9 Relationship Red Flags Everyone Misses, Experts Warn
Whether you're newly dating or have been together for years, don't ignore these.
During the early days of a new relationship it can be easy to let certain red flags slide, or even not see them at all. When you're in love, you may be so focused on your partner's good qualities—not to mention the butterflies in your stomach—that you miss potential signs of trouble.
"In the beginning of a relationship there is so much promise and excitement, and our partner may have initially come in very strong, which opens up our dreams for the future," says Los Angeles-based therapist Evie Shafner, LMFT. However, she warns, it's wise to slow down. "It takes time to get to know someone—that's what the dating period is for. And you can't rush it, either; things need air and space to bloom."
The start of a relationship isn't the only time we might ignore red flags, however. Remembering those magical first falling-in-love feelings "can make it hard to tell ourselves the truth down the road if things aren't going well anymore," Shafner tells Best Life. "But a vote for yourself is one in which you are willing to see the truth and see the red flags—and willing to go through loss—to avoid a much bigger heartache later."
Read on to find out which signs Shafner and other therapists say you need to be on the lookout for—whether you're newly dating someone or you and your partner have been together for years.
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You feel confused.
Confusion about where you stand in the relationship is a major red flag, says Shafner. "[If] you're getting a lot of mixed signals about how much they care and how much time they want to spend with you," don't ignore that uneasy feeling in your gut, she urges. Ask yourself what you really want and need from the relationship, and be honest about whether you're getting it.
"You need to pay the most attention to what you are not getting," Shafner explains. "If you often feel anxious, confused, and long for more from your partner, and you are a mature person who is not overly clingy and demanding, then this is a big red flag. There needs to be a sense of mutuality as the relationship progresses."
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They don't ask you questions or seem truly interested in you.
Does your partner mostly talk about what's going on with them, without stopping to ask you anything? Watch out for this behavior, Shafner warns. "Do they ask questions about your day? Does what you feel matter to them? If not, this is a major red flag," she says.
You want to feel that your loved one is truly interested in you—and if you're newly dating, they should be as head-over-heels as you are. "Do you have the feeling that they are crazy about you, that you are their number one?," Shafner asks. "If you don't have that now, you might never have that with them."
One or both of you rejects calls for attention.
The concept of "bids of invitation" was created by psychologist and relationship expert John Gottman, PhD. Essentially, these are calls for attention that can be accepted or rejected.
"Bids are verbal or nonverbal, physical or intellectual, sexual or non-sexual, funny or serious," says Saudia L. Twine, PhD, licensed professional counselor and marriage and family therapist. They can include telling your partner something you've been thinking or feeling, asking a question, inviting them to do something, or giving them a kiss, smile, or chuckle. "Couples that are not doing well do not respond to bids of invitation," says Twine. "In fact, they either can never identify them or they purposely disregard them because they do not want to connect with their significant other."
To fix this issue, each partner needs to be aware of the times during the day when their partner is trying to connect. "Couples who recognize bids of invitation are … communicating the message that 'I love you, I want to be there for you, how can I be here for you, etc,'" says Twine. "These are things that validate an individual and make them feel loved, cared for, and supported."
You never fight.
Screaming profanities at your significant other is not OK, but if you never disagree at all, it may be a red flag. "When couples say they don't fight, I always consider this a sign that the relationship is not as strong as you might think," says Nicole Rainey, licensed mental health counselor and found of Mosaic Creative Counseling, LLC. "Avoiding conflict or disagreements isn't the sign of a healthy relationship and couples that say they don't fight often mean they each keep things stuffed down and don't communicate their issues out loud." When their true feelings are stifled, resentment can grow.
Rainey notes that disagreements are normal and essential to creating a healthy relationship. "Learning to fight fair and fight calmly is actually a sign of a healthy relationship," Rainey says. "When couples know how to fight or disagree while still giving their partner dignity and the benefit of the doubt in the conversation, that is a sign of healthy communication." Learning to find solutions together will greatly improve your bond.
You feel more like yourself with other people.
"Strong relationships are often a source of comfort," says Allison Raskin, author of Overthinking About You: Navigating Romantic Relationships When You Have Anxiety, OCD, and/or Depression. "If you feel like you are having to walk on eggshells or overthink your behavior when you are with your significant other, that can be a signal that you aren't a safe space for each other."
This doesn't mean your relationship is necessarily doomed to fail, however. "Sometimes periods of disconnection happen in long-term relationships and you can re-find that connection through vulnerable (and maybe uncomfortable) conversations, or by spending more quality time together," Raskin tells Best Life. "Think about what other people do to make you feel comfortable and heard and then, if your partner is lacking in these areas, maybe initiate a discussion about what you can both do to make things better."
You assume your partner would never do something.
This can be as simple as assuming your partner would never skydive, or as serious as assuming they'd never cheat or walk out. "If a person believes their partner would 'never' do or think this or that, it means they might have an idea of their partner instead of seeing them as a whole, complex person," says Alli Spotts-De Lazzer, licensed marriage and family therapist. "Further, that kind of thinking can cause a person to miss both subtle and overt signs due to their own mindset."
To fix this issue, stop making assumptions. "Even a thought-revision to 'I don't believe my partner would X' can help," says Spotts-De Lazzer. "For a relationship to be authentically strong, we need to see each other in realistic ways instead of idealistic ideas about who a person is."
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You hide your doubts about the relationship.
Be honest: Do you think your person is the one? If your inner voice says no, it's a major red flag. "People can have recurring thoughts of doubt that they downplay in their mind and don't openly share because they think it is their own problem and something they need to figure out," says Matthew Brace, LMFT, who works with couples at Therapy Embraced. "Within the relationship, things may seem fine, but one partner may be preoccupied with unwanted thoughts of doubt and feeling stuck on what to do." When these thoughts go unaddressed, it can lead to disconnect within the relationship.
To improve this issue, the partner with doubts must fess up—and the other partner must take it in stride. "If someone shares their doubts and their partner responds in a reassuring and understanding way, it will strengthen the relationship," Brace says. "However, if someone shares their thoughts of doubt and their partner responds critically, it will likely create distance in the relationship and potentially confirm the assumptions of doubt."
You don't make eye contact.
If you feel like you haven't looked your partner in the eyes in weeks, you'll want to take note. "As a general rule, humans engage in eye contact with people they feel closer to or are attracted to," says David Helfand, PsyD, licensed psychologist and owner of Life Wise. "If you notice your partner is avoiding eye contact it might mean something is happening beneath the surface that needs to be addressed." You can also ask yourself the same question: Am I avoiding eye contact and why?
Helfand says this issue can be resolved through eye gazing. "Many couples feel closer to each other spending even just a few minutes two to five days per week looking into each others' eyes," he explains, noting that this can happen during sex, or simply when you're sitting on the couch together after work. "It is a powerful way to rebuild a connection with a loved one and can have profound effects on the relationship and each person's individual wellbeing," he adds.
You're always the one who compromises.
Every relationship takes compromise. But who is accommodating who? If it's always you, it's a red flag. "While flexibility is a strength, compromise should be a two-way street. But sometimes couples get locked in a dynamic where one partner is always the one to give in in order to keep the peace," says Raskin.
"If you find that you are the only one who ever compromises (from big to small issues), it is worth trying to stand your ground about something and see how your partner reacts," she suggests. "Maybe you have just been folding too quickly to give them the chance to step up, or maybe you will learn that they are incredibly stubborn and unwavering. Either way, you want to try to break the cycle so there is more balance and less room for resentment to build."