Inside Out

Clean out the closet—of your unconscious

Relationship Red Flags: What to Look For Early On

Not just your partner's actions, but what you do and feel can be a red flag

What overlooked relationship red flags are you missing? Image: Flickr/rvw
In my twenties, I started dating a man I really liked – although in retrospect, I’m not sure if I really liked him or I just liked that he really liked me. (Of course, that was the first ignored red flag.) As I got to know this young man – let’s call him Fred – I asked him about some of his past relationships. He told me a story about his previous girlfriend that went something to the tune of: she’d cheated on him but had felt so guilty that she tearfully confessed her misdeeds to him. Fred didn’t break up with her but expressed his extreme hurt, anger and mistrust throughout the rest of the relationship. His ongoing hurt and mistrust was genuine, but what he failed to tell his then-girlfriend is that he had also cheated on her.

In fact, in all of Fred’s stories about his life, he never seemed to speak about mistakes, learning lessons or owning any personal responsibility. 

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Are these things deal breakers? Taken individually, not necessarily. But each was a red flag I chose to ignore.

I’ve read a lot of blog posts about relationship warning signs – how does he treat service staff, how does he react when you need space, etc. – but I’d like to write about some overlooked things you can do to spot early red flags in a relationship. These things may seem small and are very easy to excuse. And many of these overlooked warning signs are your actions or inactions, and not your partner’s. Let me know what you think!

 

Ways to Spot Relationship Red Flags:

1. Don’t lie to yourself

I know you’re sick of being single, and I know it makes everything more fun and exciting when you think you may have finally met someone with serious romantic potential.  Believe me, I know! But because you so badly want it to work, you may be more vulnerable to ignoring things that seem easy to brush off. DON’T DO IT! If you lie to yourself now, you’ll have to live with it for the duration of the relationship.

2. Trust yourself

If something strikes you as off, then chances are something is off. I know you’ll want to interview all your friends, twisting and turning your odd feeling in every direction in hopes of finding reassurance that you’re overreacting. And maybe you are! But don’t write yourself off so quickly. If something feels not right, you don’t have to end things on the spot, and maybe the oddness is something you can learn to live with.  But, don’t underestimate your intuition. You know more than you think you know.

3. Ask about past relationships

Everyone scoffs at me for this one. Not so fast though, my friends. One thing I can pretty much guarantee is that one way or another history always repeats itself. (For you too, by the way.) Find out what happened in your partner’s past relationships. How does he/she talk about past relational dynamics?  Your partner’s complaints  about an ex may  hint at future complaints about you

4. Pay attention: how does this person do life?

What I mean by this is, watch how your partner makes meaning of difficult situations, past and present. Is your partner open to learning and growing? Does he or she take responsibility for past mistakes? The answers to these questions will give you important information about he/she approaches life.The most dangerous scenario is if this person often paints him/herself as just moseying along living a quiet life and out-of-the-blue, through no fault of his or her own, bad luck and mean, crazy people continually mess things up for him or her. Continually seeing life’s difficulties as outside oneself is never a good sign. Also, watch out for lies- even small, harmless ones. If this person lies to others, It is likely that you will also be lied to.   

While in the throes of the early stages of a budding romance, we are all at our best. Sometimes the excitement and infatuation can blind you to everything else. This can make red flags almost impossible to spot. But think about what you’ve learned from past relationships. You know more than you realize! Staying keen to these red flags now can help you avoid hurt in the future.

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Twitter: @JenKrombergPsyD

Facebook: www.facebook/Dr-Jennifer-Kromberg

Jennifer Kromberg, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist in California.

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