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Dating Radar: 3 Ways to Spot Trouble Ahead

Our survey showed surprisingly simple warning signs of high-conflict partners.

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Are you dating now, or starting over again after a breakup? Want to know some personalities to avoid? Do you have a friend you want to give some tips?

Over the past couple of years, my colleague Megan Hunter and I have provided an online survey for people who committed to partners with high-conflict personalities, including moving in together, getting married, and having children. But they didn’t know what they were getting into. We asked them, looking back, what signs they missed or what red flags they saw but decided to ignore. We reported the results in our book Dating Radar (2017), with our conclusions that there are several ways to spot trouble. We addressed dating patterns of several high-conflict personalities; ways they jam your radar; and our own blind spots to watch out for.

Three key ways that high-conflict partners can jam your dating radar are through excessive charm; fake compatibility; and intense sexuality.

It Can Take a Year to Spot These Signs

Most people with high-conflict personalities (HCPs) can’t hide their extremely negative behavior for more than about six-to-twelve months. Therefore, one of our conclusions was that you should wait at least a year before committing in a big way, such as signing a lease together, getting married, or having children.

Here are a couple of examples from our survey respondents:

  • "It started on our wedding night. He told me he was on his best behavior while we were dating, and now that we were married, he could let his true colors show. I thought he was being sarcastic — he was not."
  • "Changes occurred over time, but as it progressed, she became more and more self-focused and demanding. Within a year, I was beginning to feel uncomfortable in the relationship, but my conditioning was that once you commit to a relationship, you follow through with it."

1. Excessive Charm

Nearly 80 percent of our survey respondents were swept up by the charm of their dating partner until they committed to the relationship. There was also an immediate “spark,” they reported. Then the charm and the spark evaporated. Charm doesn’t always mean that a person is an HCP, but it’s a surprising warning sign. If the person seems too good to be true, you might want to look deeper.

  • "He was Prince Charming, my white knight in shining armor!"
  • "She seemed to really be interested in me and everything about me. She focused in on me with laser-like intensity. I was thrilled, because she made me feel that I was very special, and that I was very important to her."

2. Fake Compatibility

About 70 percent said that “extreme compatibility” was an early and compelling characteristic of dating partners who later turned out to be HCPs. At first, they would seem extremely flexible and adaptive; it seemed amazing how they shared the same interests. Later, it would turn out that this was fake compatibility for the sole purpose of winning their commitment, after which the shared interests would stop. Here are some examples:

  • "With made-up stories, he marketed himself well. He found out what I valued, and he really became that… until he decided not to anymore. Over the years, the stories started to not make sense."
  • "It seemed that she was the perfect partner — always supportive and easy to get along with."
  • "The person initially, for a short time, seemed to take an interest in things that were important to me or close to me. The interest quickly changed after the relationship had solidified."

3. Intense Sexuality

Forty-seven percent of the survey respondents said that this category fit for them. It was common for them to tell us how fast their relationships developed, especially physically. In many cases, they were willing to risk careers, family relationships, and positions in the community for the intensity of these relationships.

  • "She gave the impression that she was a good church girl who didn’t sleep around. In fact, she outright said it during dinner, but later began kissing and groping me, and begged me to take her to my place. So I did."
  • "One month after our first date, he just started coming around every night."

Just Warning Signs

It’s important to remember that these are just warning signs and not conclusive indicators that you are dating a high-conflict person. But they should get your attention. Ask friends and family what they think. Take your time and don’t assume that you can change him or her. The partner you really want to find will let you be yourself, and let you take your time to get to know them.


Eddy, B. & Hunter, M. (2017). Dating Radar: Why Your Brain Says YES to "The One" Who Will Make Your Life Hell. Scottsdale, AZ: Unhooked Books.

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