Relationship Red Flags

The color red demands our attention. It usually gets it too, whether in the form of red lipstick, a fast food logo, or a pair of red stilettos.

Red can be powerfully seductive; it can also be a warning sign. Signal lights and stop signs rely on the color red to alert us of danger. Likewise, there are numerous “red flags” that can signify problems in a relationship.

Warning Signs

  1. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, unless …

    Does your new man/woman share all of your very specific interests? Does he/she also love Star Trek, opera, mixed martial arts, kitten calendars, barrel racing, Russian novels and spelunking?

    Best case scenario: you’ve found your (freakishly compatible) soul mate. Worst case scenario: he or she has memorized your online profile and is mirroring your likes/dislikes in hopes of pleasing you.

    Some people are relationship chameleons, adapting their personality and interests to whoever they are dating. But this form of imitation can quickly lose its charm.


  2. Flattery is the least sincere form … of anything

    You probably are unlike anyone your partner has ever met. No doubt you always look amazing. And you may very well smell like the new-fallen snow.

    But flattery isn’t about stating the facts, even as seen through the slightly hazy lens of new love. Flattery is about breaking down another person’s guard and plying him/her into a state of emotional intoxication. In this condition, it is impossible to see the flatterer—or the relationship—in a clear light.


  3. Promises, promises

    A promise kept is a beautiful thing. But premature or unfulfilled promises can also be forms of manipulation. People who pledge their undying devotion after just a few dates may be out of touch with reality. Or worse, they may be deliberately trying to alter your perception of reality.

    Trustworthy people tend to not make a lot of promises, and they don’t make them hastily. They decide before making a promise whether they have the means and the motivation to back that promise up with action.


  4. Liar, liar, pants in dryer

    Simply not getting caught with telltale lipstick smudges or the scent of another person’s perfume/cologne used to be enough. Nowadays, however, most people are getting caught in lies or affairs by electronic (rather than physical) indicators. Still, if your significant other suddenly becomes proficient at doing his/her own laundry, you might need to test the waters.


  5. Total absence of conflict

    Conflict is not proof of a bad relationship. Conflict is proof of real relationship. Any relationship involving two individuals will mean two perspectives on just about everything. Naturally, these opinions won’t always align.

    While a relationship grounded in reality will be involve some disagreement, it doesn’t have to be founded on drama. Learning healthy relationship and communication skills is essential to achieving a satisfying relationship.


  6. Frequent, unexplained absences

    You don’t need GPS for your partner. You do need a reasonable confidence that your partner is where he/she says he or she is. If your partner regularly goes missing—or has gaping holes in his/her stories—something is probably off track.


  7. Frequent, unwarranted gifts

    Okay, so you always deserve gifts. And some people are naturally more romantic than others. But if you are being showered with flowers, electronics or jewelry—but not respect or consideration—beware. Particularly if your partner doesn’t normally give gifts (except in connection with specific occasions), numerous or extravagant presents could indicate a guilty conscience. Gifts should be a “bonus”—not a way of compensating or atoning for problems.


  8. Unconnected social spheres

    Three months together and never met his/her friends? Nine months of dating and never spoken to his/her family? Everyone moves at a different relationship pace. But if your partner seems to be deliberately excluding you from the rest of his/her life, something may be amiss. Two lives don’t instantly merge, but there are natural intersection points in any healthy relationship. If those connections are absent, your partner may be uncertain about your relationship or be hiding something.


  9. Dependency Issues

    Friends and family play a dominant role in our social development. But they shouldn’t play a dominant role within our intimate partner relationships. Your relationship with your significant other shouldn’t be defined, controlled, or manipulated by outside parties. If your partner has co-dependency issues with his/her parents (or others), he or she will need to learn appropriate boundaries to protect your relationship.

    Substance abuse is another highly-destructive form of dependency. The negative effects of addiction are not limited to the addict; they impact everyone in the addict’s life.


  10. Abuse

    Whether verbal, emotional, physical or sexual in nature, abuse is perhaps the clearest sign that something is foundationally wrong with a relationship. No matter how much you love your partner, you will never be able to “save” him or her. Your partner, however, is in a position to do you considerable physical and psychological harm. If you are in an abusive relationship, seek help immediately. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE to be connected with help in your area.

Emotionally healthy people tolerate normal, human flaws in their partner. What they do not tolerate is chronic manipulation, deceit, or abuse. We rely on signs every day to help us navigate situations and avoid danger; don’t ignore the equivalent warning signs in your relationship.