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Developing a Green Flag System for Dating

Knowing what to look for when dating helps identify when to move forward.

Key points

  • Trauma survivors may struggle to identify healthy patterns in relationship partners.
  • Due to their history of oppression, LGBTQ survivors may struggle to determine what is normal and healthy in relationships.
  • Getting back into the dating world following domestic abuse can be intimidating. Identifying green flags, or positive qualities, can help.
art and photography by Kaytee Gillis
not all paths are clearly marked, but some will leave clues
Source: art and photography by Kaytee Gillis

With all of the information out there on what to avoid when looking for a relationship, I frequently find it necessary to work with my clients on things to look for, to know if they are on the right track.

Many who have been through childhood or family trauma struggle to know what is normal and safe in a relationship, as oftentimes these behaviors and qualities were not experienced or observed in their life. LGBTQ survivors in particular have additional struggles due to their history of oppression and of being excluded from mainstream culture and dating scenes.

These five green flags will help you identify whether or not a new person is safe to pursue.

1. The ability to show empathy and basic kindness. Some people are naturally programmed to respond in a compassionate way, while others find that this approach is not always easy for them. While we all exist on different areas of the empathy spectrum, there should be a minimum understanding of basic kindness and understanding.

2. A desire to learn and grow. We come into the world a blank slate, and by the time we are an adult, we have already formed many of the opinions that we will take into our older years. But the ability to admit when there is an area that we do not know enough about, or perhaps need to reexamine, makes us more agreeable to others and to potential partners. Working with couples, a therapist’s job is not to decide who is right, but to help each partner see the areas where they both could be right, or how to respectfully disagree. It's important to know that we are never going to have all the answers. All healthy functioning relationships are about give and take; the key is to know when to give and when to take.

3. Willing to apologize and admit when they’re wrong. The ability to admit to shortcomings is a highly undervalued quality in a partner. A lot of growth that can come from the ability to admit when one is wrong and to apologize accordingly. Likewise, the ability of either partner to accept an apology and move past a potential conflict allows for smoother communication and fewer setbacks.

4. Prioritizing you. In today’s era of constant availability, it is difficult to imagine a dating partner not being easily accessible. However, it’s also easy for someone to place the importance of other things above their partner, choosing instead to spend hours working, socializing, or scrolling social media. While all partnerships enjoy varying amounts of personal time, what's most important is where you feel comfortable. Know your worth and when you are not being fully valued. If you feel ignored or pushed aside, this is a clue that the person might not have enough time for you or might not share the same desire for time together.

5. They are reliable. Someone who cares about you will be there when they say they will and will hold themselves accountable to promises made. They will follow through.

More from Kaytee Gillis, LCSW-BACS
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