Most of us will have at least one, if not a few, significant relationships during our lifetime. Our first intimate encounters may be more difficult or challenging because we're new to the experience of forming an intimate bond with another person, and may not really know what we’re doing and what to expect. But time and experience should help us navigate through future relationships in a much better way.
It’s essential to get to know yourself in every possible way before you move into a committed relationship. Often, individuals go in search of a relationship without this essential knowledge. But how can you ever hope to know another individual if you don’t know yourself first? How can you address another’s needs and desires if you're disconnected from your own? As obvious as these issues may appear, and as much as you may feel you understand them intellectually, it should come as no surprise that what initially seems unimportant may take on greater significance as insights occur over the course of the relationship. In retrospect, individuals are often baffled about their own behavior and expectations in a relationship.
A really good exercise I ask my clients to do is to write down every partner they’ve had a significant relationship with, and then, for each, answer questions such as: What attracted you to this person initially? Did the attraction last? Was your fantasy about this person—what you imagined or assumed to be true—validated in reality? How long did the relationship last? Did revelations during the course of the relationship change your mind? What was the deal breaker? Do any patterns, similarities from relationship to other relationships, emerge?
Learn to ask the hard questions out of the gate, the first or second time you meet someone, before opinions are solidly formed. Most of us seem to do much better when we have no real expectations of someone, because we hardly know who they are and are not yet trying to impress them.
And watch for red flags—indicators that something needs to be questioned or otherwise validated. Often these are clues that something may be trouble in the future. Here are 10 key relational red flags to look out for:
A red flag is a good intuitive image to help you process what you’re really feeling. 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.”
Learn to trust what you feel. Your hunch is probably right.