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6 Potential Red Flags in a New Relationship

4. A "no drama" rule.

Key points

  • It is common to struggle to understand behaviours of others while dating online, and to identify behaviours that are harmful.
  • Behaviours demonstrate a person's attachment style, social skills, emotional regulatory skills, general attitudes, and boundaries.
  • Understanding difficult and harmful behaviours can help protect you emotionally, and help identify high-conflict situations.
Source: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock

As a clinical and forensic psychologist who works with people who stalk, and with victims of trauma, including stalking victims, I have a set of iron-clad standards and acceptable behaviours with online dating. I have seen many people get hurt in a range of ways in this arena by behaviours that seem innocent. When I consider behaviours that are potentially difficult or harmful, or behaviours that are likely to translate to conflict in relationships, I use two primary lenses. These lenses are:

Attachment. Attachment is our basic biological and psychological drive to connect with others. It derives from the primary attachments we develop with caregivers as babies. We all have a primary attachment style —more here, and difficulties with either anxious or avoidant attachment styles can manifest early in the dating process.

Social Skills. When considering behaviours, I also look at them through the lens of social skills. ‘Soft’ social skills are developed as we progress through life and involve things like turn-taking, sharing, reciprocity, reading, and responding to another person. A lack of social skills can lead to difficulties, as it may mean that someone does not understand why their approaches are clumsy or frightening, or how to interact with someone in a healthy and appropriate manner.

The other factors I consider are whether behaviour is indicative of entitlement (i.e., a feeling that someone has a right to you or your time), trouble with emotional regulation (such as becoming very angry because you need to change plans), difficulties with communication ( overly passive and aggressive communication can be problematic) or general attitudes that are problematic (e.g., “you are not like other men/women” speaks to poor gender attitudes).

1. Too much interest

Good relationships are built on a bedrock of knowing the other person well and trusting that they are a good match for you. This needs to occur slowly over time, as people talk and spend time together and get to know each other. Someone who throws themselves into an online match with too much intensity is signalling that:

  • They are desperate to form a relationship.
  • This connection is not based on a strong knowledge about the other person.

Relationships that spring from desperation instead of depth and desire, are likely to be less satisfying overall. Wanting to see you all the time, being upset when you are not available, pushing for overly personal information, saying “I love you” quickly, talking about marriage or moving in together too quickly. These are all signs of mismatched interest-to-stage.

2. Too much communication or odd communication patterns

Too much communication can indicate someone doesn't have much else going on (as an adult who works full-time, I usually can't text 24/7), that they are not respectful of your commitments, or are seeking an instant relationship. Similarly, inconsistency in communication, such as disappearing for days at a time or only texting or calling at very specific times (making allowances for shift work etc.) might indicate a range of things, including general inconsistency, other relationship commitments, or fluctuating interest. People often fall into the trap of “but I wanted to give them a second chance,” or “what if they were telling the truth or were just busy.”

I always like to focus on the emotional cost of this pattern when trying to work this through and to note that relationships will always need genuine, sustained interest to work. Why invest in someone who shows you at the outset that they cannot, or will not, provide this?

3. Reassurance seeking

“Are we okay?”
“Why haven’t you responded, are you mad at me?”
“Have you seen my last text?”

Reassurance seeking is understandable in a long-term relationship, we all need to know that someone cares and will feel insecure at times. However, reassurance seeking and or pushy communication are not ideal right at the start, because this reflects intense need and difficulties managing feelings. We all have difficult feelings and times of doubt when dating, but sending messages like these to someone you have not even met is misplaced and demonstrates difficulties with self-soothing.

4. A "no drama" rule

When someone overtly says "no drama," I interpret this as being reflective of someone who has had a lot of dramatic relationships and has no idea about the role they play in this dynamic. In addition, someone who meets any emotional request with a demand that you be less emotional, or says that you are being ‘dramatic’ when you express needs or feelings is unlikely to be able to understand or meet your emotional needs. Sometimes, no drama is just code for "I can't be bothered managing feelings."

5. Intense anger at a former partner

Everyone is angry with an ex sometimes, but a date or new relationship is not the time and space to explore that in great detail, or to vent one's spleen about the actions of a former partner, regardless of how badly said former partner may have behaved. This behaviour generally shows unprocessed anger and suggests that someone may not have fully moved on from their previous relationship, leaving them with limited emotional availability for you. Equally, someone who speaks at length about the wrongs multiple former partners have done to them, or who denies any responsibility for difficulties within their past relationships is likely to have a limited amount of emotional awareness, and may have tendencies to externalise and project blame onto other people (such as you).

6. Being overly forceful or boundary pushing

Respecting boundaries is at the heart of all safe relational encounters. No does really mean no, and not just in the sexual realm.

Boundary pushing might manifest in a few ways:

  • Continuing to talk about a subject you have stated is off-limits.
  • Going through your personal belongings or your social media.
  • Pushing you to change your mind about anything (with exceptions for common sense of course, “are you sure you can’t do pizza tonight” would not count).
  • Encouraging you to change your body, friends, or work.
  • Pushing your sexual boundaries.
  • Pushing you to accelerate the pace of a relationship beyond what you are comfortable with.
  • Refusing to put in a matched effort (e.g., always making you drive to see them)

I hope you have a better understanding of how to filter or understand some of the behaviours you may have experienced or witnessed. Understanding the genesis of these behaviours and thinking about how they might play out longitudinally is key when deciding whether to allow a behaviour as ‘odd but not problematic’, or deciding that it might actually be more harmful in the long term.

Facebook image: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock

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