“The red flags are usually there, you just have to keep your eyes open wider than your heart.” ― April Mae Monterrosa
In my daily work with codependents, I hear a lot about so-called “red-flags”. Usually this comes when clients are describing the early stages of a relationship they were or are in. If they are describing a relationship with a certain personality type, the red flags are always evident and obvious but codependents choose to ignore them. They do this because they have usually been “hooked in” by the adulation given to them by the new partner. 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.” In therapy, I ask my clients to analyse previous relationships and when they noticed “red flags”. A discussion can then be had about what would have been a functional way of dealing with them at the time. Of course, major lessons can be learned for the next relationship. On the whole, any of the issues listed below should bring a level of caution and ultimately an end to the relationship if they continue.
Let’s look at typical “red flags” that could occur in these types of relationships: Source: Psychology Today
Lack of communication. These individuals find it difficult to talk about issues or express how they feel. Often, when it would seem most important to be open and honest, they distance themselves emotionally, leaving their partner hanging, or having to deal with a situation on their own. Often, whatever is “communicated” is expressed through moodiness, and sometimes the dreaded “silent treatment.”
Irresponsible, immature, and unpredictable. Some people have trouble mastering basic life skills—taking care of themselves, managing their finances and personal space, holding onto a job, and making plans for their life and future. Small crises surrounding the way they live their daily life may take up a lot of time and energy. If so, there may be little time and energy left for you and your issues. These people may still be working on growing up. In other words, it may be hard to rely on them for almost anything.
Lack of trust. When a person has difficulty being honest with himself or herself, it may be hard for them to be honest with you. Some of this behaviour may not be calculated and malicious but simply a learned way or habit of coping. However, being out-and-out lied to is a no-brainer. A person who holds himself or herself unaccountable for their actions lacks integrity and lacks respect for their partner. You may feel, and rightly so, that there are a lot of “missing pieces,” so much that you don’t know or that is purposely hidden from you.
Significant family and friends don’t like your partner. 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. Often, in the throes of a new relationship, hearing criticism about your new “beloved” may not be welcome, but others may see things more clearly from an outsider’s perspective. At the very least, hear these people out.
Controlling behaviour. Similarly, a partner may attempt to “divide and conquer,” driving a wedge between you and other significant people in your life. They may be jealous of your ongoing relationships with these people or simply feel the need to control where you go and who you associate with, limiting your world to allow in only what is important to them. Sometimes, they may make you choose them over significant others as an expression of “love.”
Feeling insecure in the relationship. You may often feel that you don’t know where you stand in a relationship. Rather than moving forward, building on shared experiences that should be strengthening your connection, you feel uncomfortable, uncertain, or anxious about where it’s heading. You may seek reassurances from your partner, but somehow these are only momentary and fleeting. As a result, you may be working double duty to keep the relationship on track while your partner contributes little.
A dark or secretive past. Behaviours that are suspect, illegal activities, and addictive behaviours that haven’t been resolved and continue into your relationship are obvious red flags. But you shouldn’t ignore or excuse anything that strikes you as strange or makes you feel uncomfortable. (Of course, if a person has done the necessary corrective work and continues doing so for their own good and for the good of the relationship, that is a different story.)
Non-resolution of past relationships. These include not just intimate relationships but those with family members and friends. If a person is unable to evaluate why past relationships haven’t worked out, or consistently blames the other party for all of the problems, you can bet with a great deal of confidence that the same thing could happen with your relationship.
The relationship is built on the need to feel needed. Often we enter into a relationship strongly identified with our needs. The need may be that you, my partner, must do certain things for me to make me feel secure and satisfied, or that you allow me, your partner, to feel needed by fulfilling your needs. If this dynamic is the focal point of a relationship, however, there may be little room for real growth, individually or as a couple.
Abusive behaviour. Finally, and of course, 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.