5 Relationship Red Flags You Should Never Ignore, Therapists Warn
You could save yourself years of agony with an incompatible partner.
There's no getting around the fact that relationships aren't easy. First, you've got to find someone you connect with and set up a date to see if there's a spark. Then, things get even trickier. After hanging out a few times, you need to decide if that person is someone you'd like to continue seeing or if you should cut ties sooner than later. Making this choice is sometimes difficult—although it's easier when certain red flags are present. To help you figure those out, we've consulted therapists to tell us the red flags you should never ignore in a relationship. Read on to save yourselves years of agony with an incompatible partner.
They don't have any friends.
If your new partner is somewhat of a lone wolf, that could be cause for concern. Jessica Harrison, a licensed professional counselor and owner of Courageous Counseling and Consulting, says a lack of long-term friendships is a major red flag. "It shows that they have not been committed to growing in relationships, which takes time and effort on both friends' part," says Harrison. "People change over time and part of being in a long-term friendship means accepting your friends and friendship as it redefines itself throughout the lifecycle." If they haven't practiced this in a friendship, they might struggle to do it in a romantic relationship.
It is possible to move forward with someone who doesn't have long-term friendships. Harrison simply recommends ensuring you don't become detached from your own social circle while you do it. "Many people who do not have positive, long-term friendships in their lives will request, suggest, or demand that you also release some of your friendships," she warns. "Do not make this tragic mistake." Your friends are your support system, and you should ditch anyone who wants you to ditch them.
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They say their ex is crazy.
Discussing exes is tricky in general. But if the person you're dating calls their ex-partner "crazy," you'll want to take note. "It's one thing if you guys are both talking about your past relationships and they show self-awareness and self-insight," says Keresse Thompson, licensed clinical social worker and host of the podcast Diary of an Empath. "But if someone shows absolutely no self-awareness or no lessons that they learned from their previous situations, that can be a huge red flag."
Portraying a negative view of their ex shows that they may not be able to take responsibility for their own actions in the relationship; there could also be a good reason their ex acted "crazy," such as being the victim of lying, manipulation, or abuse.
They won't engage in deep discussions.
Your first date will likely be filled with small talk and banter. But if you don't begin to develop emotional intimacy as you continue to see a new person, it could be a red flag. "As the relationship progresses, there should be discussions about all of the hard topics—religion, politics, money, emotions," says Dana Torpey-Newman, a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in couples therapy. "These should be real conversations where differences are identified and examined." While discussing these topics early can't guarantee you won't face disagreements down the road, "you greatly increase the probability of moving in a connected way through these events if you have shared values and perspectives on life," she says.
Sometimes the person you're dating might hold back on having deep conversations because they know their values are likely antithetical to yours. If that's the case, Torpey-Newman suggests reflecting on whether you can be your authentic self with someone who is different than you in a meaningful way. "We often dismiss red flags like this because we are extremely physically attracted to or are having fun with the person we are dating," she says. "But a fundamental difference that results in one or both partners having to suppress core aspects of themselves for the sake of creating a harmonious relationship is neither sustainable nor satisfying."
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They try to change who you are.
The right partner will accept you as you are, while the wrong partner may do the opposite. "One of the biggest red flags in a relationship is when you find you are becoming involved with someone who wants to change the way you behave, speak, dress, interact with others, live, or spend your time," says Monica Vermani, clinical psychologist and author of A Deeper Wellness. "Someone who wants to change you essentially does not want the real you, they want their version of the perfect partner—and they're willing to train, disparage, and manipulate an individual into becoming their perfect partner."
Best case, this person makes you feel less-than and dulls your shine. Worst case, their actions become more controlling and develop into abuse.
You get a bad vibe.
Sometimes, a negative gut feeling is the most telling red flag—even if you can't pinpoint the issue. "If you have a feeling of caution about the person you're dating, don't ignore it," says Michael Ceely, licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Ceely Counseling. "That's your own personal red flag, and it's trying to tell you something."
David Helfand, a licensed psychologist specializing in couples therapy, agrees. "The human gut has an entire nervous system called the enteric nervous system," he says. "It helps us tune into very subtle awareness, but because it lacks a cortex, it does not have language or discrete consciousness." However, he notes that the body is able to react and send us messages long before our conscious mind makes sense of a situation. So, if your gut is telling you something, listen up—it could be the biggest red flag of them all.