Red flags are warning signs about your partner’s personality or behavior: they serve as clues to the possible future of your relationship.
If you ignore red flags in a relationship, this may lead to trouble—as Micah Henry, 31, experienced with a girlfriend.
“She didn’t have any close friends at all, and that was a sign that I didn’t know how to pick up on,” he said. “She got possessive and jealous, because she had no-one else but me to hang out with.”
What are some common red flags?
Red flags can come in many forms, according to Amanda Craig, a psychologist and marriage therapist based in New York. She identified some common behavioral red flags:
- Not asking about you or getting to know you. If someone isn’t interested in learning about you or asking questions, they aren’t willing to put in the minimal effort a relationship requires.
- Blaming you instead of being accountable. If they try to blame you for their own mistakes, they aren’t prepared to accept any responsibility in the relationship.
- Not sharing details of their own lives. If they’re not eager to open up about themselves, they might have intimacy issues or other problems that will keep the relationship from deepening into love. They may also be hiding something important, which is why it may be advisable to check out their social media profiles or run a people search on them.
“Charm does not mean he is a prince,” Craig said, stressing the importance of evaluating someone accurately during the courtship period.
“Observe and see how they respond to the world around them: if what they say is what they do, and if they are consistent in word and deed.”
Additionally, there are many red flags that may indicate someone is abusive or likely to be a dangerous partner. Noah Lubin, a relationship coach based in Providence, R.I., identified the following behaviors as dangerous red flags:
- Avoiding meeting your friends or family, or trying to distance you from your loved ones. Abusers are extremely possessive and often try to isolate you from your friends or family. Make sure to introduce friends or family to potential partners early on, and keep the former in your life: don’t let your abuser become your only social network.
- Giving you ultimatums or threatening you in any way. People who use ultimatums instead of engaging in conversation fairly are much more likely to be mentally abusive. Keep an eye out for those people who refuse to compromise or to meet you halfway on contentious issues.
What should I do if I spot any dating red flags?
“Red flags arise early to let you know this relationship is not a good fit,” Craig said. These issues rarely go away on their own, and you might be better off ending the relationship.
This will save you a lot of time and give you a chance to find someone else with whom you can build a healthy dynamic. However, it’s also important to remember that red flags do not necessarily spell the end.
“If ‘red flag’ means behavior signaling future problems, then everyone carries them,” Lubin said. What matters is the person’s ability to work through those issues.
Lubin suggests asking them about their past relationships as a litmus test. “If they place all the blame on other people, they may not be a good person to grow with,” he said.
He recommends dating people who are honest about their limitations and challenges and who do not demonize others. “If they offer insight and accountability, that’s a good sign.”
Craig also recommends seeing how your partner handles the disagreements that are inevitable in every relationship. See if your partner can responsibly express their emotions and thoughts.
“You can’t teach them those skills,” she said. If they can handle arguments maturely, it’s a good sign that the relationship will prosper.
Know what you’re getting into
Ultimately, red flags may show you a lot about the person you’re dating. Whether they are innocuous depends on the person’s capacity for development.
For instance, a red flag that someone is emotionally abusive should not be ignored, but there are many people who can work through their issues intelligently and in a considerate fashion.
Unfortunately, Micah’s possessive girlfriend was not one of those people. “The relationship didn’t work out,” he said. “It was exhausting, and she didn’t understand space. So we broke up.”
In most situations, it’s best to be aware of red flags as soon as possible. Ask your partner plenty of questions right away. Do a little research, using background check services to try and see if you’re being lied to or manipulated.
Once you learn more about your dating prospects and their histories, you can make an informed choice about how to proceed.