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Red Flags in Relationships

written by: Kosjenka Muk

Incompatibility is fairly common in relationships, which means there are plenty of potential signals of incompatibility depending of one's values and personal traits. However, sometimes you might not simply be incompatible with a love interest, but you might have stumbled upon a realistically toxic and possibly violent person. While red flags in such cases can be subtle and various, some of them are more common and often reported by people who got "burned". I'll list many of them below and roughly divide them into categories.

Remember: many of those signals don't necessarily mean a person is "bad", but you don't have to see them as "bad" to understand that a relationship with them can be toxic for you. It would be easier if people were all good or all bad, of course, but it's never so. Unhealthy people too have parts of them that are warm and worthy of respect... but if they hide them, ignore them or avoid expressing them, the end result is the same as if they never had them. Also, these warning signals don't mean you shouldn't even give a chance to someone - they mean you need to be cautious, stand up for yourself if needed, and avoid becoming too attached too quickly to such a person.

While you are in love and have high hopes for a relationship, it's easy to tell yourself that a problematic behavior is "accidental", "won't happen again" or "with me, he/she'll be different". Keep in mind that, as a rule, where there is smoke, there is fire, and every action reflects at least a part of someone's personality, values and beliefs. And, usually, love is not enough to change that.

First serious argument and how it's resolved are often good indicators of what you can expect in the future. Does your partner listen to you, consider your words and communicate with honesty and appreciation? Or do they ignore you, belittle you, and try to control or manipulate you? In the latter case, do not hope that such a person would be different in the future and willing to see your perspective; people whose behavior shows lack of empathy won't suddenly become empathetic, especially if they feel it would mean a loss of power and privilege.

Don't criticize yourself if you've ignored relationship red flags in the past. Trust is not a sin. Sometimes we need experience to learn to pay attention to such warning signs. However, it's also a good idea to learn something from other people's experiences, not just your own.

Categories of relationship red flags:

Hurrying a relationship

(indicates: possessiveness / insecurity / transference / lack of healthy boundaries / wanting to use you sexually)

  • In the beginning, it seems "too good to be true": they agree with whatever you want, they try hard to please you, they are full of promises and compliments, they put you "on a pedestal". In other words: they are not authentic. When such a person shows their true face, it will probably be very different.

  • proclaims love a few days after meeting you; talks about marriage within a month or less. A healthy person will take time to get to know you better and check if you are compatible. Rushing a relationship probably means that, whatever it's about, it's not about real you.

  • floods you with text messages or phone calls soon after meeting you (and might blame you and become full of accusations if you don't answer quickly enough or often enough)

Control freak

  • keeps demanding "good enough" explanantions for innocuous behaviors

  • often checks you out and questions you about where you are, who are you with, and what you're doing

  • criticizes your friends and family for no big reason, doesn't like you to spend time with them, with time might try to isolate you from them

  • directly or indirectly criticizes your looks and clothes (you might feel they are trying to either make you fit a model in their head, or force you to be less attractive). This doesn't include occassional neutral comment about what suits you well and such.

  • emotional blackmail, inducing guilt ("if you really loved me, you would ..." and such)

  • has hard time accepting you doing things without them

  • has hard time with you expressing a different opinion, including reasonable desires, expectations, and balanced criticism

  • demeaning or jealousy of your intelligence, talents, education or hobbies

  • makes decisions for both of you, without asking for your opinion

  • whatever you do, they interpret it in worst possible ways

  • tries to control your finances (might include insisting that you don't work)

(Possible) emotional abuse

  • they exploit your mistakes, discomfort and other moments of vulnerability to increase their sense of power over you by unnecessary or exaggerated criticism, demeaning and similar

  • they ignore your verbal or nonverbal expressions of disagreement, discomfort or displeasure

  • no matter how hard you try, they find something to criticise

  • expresses racism, nationalism, sexism or other -isms (pay special attention to sexism - sooner or later this will influence your relationship directly)

  • sexual selfishness

  • mean, "venomous" humor. Humor is a great quality if well-meaning and creative, but expressing malice through humor is something quite different - it's passive aggression that shows one's desire to feel powerful at the expense of others (and is often not particularly funny anyway). Be aware of the difference.

  • "blowing hot and cold" is a form of emotional control. Warmth gives you hope; coldness confuses you; both are emotionally bonding.

  • scorns or withholds expressions of love, support and warmth

  • generally shows lack of empathy (whether for you or other people)

  • tries to make you jealous

  • tries to convince you that you are lucky to be with them and that nobody else would want you

  • your self-esteem suffers in their company (while it usually doesn't happen around other people)

  • you feel uncomfortable expressing your feelings and opinions around this person; you learn to plan in advance or censor your communication and behavior more than you normally would. You keep analyzing yourself trying to figure out what you're doing wrong.

Part 2: red flags for cheating, physical violence and other

"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." - C.G. Jung

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