Relationships are complicated, and finding the right people that fit for ourselves and our polycule is a challenge. At the beginning of the relationship, when you are under the influence of New Relationship Energy, a person you have just met seems absolutely perfect. It is often after a breakup that we admit that there were nevertheless hints of future problems – red flags – that we should have seen, or that we did not want to see.
What is a “red flag“?
Red flag refers to an event or behaviour signalling a potential problem in a relationship or partner. Obviously each person has its peculiarities and small quirks. Nobody is perfect. But a red flag points to things much more serious than someone leaving their dirty socks on the floor. A red flag will signal abuse, manipulation, or deal breakers. It will be the indication that you better run than wait for the inevitable heartbreak.
A red flag can take the shape of:
- Behaviour or words of the other person
- Behaviours or words that you observe in yourself in response to this person
- Undefined emotions or discomfort – sometimes only a vague feeling that something is wrong
Non-exhaustive list of red flags
- The other person is constantly testing your boundaries: In a healthy relationship, the other person wants to know your boundaries in order to respect them. If your boundaries are poorly received, minimized, tested, bypassed, ridiculed or interpreted as weaknesses, that’s a red flag! It may happen that a person accidentally trespasses your boundaries. If it’s actually accidental and not ill intentioned, it’s easy to see: the person will be open to hearing their mistake, make amends and will not repeat the offence. The abusive person will rather make you feel that you make a big deal out of nothing, make you question the legitimacy of your boundaries, or even plain deny having trespassed. Run !!!
- Bad communication: What makes a good couple is not the absence of conflict, but the way we manage and solve them. The red flags in communication are numerous: refusal to talk about problems, inability to hear a different point of view, to put oneself in the other person’s shoes or to show empathy, refusal to recognize one’s mistakes or to take one’s share of responsibility in a problem, manipulation (manipulation can take many forms, that’s why I’ll come back to it in a series of articles)
- They have only bad things to say about their ex-partners: If the other person is ranting that “all men are this and that (but not you!)” or “my ex-girlfriend was totally crazy”, don’t let yourself be too flattered to be the exceptional one that surpasses all others before. It’s a safe bet that you’ll be the next bastard on her list, or the next crazy bitch he complains about over a drink. Nobody has only flaws, not even one’s ex-partners. A mature person sees both the good and the bad in others.
- The person criticizes you and humiliates you: It’s never acceptable, in any circumstance. If a person wants to tell you about a problem or discomfort, they should do it in a non-accusatory and non-violent way, talking to the “I”. Belittling or humiliating is an absolute no, even as a joke. If a joke hurts you, you should have the right to ask for it to stop. It’s not up to another person to decide whether or not you should find a joke about yourself funny.
- You find reasons to justify their bad behaviour: Our brain is very good at photoshopping a person we like. Toxic people have this ability to make you accept the unacceptable and make you justify and tolerate actions that go against your personal values. Do not expect someone who has misbehaved with their ex-partners to treat you better. Do not be fooled that someone who treats you disrespectfully today will do better in the rest of the relationship.
- Your friends and family don’t trust them: How often do we not listen to everyone telling us that we are stepping into trouble by engaging in a relationship with a person? Not being in the grip of New Relation Energy, our friends are far more lucid than we are about the potential of a relationship. Pay attention to what they see.
This list is not exhaustive, of course. Red flags are for all practical purposes infinite. Some red flags are not clearly explainable. Sometimes it’s just a feeling in your gut that tells you that you’re headed straight into the wall with that person. Trust that instinct. Your subconscious sees and understands things that your rational mind is unable to explain yet. If you observe any of the behaviours listed above, just run! You deserve better than that.