse and aggression
If someone is incapable of coping with their emotions without projecting them outward, that is something to get away from, and fast. Abuse cannot be tolerated. It is their responsibility to learn to regulate their emotions effectively, not your responsibility to put up with. It’s important to note that abuse is the biggest, most serious red flag and if you’re in an abusive relationship, getting out safely is top priority.
8. Differences in goals and values
Do you have similar visions for the future? Do you share similar value systems? Are you on the same page in terms of how your relationship will progress (i.e. marriage, children, where to live, etc.)? Some people enter into relationships in hopes their partner will change their mind on core issues like this, but we have to accept the reality of who someone is in the moment they’re in. Don’t bank on these things changing unless your partner expressly tells you things might shift as time goes on.
9. Lack of emotional intelligence
It is important to be with someone who shows empathy and understanding for your emotions. If this isn’t present, it can lead to forms of manipulation like gaslighting. Additionally, no relationship is without conflict, and the ability to talk through conflict and knowing when to take a step back if things are getting heated is a necessary skill in a relationship.
How To Handle Relationship Red Flags
The good news is, even if a red flag is present, it doesn’t need to be an immediate dealbreaker, depending on how serious it is.
What do I mean, you ask?
If the relationship is something you value, and if you feel safe bringing it to your partner, it can be important to communicate about your concerns about the red flags you’re seeing.
Do not – I repeat do not – ignore red flags in a relationship. I get that it’s tough to be transparent about concerns early in a relationship when you might be fearful of scaring someone off, and it’s crucial to call things out early when you first notice them.
If you’ve ever had a conversation with me, you know I harp on the importance of transparent, open communication. Communication is a non-negotiable if we want to have healthy relationships. You don’t like the way your date spoke to the server? Tell them. You’re annoyed they didn’t replace the toilet paper? Tell them. There is no issue too small to communicate through, and with red flags, you have to point out the concern and figure out what to do about it.
Are they receptive to your concerns? Are they willing to collaborate with you to address those concerns? Do they dismiss you or invalidate your experience?
If it’s the latter, that’s a red flag on a red flag (lol), so keep communicating, or you might have some hard choices to make about ending the relationship.
Keep in mind, too, that if a red flag you’re noticing is a dealbreaker to you or there is abusive or manipulative behavior present, putting yourself first and getting out of the relationship becomes the priority if safe and productive communication is not accessible.
Trust yourself above all else. We usually know when something doesn’t sit right with us, it’s just finding the courage to do something about it.
If you’re struggling in your relationship, you don’t have to go through it alone. It can be helpful to seek the help of a professional, like an individual therapist and/or couples counselor. If you’re looking for an online therapist specializing in relationship and dating issues, you can reach out to me here.