It's typically not until the demise of a relationship that we gain the clearest perspective about what actually transpired and where things went wrong. Warning signs we may have missed while we were caught up in the passion of a new romance—or deep into a relationship in which we've invested so much time and effort into working—suddenly become glaringly apparent. But as we're navigating a new romance and getting to know someone, it's important to look out for red flags in a relationship. These specific signs are telling of problematic behaviors and tendencies that could hurt you down the line.
"A red flag is a good intuitive image to help you process what you're really feeling," explains psychiatrist Abigail Brenner. "At the end of a difficult relationship, people often say, 'He or she told me who he or she was at the very beginning, but I just didn't listen.'"
Meet the Expert
To avoid these pitfalls—and wasting time on someone who isn't right for you when the warning signs are there all along—Brenner and clinical psychologist Dr. Jill Weber explain some of the major red flags in a relationship.
Lack of Communication
"When talking about your days, your sexual desires, your future hopes, or even your vacation desires, can you and your partner mutually express yourselves?" asks Weber. If your partner shuts down when you bring up emotional material or changes the topic when the subject gets deep, Weber says to take note. Though you may not share your deepest secrets in the beginning, when a couple is a good match, both people find it easy to be open with one another. You want to share and learn more about your partner.
Lack of Trust
Take note of a person who has difficulty being honest with you. Though the dishonesty could be a learned way or habit of coping rather than calculated and malicious, it's still a major red flag. "A person who holds himself or herself unaccountable for their actions lacks integrity and lacks respect for their partner," Brenner asserts.
Your Friends and Family Don't Approve
"If there is something 'off' about this person that seems obvious to those who know you so well, you may need to listen to what they're telling you," advises Brenner. She acknowledges that oftentimes when we're in a new relationship, we can be defensive when it comes to criticism about our new partner. However, sometimes it's an outsider's perspective that's needed. While you don't need to navigate your relationships under the direction of your concerned friends and family members, it's worth it to at least hear them out.
If your partner attempts to "divide and conquer," as Brenner puts it, "driving a wedge between you and other significant people in your life," such as friends and family, then this is a definite red flag. Your partner should not be controlling where you go, who you associate with, or limiting you in any way.
Your partner may frame this controlling behavior, a need to choose between others and them, as an expression of "love," but recognize that it is actually a toxic behavior.
Wanting Different Things
Having different interests and even opposing viewpoints than your partner is what keeps life interesting, yet Weber warns that for long-term goals, you and your partner should share a similar vision. She suggests discussing your future with your partner and then taking into account the large ways in which you align and where you vary. Take what they say seriously and don't think that you can change or manipulate them into getting on board with something they have communicated they do not want, like kids, activities, or living in a certain part of the country. "People are who they are," reminds Weber, "and over time, differences of this kind can become huge stumbling blocks to happiness."
Not Being Able To Be Your True Self
Weber states that the best thing about long-term commitment is having someone who knows you inside and out—and loves you anyway. "Notice if you are putting on an act with your partner, or if you find yourself consumed with saying the right thing or doing the right thing in their presence," she suggests. "Also, notice if your partner is able to let his or her guard down with you." A comfortable ease is necessary to create a bond with your partner that outlasts the passion and is what makes it possible for couples to be confident taking risks together.
If there is one "red flag" that should never be rationalized, excused, or tolerated, it's abusive behavior. As Brenner underscores, "any form of abuse, from the seemingly mild to the overtly obvious—verbal, emotional, psychological, and certainly physical—is not just a red flag but a huge banner telling you to get out immediately and never look back."