Our romantic relationships are complex and dynamic. We fall in love quickly and we can fall out of love just as quickly. When we love, we love deeply and that can often cause us to overlook critical red flags and warning signs that are best faced head-on and in the moment. Part of forming happy and lasting relationships is learning how to confront issues in those relationships as they happen. That requires courage, though, and enough personal honesty to admit that things have taken a turn for the worse.
Why we ignore red-flags in our relationships.
There are a number of reasons we ignore the red flags our partners are showing us, and they come down to everything from our own selfish narcissism to our willingness only to see the best in our partners. In order to build happy, fulfilling relationships, however, we have to accept our partners — and the bonds we share with them — for who and what they are.
Avoiding inconvenient truths
One of the most common reasons we turn away from the truth about our relationships is because we’re afraid of facing the truth. To accept a negative truth about your spouse or loved one is to see them (and yourself) in a different light. The truth is a painful thing, sometimes, and it can be easier to turn away from it than to turn toward it. The problem with this method, however, is that it only compounds the issues we’re experiencing and makes it harder for us to find ourselves beneath the layers of lies and unhappiness.
Running from change
Red flags — aside from being a warning that you’re with the wrong person — are also a sign of coming change. As humans, change terrifies us, and we’ll do almost anything to avoid the discomfort of the unknown. When our partner shows us behavior that is contrary to our image of them, it’s always a sign that something is changing in the partnership and that can be difficult to accept for one or both parties involved.
Perhaps the most common reason we ignore warning signs from our partner is our own failure to believe in ourselves. When you’re haunted by low self-esteem, you doubt even your most basic of instincts and feelings. Rather than trusting that gnawing feeling in your gut — you ignore it — in the hopes that you’re simply doing something wrong once again. Shutting out our intuition is a dangerous game to play, and one that can find us facing more regrets than we might have done otherwise. It all comes down to believing in ourselves and believing that we want for us is both right and deserved.
Loss of self and autonomy
Many of us were raised to believe that our relationships were do-or-die. As children, our parents told us the importance of committing, and instilled in us the idea of breakups as taboo and highly undesirable. We view the ending of relationships as failure, when really all they are is the end of one chapter and the start of another. Rather than viewing our partnerships as a chore, we should view them as an opportunity; one that begins and ends when it is meant to. Nothing more, nothing less.
The 10 relationship red-flags you should never ignore.
When it comes to red-flags, there are a number of behaviors, beliefs and revelations we should never ignore. From small lies to outright physical and emotional abuse — these are the 10 red flags you should never ignore.
Weaponizing the past
If your partner holds their past over you, it might be a major sign that they’re not the one. Saying things like, “I used to be so much happier,” belittles the other partner, and makes them feel as though they are constantly being forced to live up to the standard of bygone days — a battle that is neither fair nor realistic. It’s great to share stories about our pasts, but it’s not fair to live there or expect our partners to live in that past either. If we want a happy future, we have to focus on the future, and we have to do that as a couple — not as ghosts of Christmas Past.
Inability to be open
We all have things in our past that we would rather not share, but having a partner who refuses to discuss their past at all is a major red flag. Refusing to talk about former relationships might be a sign that your partner hasn’t resolved those issues, or that they aren’t working on healing themselves in a way that equals a caring and self-fulfilled partner. Our pasts are a part of our personal development, but we can’t initiate that growth unless we confront them, share them and resolve them in a way that helps us do better in the future.
A turbulent history of love
Messy breakups are a part of life, but a trail of messy breakups might be a sign that there’s some serious disfunction going on with your partner and the way they resolve their emotions. When we can’t end relationships like adults, it’s a sign that we’re not mature enough to enter into them in the first place. It can also be a sign of serious emotional issues that need to be resolved before being able to fully connect with another person.
Fear of commitment
Fear of commitment is a common red flag that gets ignored or overlooked by those who are seeking the lasting connection of a deep, romantic bond. If you find yourself engaged with a partner who claims that all relationships “fail” or that no relationship is “healthy” you might be looking at someone who has a problem accepting responsibility, or someone who might be expecting you to do most of the heavy lifting; in a way that will inevitably leave you running for the hills and therefore confirming their prophecy (and their failure to commit).
Vicious mood swings
A bad temper is a red-flag that should never, ever be ignored or overlooked. A short fused partner can be a sign of more dangerous things to come, especially if that partner reveals their anger issues early on in the relationship. While a onetime occurrence of yelling might be excusable, violence and intimidation is not — not even once. Your partner needs to get help for their anger, but you’re not the one to do it. Don’t ignore the anger warning signs.
It’s one thing to walk away from a dangerous or self-defeating workplace, but it’s another to maintain a habit of unemployment. A partner who is constantly moving jobs or employment opportunities might be a sign of immaturity, and a sign that that person isn’t quite sure where they’re going or what they want. While spontaneity can be great in the right time and place, it’s not good for a relationship or any foundational aspect of our day-to-day lives. It also shows a lack of commitment and self-exploration; something that should send any self-respecting person who knows who they are running for the hills.
We all know what it means to be alive in the age of college-debt, but constant and preventable money issues are a serious red flag. Partners who are bad with money, or who are irresponsible with their spending habits, can cause serious problems later on down the road for both partners. It’s a sign of immaturity, and it’s also a sign of a lack of willpower — something that’s absolutely necessary in order to thrive in today’s world.
Over-obsession with family
It’s great to have a partner who is close to their family, but a partner who is too close can be a serious red flag. None of us comes from a perfect family, but the person who is obsessed with or too indebted to their family can cause serious issues in your relationship. Over time, those same family members might become too involved in your relationship and interfere in a number of ways that leave you both feeling undermined and unhappy.
Inability to be faithful
Occasionally, you’ll find yourself in a relationship with someone who admits to cheating in their past. While every situation is different, this is (more often than not) a red flag that you should run — not walk — in the opposite direction. If they did it once, they’ll do it again. Cheating is always a sign of immaturity and it is always a sign of someone who is not ready to take responsibility for their commitments, behaviors and decisions.
Any type of abuse
Controlling behavior and physical and emotional abuse are always, always, always a red flag and warning sign that you should never ignore. While abusers will always easily explain their actions away, their words are poisonous sugar. They will do it again, and they’ll keep doing it as long as they have access to their victim. If you’ve found yourself in such a relationship, reach out to someone you trust and start making a plan to get away.
How to handle the warning signs.
If any of the above red flags sound familiar to you, the good news is they can be dealt with. By taking a few steps back and applying a few basic techniques, you can find your way back to freedom the right way — and in the time that works for you.
1. Think things through
The first step in dealing with a red flag in our relationship is to take a step back and drop the emotions. Though issues in our partnerships can take a lot out of us mentally and emotionally, it’s important to use our brains to think through our next steps before we do anything that’s irrational or out of character for ourselves.
Look past the chemistry and the butterflies to what is really going on at the base of it all. Who is the person you’re looking at in this moment? Do they match the idealized figure you’ve built up in your mind? What behaviors are confirming or denying that belief?
We can feel powerful (and irrational) feelings for people who are toxic to us. Just because we feel a certain urge for someone does not mean that we need them, or even that they need us. It’s important to use your rational, logical mind when you’re feeling doubts about your partner and how they treat you. Ask yourself if they have the qualities you need to be happy in a relationship with them and be honest with yourself — and them.
2. Find comfort in solitude
Many of us ignore red flags because we’re scared to be alone. As humans, we’re social creatures that crave companionship, and this is impacted also by the societal narrative that we must be in a partnership in order to be valuable and happy. These are all things, however, that are untrue. In order to find true and authentic happiness, we have to earn how to be happy being alone.
Stop staying in a dysfunctional relationship just because you’re scared of being alone. Though walking away can be painful and scary, being on our own is one of the only ways we can learn who we truly are. When you live constantly under the blanket of someone else’s shade, you never learn how to shine in your own rightful light. We have to take leaps and step out on our own if we want to learn how to be independent and happy — but that’s a scary first step to take when a partnership is all you’ve ever known.
Accept that getting comfortable with your solitude is a process and dip your toe into it slowly. Keep a solid relationship with yourself and spend a little time each and every day (alone) digging into how you’re feeling and why you feel that way. Engage in activities that encourage you to develop your strengths and skills and, slowly, come to fall in love with yourself again. Only when you realize how deserving of love, you are on your own, will you truly be able to appreciate the depth of the love you have to offer to someone else. It’s also the only way you’ll learn just what quality of love you deserve (spoiler: it’s the best kind.)
3. Meet your own needs
One of the most important lessons we can learn in this life is not to let others do for us what we could easily do for ourselves. Being self-sufficient is more than just a survival skill, it’s the means by which we bolster our self-esteem and become more aware of who we are at our authentic core.
Despite what you might think, there is no one in this life whose sole purpose is caring for you. You are the only one who can truly meet your needs, and you’re the only person on this planet who truly knows — inside and out — what those needs are. Rather than waiting on someone else to fulfill your happiness, do it yourself, and start doing it now. If there are problems in your life, you are the only one who can fix them.
Meeting your own needs comes down, mainly, to self-esteem and self-respect. When you love yourself, you lose the need for others to fulfill desires you can fulfill yourself. When you respect yourself, you’ll stop accepting less than you deserve and you’ll start going after the things you’ve earned with a passion that will inspire others to respect you just as much as you respect yourself.
4. Forming boundaries (and sticking to them)
Our boundaries and limitations are some of the most important aspects of self we can develop. Boundaries are the cues by which we teach people how to treat us, and they are the limits which define our closest and most personal relationships. Weak boundaries and limitations signal a person who is happy to be walked over, and they also signal a person who doesn’t respect themselves and their place in the world. If you’re dealing with serious red flags in your partner, it might be a sign that your boundary lines need to be redrawn.
Our limits serve as the perimeter fencing by which we make it clear what we will and will not tolerate. They communicate everything from what personal space we need to what levels of physical affection are okay. Limits are the road signs which tell others, “this is okay” or “this is not okay” and they are a critical part of any happy and enduring relationship.
Honoring our limits forces our partners to also honor those limits. Boldly building up our boundary lines sets limits on our partners and more clearly communicates the type of behavior and interaction that is acceptable. It also allows us to weed out partners that don’t have our best interests at heart and find those who are a better fit for what we need both emotionally and physically.
5. Be the partner you want to attract
It’s no secret that we attract what we project into the world. If you’re dealing with a partner who is aggressive, problematic or less-than-ideal — it might be a sign that you are putting that same energy out into the universe. We have to become the people we want to attract, so red flags can also be a warning to ourselves that major internal changes are needed for our authentic self to thrive.
Become the ideal partner you want to attract. If you’re looking for a healthy relationship with someone who is career driven and ambitious, become that person and start going after the things you want most in this life. Keep your promises and up your integrity. Don’t give in or drop the ball just because the other person is. After all, the only person you can control is you.
Make time for new people and new opportunities and put yourself out there in a way that you never have before. Communicate to your current partner what you want and let them know the steps that you are going to take to get there. Your growth will leave them with 1 of 2 choices: shape up or ship out. If you want to move up, move up, and trust that those who are meant to travel with you on this journey will do so. Fulfill yourself, and you’ll find yourself matched with those who are also self-fulfilled and happy. Don’t just be the change you want to see in the world, be the person you want to see in the world.
Putting it all together…
There are a number of relationship red flags we should never ignore, but they can get lost beneath our fears and uncertainties. When our partners show us who they are, we have to believe them, but that takes a certain self-awareness and self-respect to manage. More often than not, we ignore the warnings our partners give us because we’re scared of being alone. Being alone is hard, but learning how to love ourselves is even harder; a critical piece of learning how to set boundaries that protects us from red-flag lovers.
Red flags like rumination, controlling behavior, and physical and emotional abuse should never be ignored. Likewise, it’s important to pay attention when our partners exhibit bad tempers, poor financial control, or even a habit of cheating on their partners. It’s important to reconfirm our boundaries, stick up for ourselves, and surround ourselves with the kind of motivation, positivity, and change we need to unlock our true and lasting happiness. People show us who they are for a reason, and it’s up to us to manage how we react and interact with those behaviors. If your partner is sending you red flags — believe them — and take a step back to figure out what you need and want in order to move forward into a brighter and happier tomorrow.
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