Before the Red Flags: Subtle Signs to Watch For
Realign your relationship.
Posted Jun 13, 2018
I’ve coached many who don’t notice the signs until it’s too late, until they’ve moved in or invested in someone for a year or more. Until they have committed, gone “all in," exchanged vows, decided to build something.
The signs they notice they choose to swallow as the norm. They feel the cement is dry. So they minimize, ignore, or just accept the relationship as it is, and with that decision comes drift, feeling trapped, and internalization — believing it’s their fault, or that they are defective and lacking in some way.
Now the signs have turned into flags, and we all know how that story ends.
You don’t have to take a black light to your relationship every single day, but it’s important to be aware of subtle signs. Once you’re aware, you have choices. You can do something about them before they create cracks in your relationship.
Flags can create panic and a call to action. Subtle signs can be a door into exploration, growth, self awareness, and relationship glue. Reminder: I’m talking about subtle signs, not obvious things that spell get out! Those are more like flags. This post is about subtle things we tend to ignore and sweep under the carpet, things we don’t examine, or maybe don’t want to, until there’s been too much damage or drift to repair. And these subtle signs don’t necessarily mean there’s something wrong with your partner. These signs may require you to look at yourself and take ownership. This isn’t about blame; it’s about inventory, review, and repositioning. It’s about swerving before you hit a tree. It’s about realignment and doing the work, not hitting panic buttons and packing your bags. Signs can hint to what to work on. For each. For both. They can give the relationship a reboot.
1. Not much communication about feelings.
When you’re in a relationship, it’s easy for the communication to slowly tilt toward logistics. The planning of the day. The events that happened. Conversations about friends, family, co-workers, all the people in your life except each other. How your day went. How frustrated you are with your boss. Future plans and to-dos, especially if you have children. But if you guys aren’t expressing feels about each other, good or bad, that’s a subtle sign. It shouldn’t have to take a deal breaker to talk to your partner about your feelings. How he makes you feel. What he did or didn’t do that made you feel a certain way. Or how safe and amazing he makes you feel. General check-ins about how people feel in the relationship create glue and connection. And if you’re not used to it, expressing your feelings is a great exercise for you to stretch yourself. It’s not just a good tool for this relationship. It’s a must-have for all your relationships, including the one you have with yourself. It’s a life tool. You are telling yourself in action that you matter, that you exist.
2. Lack of deep conversations.
It’s not just about feelings. What are you guys conversing about besides where to eat and what to watch? Every conversation doesn’t have to be about the universe and how we got here, but there should be some deeper dialogue about some meaningful stuff — things that are important to you. What are your life revelations? What are you struggling with? What’s bringing you anxiety? Your worldviews? Learnings? Revelations? What are you curious about these days? Remember, you’re doing life with your partner, not at or around. If you want to go with, go deeper.
We’re always changing, evolving, growing, shedding, and becoming. Yes, what we like on our pizza may not change, but we are still different than we were yesterday, even if it’s slight. Without the deeper conversations, we only know who someone used to be, not who they are today. That subtle difference can create hairline cracks in our relationship. Talk about something real again. It’s the only way to truly get to know someone.
3. Lack of touch.
I’m not just talking about sexual touch. I’m talking about showing affection and love through touch. A hug, a hand on a leg at dinner or while driving, or holding his face while you kiss him. There is energy and connection behind every touch. If touch goes, you’ve lost a string on your relationship guitar. The instrument won’t play as well.
In the beginning you couldn’t take your hands off each other: The feeling of new hands on you. A strong grip. A soft touch. New bodies. New skin. A new connection. Then as time goes by, it starts to lessen, change, and fade. That’s common; life happens, and routines kick in. We get comfortable in our own spaces. But if touch is drastically different, from I can’t keep my hands off him to we only touch when we have sex, it’s a sign. It may not mean your relationship is in trouble, but it does mean there’s been drift on some level, and a reunion is in order.
Or maybe there’s never been touch in your relationship. Maybe you just aren’t touchy people. That’s fair. But it’s still a sign, in my opinion, to explore, expand, and grow together.
We are tactile creatures. Like milk, touch is needed to nurture. It heels, connects, and nourishes, makes us feel safe and loved. It doesn’t stop when we become adults. We need it. It produces oxytocin — our bonding chemical.
Quick story: I’m learning about the power of touch in my own personal life. I’ve always been very tactile with the women I have been with. But many have not been tactile back. I mean the subtle touch, with intention and eye contact, the slow caresses that make you feel like you’re slipping into warm bath water, the lovey-dovey stuff that makes your friends say, “Get a room.” I haven’t experienced a lot of that. And since I haven’t, I didn’t realize how important it is.
I’ve been dating someone who does touch me that way. Slow. Quick. Gentle. Firm. Rubs. Scratches. Strokes. But it’s not just the touch, but the intention and energy behind it. That’s what I’m learning about: The power of touch. The connection and love felt through it. There are messages in touch: I care about you. I choose to love you. Be with you. You excite me. It builds trust and intimacy. I’m learning that it’s a love language more powerful than words.
4. Not present or engaged.
Not being present and engaged is a sign. If she hasn’t been engaged with you from the beginning, you need new non-negotiables. But assuming she has, disengaged spells drift. It doesn’t necessarily mean she wants to be with someone else. Maybe work has been crazy and consuming every thought. Or she’s going through some big life transition or quarter-life crisis. But then that’s where the communication about feelings should come in. If you guys aren’t doing that, then there are two signs here, and it’s time for a conversation, not a confrontation.
Ask what’s up. What’s consuming her. Why she seems distant and disengaged. Many will jump to conclusions and think she is cheating or something else. Don’t do that. Come from a curious and caring place. Start the conversation. Find out what’s going on. She may not be aware, and once she is, she may be apologetic and change. And if she doesn’t or doesn’t want to look at it, that’s another sign.
5. Eye contact.
If people stop looking into each other’s eyes, something is amiss. There’s avoidance going on. He may not be hiding someone in the closet, but he’s most likely hiding something. Maybe it’s his feelings. Maybe there’s frustration. Anger. Resentment. But whatever it is will build if it’s not addressed. Until one day, you just won’t see each other anymore.
Ask yourself if you guys look into each other. Not just at. There is a huge difference. Eye contact is not just an extremely powerful way to connect, it’s a door into empathy and understanding — both super glue when it comes to building trust. Also, on a spiritual level, it allows people to see into each other’s souls. To remember. To forget. To forgive. To accept. To love.
6. Everything feels like effort or heavy.
As you know, relationships require tons of work. Everything isn’t going to flow like a beautiful stream every day. Some days your relationship will feel effortless, and other days, like a riptide. This means heavy is normal. There are going to be heavy days. But not if every day and every thing feels like you’re pulling a train uphill with your teeth. That’s a sign.
Heavy comes from the inside. Yes, there are external factors that can put weight on a relationship. Life turbulence. Transitions. Fights. Events. Bills. Situations. But at the end of the day, heavy stems from feelings. Anger. Resentment. Disconnection. Ambivalence. Uncertainty. Anxiety. These feelings need to be addressed, or the heavy won’t go away. Instead, it will grow. Like a virus.
If there’s a consistent heavy in your relationship, lingering like a gray cloud, you have to ask yourself where it’s coming from. It’s a sign.
Remember: Again, signs are not flags. If you see signs, it doesn’t mean to jump ship. It means to start asking yourself questions. First, ask yourself how much you are contributing to these signs. It’s easy to blame, but look inward first. Always. Then take ownership of your piece. That alone may change the dynamic of the relationship, giving it a reboot. If you know it’s not you but your partner, then it’s time for a chat.
Approach it with care and love. And if you can’t, that’s a sign.