We hear about red flags all the time, especially in the context of romantic relationships. But do we really know what they mean? And does the perception of what makes something a red flag differ from one person to another? Do you walk away at the first sign of a red flag, or is it something that could be talked out with your partner?
Red flags are warning signs that might indicate behaviours which are unhealthy and/ or abusive in a relationship. Red flags might not be apparent at the start of a relationship, but might start creeping in slowly after a few months or sometimes even years down the line. If left unaddressed, these red flags might pose a risk or harm for one or both of the partners in the relationship. The risk can be physical, psychological, sexual, financial or a combination of the above. It is important to be able to identify red flags as they occur in relationships so as to be able to avoid them altogether when possible.
Violence, aggression or abuse
This is one of the most evident relationship red flags. This might involve displays of aggression that is harmful to your physical and psychological health. If a partner displays any of these behaviours, this is a sign to get out of the relationship as early as possible.
Cheating can be another red flag in relationships. This can involve physical or emotional infidelity, or whenever a partner crosses a boundary in relation to how they interact with other people outside of the relationship.
It is defined as when a partner attempts to control aspects of your life including who you can talk to, how you spend your free time, what you wear, etc. Healthy relationships involve communication and compromise, rather than controlling another person’s actions.
This might be one of the tricker relationship red flags to spot. This behaviour involves a partner who regularly showers you with love, compliments, and lavish gifts, particularly at the beginning of a relationship. While it may seem harmless, this can be an early indicator of abuse further down the road in the relationship.
Difficulties with emotional regulation
If a partner struggles to regulate their emotions, leading to escalating conflict every time, this might be a warning sign. Consider whether your partner acknowledges this as a problem area and is willing to address this behaviour.
Extreme jealousy and mistrust
Trust is one of the most fundamental aspects of a relationship, and makes a partnership very difficult to thrive if it is persistent and left unaddressed.
This might be another difficult red flag to spot. This often looks like one person investing in the relationship, while the other person seemingly does very little or gives breadcrumbs of effort to the relationship to keep the other partner from leaving.
Lack of emotional intelligence
This could be a red flag in a relationship if you strive for a deep emotional connection with a partner. Someone who lacks emotional intelligence might be unable to open up with you to create a loving bond, and might have a hard time empathising with your emotions, possibly resulting in undue relationship conflict.
This red flag involves either partner being completely dependent on the other in one of more aspects of the relationship. This might include emotional dependence, such as when a person lacks other meaningful relationships and hobbies in one’s life and is completely dependent on the other for companionship. It can also include financial dependence, where a person relies on the other financially, even if the person is fully able to make their own income.
Difference in life goals
This can pose as a red flag in relationships if these are misaligned. Perhaps one partner wants to get married and have kids, whereas the other does not consider these as important milestones in the couple relationship. Having these discussions with your partner is crucial to understanding whether you want similar things out of the relationship.
Relationships can be an important and beneficial part of our lives if they are healthy and contribute to making us feel happy, safe and loved. However, not every relationship is healthy and at times, certain behaviours may have a lasting negative impact on the relationship and our mental health if they are not addressed. If a partner displays any of the red flags mentioned above, it might be worth checking in with yourself and having a discussion with your partner about the prospects of your relationship.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Pamela Borg is a counsellor who enjoys working therapeutically with adults experiencing various issues. These include general mental health and wellbeing, gender, sexuality, relationship issues.
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Eatough, E. (2022). Red flag warning: What to look out for in your relationships. Retrieved from www.betterup.com/blog/red-flags-in-a-relationship
Gould, W.R. (2021). 13 Red Flags in Relationships. Retrieved from www.verywellmind.com/10-red-flags-in-relationships-5194592