red flags in a relationship

Red Flags in A Relationship: 25 Signs You Need to Leave Now

Red flags in a relationship are your signs to get out sooner rather than later.

That’s because red flags are signs that you can expect pain, heartbreak, and turmoil at some point (usually soon). They also alert you to the potential for cheating, lies, manipulation, and narcissistic abuse.

It’s not always easy to notice red flags when they appear, and some people have trouble spotting the signs. Whether it’s because we’ve lost touch with our gut instincts, or we’re just too infatuated to pause and observe the signs.

 If you have trouble spotting red flags in a relationship, this blog is for you.

Characteristics of Red Flags in Relationships

Before I tell you about the red flags to avoid (all of which I’ve noticed in clients’ relationships), let’s talk a little more about what a red flag is.

A red flag in a relationship is a serious sign that you should stop and consider exiting. As mentioned above, a red flag alerts you to the potential for later abuse. And someone showing red flags now is very likely to continue these behaviors and attitudes later.

Here are some characteristics of red flags to be aware of.

You Can Have Personal Red Flags

Some red flags are due to your past experiences and personality.

One example could be that you won’t date someone who plays video games because your ex was a deadbeat who played video games. But for another person, playing video games just isn’t a red flag.

The point is there’s room for your wants, needs, and preferences in your dating and relationships.

If you’ve encountered a behavior that irks you for some reason, watch out for it in future dating.

Even if you like someone a lot, it’s better to avoid red flags now. The irksome nature will only get worse as you date them and both of your dark sides begin to show.

The Worst Red Flags are Universal

If a man hates his mother (and isn’t working on it in therapy for men), that’s a huge red flag.

Why? Because that anger, even if understandable and warranted, will eventually be projected onto you.

The human psyche always wants to heal. So it will project past pain from a parent onto a current partner, and you don’t want to be in that position.

There are some red flags that every human should watch for, which we’ll get into below. It’s important to know that some red flags are universally negative, so you don’t try to justify bad behavior from a partner.

Red Flags Harm Your Mental Health

Putting up with red flags drains your mental health. And a partner who ends up being toxic can weather you down over time, making it harder and harder to leave.

If you feel that your mental health is being harmed, look for the red flags, and get support in leaving.

Red Flags Can Be Subtle or Obvious

Red flags in a relationship can range from subtle hints to blatant issues. Awareness of subtle and obvious signs can help you make informed decisions about your relationship.

Red Flags Get Worse Without Intervention

“Remember red flags are early signs that someone might be physically or emotionally abusive or cheat. Red flags don’t mean that you aren’t compatible with someone bc they are a bit different from you. Or that they do one of your pet peeves. It’s a warning sign of future mistreatment” – a Reddit user who gets it.

25 Red Flags You Should Know Today

Control vs. Freedom

Control is at the top of this list. A lot of other red flags fall under its umbrella.

Control in a relationship looks like:

  • monitoring your phone use and records
  • managing your bank account and finances
  • Not “letting” you go out with friends
  • Their needs and wants trump yours more than 50% of the time
  • Isolating you from family and others
  • They only feel comfortable if they make all of the decisions

The opposite of control is freedom. You want a partner who gives you the freedom to be yourself, make mistakes, and do regular adult activities like engaging in hobbies or spending time with loved ones.

If you spot any of these signs, or if your gut tells you something is off, reach out for support.

Jealousy vs. Security

Jealousy and possessiveness are a big red flag. Like control, you’re in for a rocky ride if you spot signs of jealousy in your dates or partners.

Jealousy can be deeply rooted in traumatic childhood experiences for your partner. As such, therapy is needed, as is the willingness to release fear and jealousy.

What I’m saying is that love alone won’t heal them of their jealousy. They need real help, and it’s not your job to heal them or put up with jealous behavior.

Does your partner guard your phone? Accuse you of talking to attractive others? Overreact to benign interactions that you have with others? Simply not trust you to be without them in the company of others?

If so, that’s a big red flag.

The opposite of jealousy is security. Even if your partner isn’t the most attractive or successful, they shouldn’t feel the need to have you on a tight leash. Relationships need space too.

In contrast, they should be comfortable enough to give you your freedom (within agreed-upon limits depending on your personal preferences).

Condescending vs. Equal

Sometimes we can get into relationships with people who don’t value us and who make it known.

A few examples are putting you down in front of others, saying that you’re not ____ enough, that you’re too ____. Or they talk to you in sarcastic, negative tones.

If someone shows a hint of condescension toward you, that’s a clear sign that they don’t see you as an equal. Over time, they’ll only get more comfortable putting you down. Don’t sign up for this—address it right when it happens.

Boundaries are so important when it comes to red flags. A boundary tells people how you will and won’t accept being treated by them.

For example, you can say “I will not continue dating you if you talk to me like this, whether in private or in front of others.”

Boundaries are a great way to separate good partners from negative ones. The good partners can accept your boundaries and make the necessary adjustments.

You’ll know you’ve found a good partner when they treat you as an equal in the relationship. Of course, we all have some implicit bias and conditioning to unlearn.

But your partner should largely see you as an equal in every important matter, even if your roles are different.

Avoids vs. Takes Responsibility

A red flag for employers is whether or not someone takes responsibility for their actions and behavior. It only makes sense. If someone denies responsibility for themselves, others must pick up the slack and work harder.

It’s the same in a romantic relationship.

If your partner:

  • Doesn’t plan dates at least some of the time
  • Makes excuses for not following through on their word
  • Never apologizes (we all make mistakes some of the time)
  • Deflects when you confront them on this behavior
  • Assigns blame to you in all or most cases

Then you’re dealing with someone who is showing a serious red flag. How will this behavior grow worse over time? Imagine having children or buying a home with this person. Nightmare.

The opposite of avoiding responsibility is stepping up and owning responsibility for outcomes, even if unintended.

You want a partner who takes responsibility for ensuring a healthy relationship. It only works when both partners show up.

Negative Labels for Ex’s vs. At Peace with Past Partners

Does your date or current romantic interest have bad things to say about their ex? Do they call them “crazy,” “psycho,” or other derogatory names?

If they do, they’ll do it to you too.

More examples include:

  • Blaming the ex for every bad thing
  • Holding onto bitterness, resentment, and grudges
  • Sharing gossip and negative stories about their ex

If their ex still triggers them, they aren’t in an emotionally available space for you. Don’t get roped into listening about their ex for months or years and wondering when they’ll get over it.

Instead of dating someone with a grudge, find someone who is at peace with past partners.

They don’t have to be fully healed, as healing never ends. But just make sure they aren’t still angry, can accept responsibility for how and why things ended, and can be present with you.

Unresolved Parental Issues vs. Peaceful Relations with Parents

Like the above point about being at peace with past partners, a red flag is when they have unresolved negativity toward one or both of their parents.

This negativity can’t help but be projected onto you.

People are attracted to others who feel familiar, especially traumatized people.

If they have unresolved trauma in the relationship with their parents, they chose you unknowingly and subconsciously because you felt familiar

It’s their psyches’ way of working out past experiences in the present—find someone new who feels familiar, and work out old wounds with them.

(Notice it but don’t judge them for it — we all do it 🙂)

It’s much better to date someone who is at peace with their parents. You know, there’s a reason parents say to date a man who loves his mother—he’ll love you too.

At the very least, make sure your partner is working on their parental relationships with a licensed therapist or meditation coach. Awareness isn’t enough. They must be doing the work.

No Friends vs. Socially Connected

If your partner has no friends, that’s a big red flag.

Even introverts should have a few friends that they see regularly, at least once every other week.

The reason this is a red flag is because they’ll be leaning on you too hard. It’s a tempting trap—use one relationship to meet all of your needs.

But one relationship can’t meet every need that a human has: connection, authenticity, variety, novelty, consistency, financial stability, growth, touch, sex, love, etc.

And your relationship will seriously suffer if your partner doesn’t have any friends.

Instead, make sure you date people who have friends that they see regularly. This little barometer can help you avoid a ton of turmoil later.

Lastly, if you or your partner need help making friends, I offer social anxiety therapy for both men and women.

Alcoholism vs. Mature Use of Alcohol

Excessive drinking is a big red flag in Las Vegas. The truth is that humans use alcohol to numb certain pains that we’re carrying.

Nobody drinks heavily because they had an amazing childhood full of attunement, connection, growth, and adequate love and attention from parents and important others.

Alcoholism is an indicator that you’re dating someone with severe trauma. How severe? Severe enough to make them drink poison to numb the pain.

I’m not saying that to be judgy, but to help you discern a healthy partner from a potentially toxic one.

Alcoholism is as big a red flag as they get. An alcoholic will be so caught up in themselves that they’ll damage your life and make a wreck of your relationship. 

People with alcoholism need rehabilitation. Dating can come later once they’re healthy.

Of course, moderate alcohol intake isn’t a red flag (unless combined with other high-risk behaviors).

A few drinks each weekend is pretty common and isn’t often a red flag. Trust your gut to know if a partner’s drinking is out of hand.

Uses Hard Drugs vs. Sober from Hard Drugs

Does your partner use heroin, meth, crack, cocaine, Xanax, oxycontin, or other hard drugs?

If yes, that’s a big red flag.

People who use drugs don’t usually get better without significant rehabilitation, and their drug use can severely impact your relationship and life.

If a partner uses illegal drugs or gets prescription medications illegally for personal use, walk away now.

Consider why you may be attracted to partners with such conditions, and reach out for therapy to feel more worthy of healthy, sober love.

From the outside, a sober relationship may look boring. But people with healed traumas and self-esteem find it secure, engaging, and enjoyable. Reach out if you need help getting there.

History of Infidelity vs. History of Loyalty

A history of infidelity is a significant red flag. If your partner has cheated in past relationships, it’s essential to understand why and how they’ve addressed this behavior. Without acknowledging and working through the issues that led to infidelity, they are likely to repeat the behavior.

Also, if you’ve been cheated on in the past, you may attract these types of partners without intending it. That’s due to our subconscious mind’s attraction to familiar types of people. Whatever relationship template we developed in childhood (usually with our parents) is the one our brains will seek out, for better or worse.

Conversely, a history of loyalty and commitment in past relationships suggests that your partner values trust and fidelity, which are crucial for a healthy relationship. It can also signal that they have a more secure attachment and don’t feel the urge to cheat very intensely.

Violent Displays vs. Open and Healthy Communication

Violent displays, whether physical, verbal, or emotional, are major red flags. This includes any form of aggression, shouting, or threatening behavior. If your partner resorts to violence or intimidation during conflicts, it’s a clear sign that the relationship is unhealthy and potentially dangerous.

The worst-case scenario would be to stick around hoping it will get better. Trust me, it will only get worse. As someone gets more and more comfortable in a relationship, their true nature begins to show. A little violence now is a sure sign that there’s more to come.

In contrast, a partner who values open and healthy communication will handle disagreements calmly and respectfully. They will listen to your perspective, express their feelings without hostility, and work with you to resolve conflicts constructively.

Gaslighting vs. Accepting Your Subjective Reality

Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic where a person makes you question your reality, memories, or perceptions. Signs of gaslighting include denying things that you know happened, insisting that you’re overreacting or too sensitive, or making you feel confused and doubting your sanity. It can even lead to depression if it goes on long enough.

A quick tip if you’re being gaslit: start writing down your memories and things that happened. Make sure to timestamp it by including the date and time. Then when a partner tries to gaslight you, you can prove your subjective reality is trustworthy to yourself. But don’t expect a gaslighting partner to concede that.

A healthy relationship involves a partner who accepts your subjective reality and respects your feelings and experiences. They won’t dismiss or undermine your perceptions but will acknowledge and validate them, even if they don’t entirely agree.

Manipulation vs. Understanding

Guilt-tripping and manipulation are toxic behaviors where one partner uses guilt or emotional coercion to control the other. This can look like making you feel guilty for needing personal time, for having boundaries, or for not meeting their demands.

In a healthy relationship, partners understand the need for personal space and respect each other’s boundaries. They communicate their needs without resorting to manipulation and support each other’s emotional well-being.

Cancels Last Minute vs. Respects and Values Your Time

If your partner frequently cancels plans at the last minute or is consistently late, it shows a lack of respect for your time. This behavior can make you feel undervalued and unimportant.

A respectful partner values your time and makes an effort to keep commitments. They communicate promptly if changes are necessary and appreciate the effort you put into spending time together.

Allowing vs. Hindering Self-Expression

A partner who tries to control what you wear is displaying possessive and controlling behavior. They might make comments or demands about your clothing choices, implying that you need to dress a certain way to please them or to avoid attracting attention from others.

Another version of this can be a partner who doesn’t let you dance or sing, or follow your creative desires.

In a healthy relationship, your partner supports your self-expression and allows you to dress and act in a way that makes you feel comfortable and confident. They respect your autonomy and trust your judgment regarding your appearance.

Moving Too Fast vs. Taking a Natural Pace

Moving too fast in a relationship can be a red flag. This includes rushing into serious commitments like moving in together, getting engaged, or making significant life changes without taking the time to truly get to know each other. This behavior can indicate a lack of stability or a desire to control the relationship’s pace.

In a healthy relationship, both partners take their time to develop a sound connection. They get to know each other deeply, build trust, and ensure that significant steps are taken thoughtfully and mutually.

Present Only When Needy vs. Consistently Present Regardless of Need

A partner who is only present when they need something from you is displaying selfish and exploitative behavior. This can include only contacting you when they need emotional support, financial help, or other favors while being absent when you need them.

If a date only texts you at 2am for sex, that’s a red flag that you’re not fully valued or respected.

Conversely, a healthy partner is consistently present in your life. They are there for you during good times and bad, offering support, companionship, and care without expecting anything in return.

Keeps the Relationship a Secret vs. Meets You in Public

If your partner avoids being seen with you in public, it could indicate that they are not fully committed to the relationship or are hiding something. This behavior can make you feel undervalued and disrespected.

A healthy partner is comfortable being with you in public and proudly introduces you to their friends and family. They are open about your relationship and make you feel valued and appreciated.

Internalized Homophobia vs. Accepts Both You and Themselves

Internalized homophobia is a red flag, especially in same-sex relationships. A partner struggling with internalized homophobia may have difficulty accepting their own sexuality, which can lead to projecting negative feelings onto you and the relationship.

In a healthy relationship, your partner accepts both you and themselves. They are comfortable with their identity and supportive of yours, fostering an environment of mutual respect and acceptance.

Absent vs. Actively Involved with Their Children

If your partner has children but is not actively involved in their lives, this is a significant red flag. It can indicate irresponsibility, neglect, or a lack of commitment to important relationships.

Additionally, if their co-parent is always at fault, they likely struggle with responsibility and maturity.

A responsible and caring partner is actively involved in their children’s lives. They prioritize their well-being, spend quality time with them, and show consistent care and involvement.

Unemployed vs. Stable

A partner who is consistently unemployed without a valid reason or shows no ambition to find stable employment may be a red flag. This behavior can indicate a lack of responsibility, motivation, or stability, which can strain the relationship financially and emotionally. It can also be a sign of anxiety and depression, which they need to address with a therapist.

On the other hand, a partner who is ambitious and stable in their career demonstrates responsibility and a commitment to personal and financial growth. They contribute to the relationship’s stability and share the responsibilities of building a future together.

Unresponsive vs. Engaged with You

A partner who ignores or dismisses your attempts to connect emotionally is showing a lack of interest and empathy. This can include not responding to texts, ignoring your efforts to initiate conversations, or not engaging in meaningful dialogue.

One example is if you’re driving together and tell them to look at something you see out the window. How would you feel if they didn’t look? Deflated, probably. An unresponsive partner can make you feel deflated as a regular state of emotion.

A healthy partner values and appreciates the little things you do to connect. They respond positively to your attempts to bond, engage in conversations, and make an effort to understand and support your emotional needs.

Post-Hangout Crash vs. Uplifted Spirits

If you consistently feel bad, drained, or unhappy after spending time with your partner, this is a significant red flag. This could be due to negative behaviors such as criticism, manipulation, or lack of support.

In a positive relationship, your partner should lift your spirits and make you feel good about yourself. Spending time with them should be enjoyable and uplifting, contributing to your overall well-being and happiness.

Love Bombing vs. Genuine, Gradual Building of Affection

Love bombing is a manipulative tactic where a partner overwhelms you with excessive attention, admiration, and affection early in the relationship to gain control. This can feel flattering initially but often leads to a sudden withdrawal of affection, leaving you confused and insecure.

A healthy relationship involves a genuine, gradual building of affection. Your partner shows consistent and sincere interest in you over time, allowing the relationship to develop naturally and authentically.

They Are on Dating Sites vs. They Accept the Commitment of Your Relationship

If your partner is still active on dating sites or apps while in a relationship with you, it indicates a lack of commitment and respect for the relationship. This behavior can lead to trust issues and insecurity.

A committed partner respects the exclusivity of your relationship and is not active on dating sites or apps. They show their dedication to building a future with you by being fully present and engaged in the relationship.

Why We Don’t See Red Flags Initially

There are several reasons why we might miss red flags in the early stages of a relationship:

  1. People Are on Their Best Behavior: At the start of a relationship, individuals tend to present the best versions of themselves, often hiding or minimizing negative traits and behaviors.
  1. Our Own Past Conditioning: Past experiences and relationships can shape how we perceive and react to certain behaviors. If we’ve been conditioned to accept certain negative behaviors as normal, we might not recognize them as red flags.
  1. Red Flags Can Feel Familiar: If we’ve experienced similar behaviors in past relationships or from significant figures in our lives, these red flags can feel familiar and, therefore, less alarming.
  1. Our Own Neediness: When we are in a place of emotional neediness, we might overlook red flags because we are eager to be in a relationship and fulfill our need for connection and affection.
  1. Belief in Change: We might think that if our partner loves us, they will change, or we can change them. This hope can blind us to the reality of their behavior and the likelihood of change.

Increasing Your Intuition for Red Flags

Enhancing your ability to recognize red flags involves several proactive steps:

  1. Getting in Touch with Your Body: Practices like mindfulness, somatic experiencing, and dance can help you become more aware of your body’s signals and reactions, which often alert you to discomfort or unease in a relationship.
  1. Body-Based Therapies: Engaging in therapies such as yoga and somatic experiencing can help you process and release past traumas, making it easier to identify red flags.
  1. Journaling About Past Relationship Patterns: Writing about your past relationships can help you identify recurring patterns and behaviors that you may have overlooked before.
  1. Therapy for Self-Esteem: Working on your self-esteem with a therapist can help you set healthier boundaries and recognize your worth, making it easier to spot and address red flags.
  1. Talking with Trusted Friends: Sharing your relationship experiences with trusted friends can provide an outside perspective and help you see things you might miss on your own.
  1. Learning from Mistakes: Sometimes, getting burned by past experiences is a powerful teacher. Reflect on past mistakes to better recognize and avoid red flags in future relationships.

How to Approach Red Flags in a Relationship

When you identify red flags in a relationship, it’s essential to approach the situation carefully.

  1. Talking About Red Flags with Your Partner: Openly discuss your concerns with your partner. Communication is crucial for addressing issues and understanding each other’s perspectives.
  1. Acknowledge Your Own Needs: Be clear about your own needs and boundaries. Understanding and asserting your needs is key to a healthy relationship.
  1. Get Support: Seek support from friends, family, or a therapist. Talking to others can provide clarity and help you make informed decisions.
  1. Communicate: Maintain open and honest communication with your partner. Express your feelings and concerns clearly and calmly.
  1. Develop Boundaries: Establish and enforce boundaries that protect your well-being. Boundaries are essential for maintaining a healthy relationship dynamic.
  1. Strengthen Social Connections: Maintain strong connections with friends and family. A robust support network can provide perspective and emotional support. They also provide extra insight in case you have any blindspots or fail to recognize an unhealthy pattern.
  1. If All Else Fails, Leave: If the red flags persist and your partner is unwilling to change or address the issues, it might be necessary to leave the relationship. Prioritize your mental and emotional health.

Red Flags Must Be Addressed for a Healthy Relationship to Develop

Addressing red flags is essential for the development of a healthy relationship. Ignoring these warning signs can lead to further emotional pain and turmoil.

By recognizing and addressing red flags early on, you create a foundation for a relationship built on mutual respect, trust, and understanding.

Remember, your well-being and happiness should always be a priority. If a relationship is causing more harm than good, it’s crucial to take the necessary steps to protect yourself and seek a healthier path forward.

If you’re ready for help locating red flags and addressing them, contact me for support. I’d love to help you walk toward a future with healthier relationships and NO red flags.

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