Relationship

Red flags in a relationship to look out for

Love is complicated, and preys on our emotions. Here are some red flags in relationships to help you navigate the world of dating.

Dating Expert Janet Smith October 17, 2022 • 20 minutes read
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We’ve all been there. You meet someone new, and you’re head-over-heels in love. The chemistry is fantastic, the conversations flow, and you’re convinced this is the one before you know it. The only problem is sometimes we let our emotions get in the way of seeing things. And that’s when red flags start to show up.

Wanda Pierce, a character from the popular TV show Bojack Horseman, says it best: “When you look at someone through rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.” [1]

When you’re driven by love - a motivation system that urges you to build and maintain an intimate relationship with a partner [2] - you can miss some crucial signs that this person may not be suitable for you. And before you know it, your relationship with your partner has cost you a lot - time, energy, money, and yourself. [3]

If you’re looking for help avoiding getting caught up in the lustful infatuation of a new relationship, this article will help you. We’ll define relationships’ red flags and how you can find them.

Relationships are not easy, especially in today’s world. Learn the answer to questions like “How can I make my relationship work?” and advice on how to stay happy in your relationship.

What are the red flags in a relationship?

Red flags are warning signs or characteristics pointing to potential relationship problems. They can be anything from obvious dealbreakers to more subtle hints that something isn’t quite right. These red flags are there for a reason - to warn you that this person may not be the right match for you.

Sometimes, people overlook red flags because they’re caught up in the excitement of a new relationship and don’t want to face the possibility that this person isn’t right for them. Perhaps you crave companionship and intimacy after being single for a while, or maybe you’re afraid of being alone, and you’re willing to overlook some things to have a relationship.[4]

Whatever the reason, it’s essential to be aware of the red flags in a relationship so you can avoid them. Risk recognition or the ability to identify warning signs in your romantic relationships can significantly reduce risks associated with dating violence, sexual assault, and unhealthy relationship behaviors.[5]

Occurring often among young adults, college campuses [6] are where a lot of young people are first exposed to romantic relationships and where they learn how to negotiate these types of relationships. This is also where dating violence, or intimate partner violence, is most prevalent, with between 16 and 50 percent of college women [7] and between 20 and 30 percent of college men [8] experiencing some form of it during their time in college.

Regardless of age and gender, identifying the early warning signs of an abusive relationship and knowing how to get help if you or someone you know is in one can be lifesaving. The detrimental effects of dating violence include, but are not limited to, academic difficulties, mental health problems, and physical health.[9]

Keep reading to learn more about red flags in relationships and how to spot them.


17 red flags in a relationship

Red flags are not sometimes so obvious to spot, especially when you are in the early stages of getting to know someone and feeling all the feels. You might be inclined to ignore the little voice in your head trying to warn you about this person and instead focus on how much fun you’re having with this person.

But it’s important to listen to that voice and pay attention to the red flags. Walking away early can save you a lot of heartache and pain later on.

Here are some common red flags in a relationship.

1. Controlling behavior and tendencies

A common red flag in a relationship is controlling behavior from a partner.[10] This can manifest itself in various ways, such as making all the decisions, being critical of your choices, or trying to control your behavior.

An overly controlling partner can make you feel suffocated and stifle your ability to make your own choices. This type of behavior can signify emotionally abusive behavior,[11] which may sometimes lead to physical abuse.[12]

Here are some signs that your partner is too controlling and domineering. If you have one of these traits, it’s time to address the issue or move on if it can’t be resolved.

If you find yourself in a relationship with someone controlling, it’s essential to get out of it as soon as possible. No one deserves to be treated like this, and it’s not a healthy way to live.

2. Love-bombing

Love-bombing is used when someone showers and “bombs” you with affection and attention at the beginning of a relationship to create an intense sense of connection.[13]

“Shouldn’t that make me feel good?,” you might be thinking. And it does, at first. But this type of behavior can be a red flag because it’s often a tactic used by narcissists so that they get praised and feel important in return. Eventually, the narcissist’s constant need for extreme admiration will be exhausting, and the person involved will realize they are being used.[14]

People who love-bomb often look for a quick fix to their insecurities and low self-esteem by relying on others to make them feel good about themselves.[15] It is also possible that people with insecure attachment styles - people who fear being abandoned or vulnerable - may use love-bombing behaviors to affirm that they are valued and loved.[13]

Worried that your partner is too insecure? Here are some telltale signs to look out for.

3. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a tactic that is often used by abusers to control and manipulate their victims.[16] It involves making someone question their reality and their sanity. The term is thought to have been coined in a 1969 Lancet paper that look at involuntary hospitalization as a form of abuse.[17]

Gaslighting could be telling you that something you remember happening didn’t happen or convincing you that you are being paranoid when you have a legitimate reason to be suspicious.

For example, a gaslighter might say something like “I never said that”, even though you know they did. Or they might tell you that you’re being “crazy” or “imagining things”. This behavior can be extremely harmful because it makes you doubt yourself and your judgment.

4. Lack of empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person.[18] It’s an important quality to have in any relationship.

If your partner regularly lacks empathy, it can sign that they are not as invested in the relationship as you are. It can also be a sign that they are not capable of forming an emotional connection with you.

A lack of empathy can manifest itself in different ways. For example, your partner might not be supportive when you’re going through a tough time, or they might dismiss your feelings and concerns.

5. Trust issues

A lack of trust is another common red flag in a relationship. trust is essential for romantic relationships to thrive and function.[19] If you don’t trust your partner, it won’t be easy to feel safe and secure in the relationship.

There are many different reasons why someone might have trust issues. Maybe they’ve been betrayed in the past or have unresolved trust issues from childhood.

Whatever the reason, if you find that you don’t trust your partner, it’s essential to talk about it. If they are unwilling to work on rebuilding trust, then the relationship might not be worth saving.

Love is important for any relationship, but it’s difficult to grow and flourish when there are trust issues. Learn how to fix this problem so your relationship can continue on the path of happiness.

6. Possessiveness

Possessiveness is another red flag to be aware of in a relationship. It’s normal to feel a certain level of possessiveness towards your partner. But if your partner is excessively possessive, it can signify jealousy and insecurity.

This can show up in different ways. For example, your partner might get angry if you talk to other people, they might try to limit your independence, or they might be excessively needy and clingy.

Here are some of the telltale signs that your partner is overly protective and doesn’t respect your independence.

Possessiveness is often rooted in insecurity and fear of abandonment. An anxious attachment style can also contribute to possessiveness because people with this attachment style tend to feel insecure in relationships and fear being abandoned.[20]

7. Bad relationships with your friends and family

Relationship approval from one’s social network has been a good predictor of satisfaction in the relationship over time.[21] So, if you notice that your partner doesn’t have a good relationship with your friends and family, it can be a red flag.

Your partner might not get along with your friends and family for various reasons. Maybe they’re jealous of the time you spend with them, or they’re trying to isolate you from the people you love, a sign of abusive behavior.[11]

If you notice that your partner doesn’t have a good relationship with your friends and family, try to talk to them about it. If they’re unwilling to work on the relationship, it might be a sign that they’re not invested in the relationship’s future.

8. Excessive arguing and conflict

Conflict is a normal and healthy part of all types of close relationships.[22] But if you find that you’re arguing more than you’re getting along, it can be a sign that the relationship is in trouble.

If you and your partner are constantly arguing, it might be a sign that you’re not compatible. It can also signify that you’re not communicating effectively or carrying too much emotional baggage from the past.

Arguing is not necessarily bad, [23], but if it’s excessive, it can harm the relationship. If you find yourself in this situation, you must talk to your partner about it. If you cannot resolve the conflict, it might be time to consider ending the relationship.

9. One-sidedness

A healthy relationship is built on giving and taking. There should be a balance between what each person gives and receives, and each person should feel like they’re being treated fairly.

If there’s a one-sidedness to your relationship, it can be a red flag. Maybe you and your partner don’t have the same levels of commitment, [24] or maybe one of you is always taking care of the other.

One-sidedness can also manifest in different ways. For example, maybe your partner is always the one who decides what you do, or maybe they’re always the one who initiates sex. Perhaps you’ve even found that your partner is cheating and is unsure of whether or not you should confront them. Here are nine tips on how to go about it.

10. Lack of attraction

Physical attraction is not essential in a relationship, but it can be an important factor.[25] If you’re not attracted to your partner, it can signify that the relationship is not working for you.

Of course, attraction can change over time, and many other things besides physical attraction are important in a relationship. But if you find the attraction for your partner has faded, it might be a sign that you’re not compatible.

If you’re worried about your relationship, look for these ten telltale signs that she’s lost interest in being intimate with you.

11. Obsession with social media

For many people, social media is an important part of their lives. But if you find that your partner is obsessed with social media, it can be a sign that they’re not fully present in the relationship.[26]

An obsession with social media can mean that your partner is more interested in their online persona than they are in you. It can also signify that they’re not getting what they need from the relationship.

When your partner likes to look at their social media more than they want to spend time with you, it can be a red flag. If this is causing problems in your relationship, it’s important to talk to your partner about it.

12. Outright abusive behavior

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is considered a human rights violation.[27] And while it’s not always easy to spot, there are some warning signs that you can look for.

Your partner might try to control you with force or threats, or they might insult you or call you names. They might also try to distance you from your friends and family, or they might try to control your finances.

Relationships are hard enough, but when your girlfriend is mean to you for no reason, it can be downright confusing and frustrating. Here are 10 possible explanations.

If you’re in an abusive relationship, getting help can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. Many organizations offer support for victims of IPV. And if you’re in immediate danger, there are also hotlines you can call for help.

13. Substance abuse

Substance abuse is a serious problem that can have a negative impact on every area of your life.[28] And while marriage has protective factors that can help prevent substance abuse,[29] being in a relationship with someone who’s abusing drugs or alcohol can still be extremely challenging.

If you’re in a relationship with someone abusing substances, you might feel isolated, scared, or helpless. You might also feel like you’re always walking on eggshells, or you’re never quite sure what will happen next.

If your partner’s lifestyle has worsened, these ten tips can help set things back on track.

Sitting your partner down and talking to them about their substance abuse is not always easy, but it’s important. Several resources are available to help you talk to your partner about their substance abuse, and there are also hotlines you can call if you’re in need of support.

14. Lack of support

In a good relationship, your partner should be your biggest supporter in helping you grow.[30] But if you find that your partner is not supportive of your goals and dreams, it can be a red flag.

They might make you feel like you can’t do anything right, or they might try to control what you do. They might also be dismissive of your feelings or interests.

If you’re wondering whether your partner could harbor ill feelings towards you, look out for these signs.

A lack of support from your partner can make you feel like you’re not good enough or like you can’t do anything right. If this is causing problems in your relationship, it’s essential to talk to your partner about it.

15. Making all the decisions

In a healthy relationship, both partners should feel like they have an equal say in decision-making. Power imbalances happen in romantic relationships [31] and can significantly impact the satisfaction of people within it.[32]

Has your partner been making all the decisions lately? Do they always have to have the last word? If so, it might be a sign that there’s a power imbalance in your relationship.

When there’s a power imbalance in a relationship, it can make one partner feel like they don’t have any control. If this is causing problems in your relationship, it’s important to talk to your partner about it.

16. Lack of initiative

When was the last time your partner did something spontaneously? Or they asked you out on a date? It might be a red flag if you find that you’re always the one who has to initiate things.

A relationship is a two-way street, and both partners should make a conscious effort to make things work. If you find that you’re always the one who has to take the lead, it might be a sign that your partner is not as invested in the relationship as you are.

17. Uncontrollable emotional outbursts

Do you find that your partner has uncontrollable emotional outbursts? Do they often get angry or upset over small things? If so, it might indicate they have unresolved anger issues.

Anger is a normal emotion, but it’s important to be able to manage it healthily. If your partner has difficulty controlling their anger, it might negatively impact your relationship.

Anger management programs have been effective in helping people manage their anger in a healthy way, [33] and several online resources aim to help people with anger management issues. So, if this is something that’s causing problems in your relationship, it might be worth looking into.

Have you been seeing these red flags in your relationship? If you have, it’s essential to talk to your partner about them. Ignoring these red flags will not make them go away, and they might end up causing further damage to your relationship.

Remember, you deserve to be in a healthy, happy, and supportive relationship. If you don’t feel like you’re in a relationship like that, it might be time to reconsider whether or not this is the right relationship for you.


FAQ about red flags in a relationship

1. What are the 5 red flags in a relationship?

The five red flags in a relationship can vary, but there are some common ones to look out for. These include a lack of communication, lack of trust, lack of intimacy, lack of support, and a lack of effort.

While these are just some of the most common red flags, it’s important to remember that every relationship is different. For some couples, these red flags might not be a big deal, while for others, they might be a sign that the relationship isn’t healthy.

If you’re in a relationship and are constantly unhappy, these seven steps can help get you back on track.

You’ll know what the red flags are in your relationship based on your experiences, so it’s important to trust your gut and listen to what your head is telling you.

2. What are some red flags in a guy?

When it comes to relationships, every person is different, and there are no hard and fast rules. However, some general red flags might be a sign that the relationship is not healthy.

Some red flags in a guy include being controlling, possessive, jealous, or constantly needing to be right. While society has seen a shift in power balances between heterosexual couples, and equal relationships are now more common, [34] some men might still exhibit outdated behaviors that can harm their partner.

If you’re in a relationship with a guy and see any of these red flags, it’s essential to talk to him about it. The sooner you address these issues, the better your chance of resolving them.

3. What are the red flags in dating?

Regarding dating, a few red flags might indicate that you’re not compatible with the person you’re seeing. Some red flags in dating include always needing to be right, controlling behavior, jealousy, or a lack of communication.

Of course, every relationship is different, and not all of these red flags will be dealbreakers. However, if you’re seeing multiple red flags, it might be a sign that the relationship is not healthy.

Trust your gut when it comes to dating. If you’re not feeling it, there’s probably a good reason. Don’t be afraid to listen to your intuition and end things if you’re not happy.


The truth about dating: Books you need to read

If you’re looking for advice on how to have more success when it comes to dating, then you’ll want to check out these reads. Each can teach you something different about the process, from being more confident in yourself to reading other people’s signals correctly. So whether you’re just starting or have been dating for a while and could use help, check out these titles.

  1. Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships
  2. Love: The Psychology of Attraction: A Practical Guide to Successful Dating and a Happy Relationship
  3. Seriously, This Is Online Dating?: How to Love Yourself Harder and Date Smarter
  4. Single, Dating, Engaged, Married: Navigating Life and Love in the Modern Age
  5. Things You Should Already Know About Dating, You F*cking Idiot

References

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  3. Silverman, J. G., Raj, A., Mucci, L. A., & Hathaway, J. E. (2001). Dating violence against adolescent girls and associated substance use, unhealthy weight control, sexual risk behavior, pregnancy, and suicidality. jama, 286(5), 572-579.
  4. Rodenhizer, K. A. E., Edwards, K. M., Camp, E. E., & Murphy, S. B. (2020). It’s HERstory: Unhealthy Relationships in Adolescence and Subsequent Social and Emotional Development in College Women. Violence Against Women, 107780122093778.
  5. Marx, B. P., & Soler-Baillo, J. M. (2005). The relationships among risk recognition, autonomic and self-reported arousal, and posttraumatic stress symptomatology in acknowledged and unacknowledged victims of sexual assault. Psychosomatic Medicine, 67, 618-624.
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  12. Schumacher, J. A., & Leonard, K. E. (2005). Husbands and Wives Marital Adjustment. Verbal Aggression, and Physical Aggression as Longitudinal Predictors of Physical Aggression in Early Marriage, 73.
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  14. Campbell, W. K., Foster, C. A., & Finkel, E. J. (2002). Does self-love lead to love for others? A story of narcissistic game playing. Journal of personality and social psychology, 83(2), 340–354. doi.org
  15. Katz, J., Beach, S. R. H., & Joiner, T. E., Jr. (1998). When does partner devaluation predict emotional distress? Prospective moderating effects of reassurance-seeking and self-esteem. Personal Relationships, 5(4), 409–421.
  16. Stark, Evan. 2010. Do Violent Acts Equal Abuse? Resolving the Gender Parity/Asymmetry Dilemma. Sex Roles 62(3–4):201–11.
  17. Acker, Joan. 1992. From Sex Roles to Gendered Institutions. Contemporary Sociology 21(5):565–9.
  18. Weisz, E., & Zaki, J. (2018). Motivated empathy: a social neuroscience perspective. Current opinion in psychology, 24, 67–71. doi.org
  19. Laborde, N. D., vanDommelen-Gonzalez, E., & Minnis, A. M. (2014). Trust - that's a big one: intimate partnership values among urban Latino youth. Culture, health & sexuality, 16(9), 1009–1022. doi.org
  20. Simpson, J. A., & Steven Rholes, W. (2017). Adult Attachment, Stress, and Romantic Relationships. Current opinion in psychology, 13, 19–24. doi.org
  21. Etcheverry, P. E., Le, B., & Charania, M. R. (2008). Perceived versus reported social referent approval and romantic relationship commitment and persistence. Personal Relationships, 15, 281–295.
  22. Gurman, A. S. (2008). A framework for the comparative study of couple therapy. In Alan S Gurman (Ed.), Clinical handbook of couple therapy (4th ed., pp. 1-30). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
  23. Shantz, C. U. (1987). Conflict between children. Child Development, 58, 283–305.
  24. Stanley, S. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Whitton, S. W. (2010). Commitment: Functions, Formation, and the Securing of Romantic Attachment. Journal of family theory & review, 2(4), 243–257. doi.org
  25. Feingold, A. (1990). Gender differences in effects of physical attractiveness on romantic attraction: A comparison across five research paradigms. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 981–993.
  26. Hand, M. M., Thomas, D., Buboltz, W. C., Deemer, E. D., & Buyanjargal, M. (2013). Facebook and romantic relationships: intimacy and couple satisfaction associated with online social network use. Cyberpsychology, behavior and social networking, 16(1), 8–13. doi.org
  27. Garcia-Moreno, C., Jansen, H. A., Ellsberg, M., Heise, L., & Watts, C. H. (2006). Prevalence of intimate partner violence: findings from the WHO multi-country study on women's health and domestic violence. The lancet, 368(9543), 1260-1269.
  28. Jahan, A., & Burgess, D. (2022). Substance Use Disorder. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  29. Rhule-Louie, D. M., & McMahon, R. J. (2007). Problem behavior and romantic relationships: Assortative mating, behavior contagion, and desistance. Clinical child and family psychology review, 10(1), 53-100.
  30. Overall, N. C., Fletcher, G. J., & Simpson, J. A. (2010). Helping each other grow: romantic partner support, self-improvement, and relationship quality. Personality & social psychology bulletin, 36(11), 1496–1513. doi.org
  31. Bruhin, E. (2003). Power, communication and condom use: patterns of HIV-relevant sexual risk management in heterosexual relationships. AIDS care, 15(3), 389-401.
  32. Kim, J. J., Visserman, M. L., & Impett, E. A. (2019). Power in close intimate relationships.
  33. Lee, A. H., & DiGiuseppe, R. (2018). Anger and aggression treatments: a review of meta-analyses. Current opinion in psychology, 19, 65–74. doi.org
  34. Schwartz, C. R., & Gonalons-Pons, P. (2016). Trends in relative earnings and marital dissolution: Are wives who outearn their husbands still more likely to divorce?. RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, 2(4), 218-236.
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Dating Expert

Janet Smith

Janet Smith is a freelance writer who writes about psychology, relationships, and dating. She has always been interested in understanding the human brain and how it affects our …

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