Love has a way of blinding people from the red flags in a relationship that may be waving right in front of their eyes. Some warning signs don’t require you to look too closely, like a partner who punches a wall when their favorite baseball team loses, or a date who makes racist or homophobic comments (never okay). But what about more subtle cues, like the fact that they keep swearing you’re their soulmate after only two dates or being a little too clingy?
No matter how stable, healthy, or passionate your romance is, you’re bound to encounter annoying (fine, maddening) moments and pet peeves. But the signs of trouble we’re referring to go beyond those little things that irk you. We’re talking about behaviors that give (or should give) you serious pause and can sometimes indicate a larger pattern.
Trusting your instincts is one of the best ways to recognize these red flags, Amy D. Marshall, PhD, psychology professor and director of the Relationships and Stress Lab at Pennsylvania State University, tells SELF. “You can also consider what made you uncomfortable in your past relationships,” Dr. Marshall says.
Unfortunately, that’s often easier said than done, and many of us wind up wasting days, months, or even years with the wrong person. That’s why we’ve rounded up some common red flags that might not be obvious—so you can navigate your love life with more confidence (and fewer regrets).
1. Their dating profile doesn’t match who they really are.
We all want to make a great first impression, but “there’s a difference between presenting your best self and being inauthentic,” Gina Senarighi, PhD, a couples counselor based in Madison, Wisconsin, and the author of Love More Fight Less, A Communication Workbook for Every Couple, tells SELF.
Saying you’re six feet" when you’re actually five ten, or claiming you’re an “avid hiker” when you actually prefer walking on paved paths may sound like harmless fibs. Maybe this person is just a little insecure or scared you’ll judge them for their unconventional (or uninteresting) reality. Whatever the reason, it’s worth exploring because a lack of self-awareness (and lack of trust) combined with incongruence between words and actions can cause problems when it comes to conflict resolution down the line, Dr. Senarighi says.
2. They describe all of their exes as “crazy.”
Some relationships end so badly that we’re still sour about an ex years down the line—but if your new partner spews vitriol at any and all of their “crazy” former lovers every chance they get, it’s a good clue that they might be the problem.
A person who can’t identify at least some way that they contributed to their past breakups—and places the blame on anyone but themselves—is reason to use “extreme caution,” Dr. Senarighi says. That’s because, she adds, “the odds are good that they’re going to lack that same kind of insight now with you.” In other words, if you end up dating them, you’ll likely join the ranks of those “crazy exes” eventually too.
3. Their jealousy leads to controlling or possessive behaviors.
Jealousy in and of itself isn’t necessarily a huge red flag. In fact, most of us can relate to feeling a tad uneasy or insecure when we see someone we really like (or love) sharing jokes with their super hot co-worker, for example. However, how your partner manages those feelings matters. For example, if their immediate reaction is to scream at you (“Why are you talking to them?!”) or to dictate who you can or can’t hang out with (“Next time, you have to tell me first.”), that goes beyond mere concern. It’s signaling a dangerous, possibly even abusive relationship, Dr. Senarighi says. You’re supposed to feel relaxed and safe when you’re in a healthy partnership—not like you’re being smothered or walking on eggshells.
4. They put you down, even in a teasing way.
“It was only a joke” are not magical words that erase hurtful insults. Excessive sarcasm, a mean sense of humor, or jokes that regularly point out your flaws can represent “a nonconsensual way to leverage power in the relationship,” Dulcinea Pitagora, PhD, LCSW, New York City–based psychotherapist and sex therapist, tells SELF.
Philadelphia-based couples counselor Folashade Adekunle, MEd, agrees and says there is an important difference between couples who “roast” each other in a consensual, teasing way and someone whose “jokes” make you feel bad about yourself. What’s especially concerning, she adds, is when you tell your partner they’re hurting your feelings and their behavior still doesn’t change. In that case, this red flag can escalate to a dealbreaker or “nonnegotiable,” Adekunle says.
5. They rush a new relationship forward way too quickly.
Popularly referred to as “love bombing,” this red flag isn’t necessarily about someone who says “I love you” too soon or who wants to move in together after five dates.
Instead, it involves a pattern of intense and excessive interest, and it becomes worrying when “one person is trying to manipulate the other into a situation of dependency,” Adekunle says. If someone you recently started dating is overwhelming you with overly indulgent compliments like, “You’re all I’ve ever wanted” or showering you with extravagant gifts, those behaviors can veer into unhealthy relationship territory. In the context of love bombing, these seemingly sweet gestures are often followed by more insidious actions, like guilt-tripping you for spending time with others or getting angry when you don’t do what they want.
Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a fast-moving or expressive love life, as long as it feels right. Adekunle just suggests that you check in with your body: If you’re anxious about your partner pushing the relationship forward at warp speed, it’s probably a sign to pump the brakes and examine where your emotions are coming from.
6. They’re rude to people in the service industry.
The good news is that this one should be clear early on, like on the first date, before you’re invested in a romantic relationship. Dr. Senarighi explains that because our culture undervalues service industry workers, the way your date talks to the waiter or the Lyft driver will give you great information about their views on social structure, their sense of entitlement, and how they respond when they’re in positions of power. In short, do you want to be with someone who feels it’s their right to be rude to the bartender? If not, order your martini to go.
7. You’re fighting constantly.
It’s one thing to occasionally argue about who forgot to take out the trash or accidentally snap at them (and then apologize) when you’re in a bad mood. If you find that fighting—or even passive aggressiveness—is a recurring pattern in your relationship, though, that’s something to reflect on, according to Dr. Marshall.
“There’s no way to say how much is too much conflict,” she says. “But the important thing is whether or not arguing is balanced with higher, or at least equal, levels of positive interactions.” After all, your romantic partner is someone you’re supposed to generally get along well with, so if you most of your time at odds with each other, that can mean you’re simply not a good match—at best. At worst, it could be a sign that these conflicts are indicative of a more toxic relationship dynamic, Dr. Marshall adds.
8. They don’t truly listen to you.
We’re not talking about your significant other forgetting to pick up eggs or needing to be reminded of your adorable dog’s birthday, again. This is about those important aspects of yourself that you share with them, like your hobbies, your traditions, and the people in your life who make you feel whole.
A good question to consider, according to Adekunle: “How does this person show care about my interests and the things that are important to me?” For example, do you have their full attention when you talk about how your day went, or are they constantly distracted by their phone? Do they remember the little details you shared about your weekend friends’ trip, your passion for hiking, or the new coffee blend you’ve been raving about?
If you reflect on these questions and realize you’re not being seen or heard, Adekunle advises asking them, “Do you understand how important this is to me?” If that leads to improvement, great! If not, remember that someone who isn’t willing to grow isn’t worth your time.
9. They don’t make an effort to help you feel better when you’re going through a difficult time.
If you’re super stressed before a big work presentation or feeling down about some family drama, say, your partner should be a source of comfort. Of course, that isn’t to say you should dump your problems onto them and expect them to come up with magical solutions. At the very least, though, someone who has your best interest in mind should make the effort to be there for you, Dr. Marshall says.
Their gestures don’t have to be extravagant or expensive. “Simply providing physical affection, like a hug or kiss, or just re-affirming their belief in your abilities and the greatness of who you are can help you feel so much better,” she says. How exactly you want to be supported depends on your personal preferences, but if you’re feeling neglected (or as if they’re indifferent to your struggles), that’s a telltale sign your emotional needs aren’t being met.
10. They rely on you as their sole support for serious mental health struggles or past traumas.
To be clear, it’s not that people with trauma or mental health concerns can only have wonderful relationships when they’re completely “healed,” or some other similar and potentially unattainable benchmark. It’s more about aspects like: Are they self-aware about how these issues affect themselves and others? Are they receiving some kind of support or otherwise trying to heal? Seeking this kind of help can look like going to therapy, attending support groups, progressing through mental health workbooks, or forging strong friendships.
Remember that you’re not solely responsible for nurturing their well-being. And if the dynamic evolves into you being their only lifeline, that can make the relationship very, very difficult, Dr. Senarighi says.
11. They push your physical boundaries, even in “innocent” ways.
Does your partner refuse to stop tickling you when you tell them to knock it off? Do they continue to touch you in seemingly innocent ways (like hugs, shoulder rubs, or even repeatedly poking you in the arm like a sibling) when you request personal space? Yep, those are major red flags right there.
“Like with all boundaries, we want to ensure that someone is respecting the ways in which we tell them how to treat us,” Adekunle says. Even if some of these examples don’t seem like huge deals, the concern here is around escalation: If a partner is crossing your lines, Adekunle advises that it “might be a sign that this person won’t respect these boundaries over time. We want people to be able to hear ‘no’ and ‘stop’ and take us seriously.”
12. Your friends and family members don’t want to spend time with them.
Your loved ones probably want to see you happy and thriving, so you should definitely raise an eyebrow if they’re not exactly thrilled about your lover, Adekunle says. Maybe they just don’t like this person’s differing political views or the fact that they chew with their mouth open. Or, more concerningly, perhaps the people closest to you can see your new partner’s tendency to dismiss your feelings more clearly than you can, since you’re blinded by love or lust.
The only way to find out is to simply ask your friends or family members why, exactly, they don’t want to spend time with this person or get to know them better, Adekunle says. Be prepared for some brutal honesty: The answers might be hard to hear, but they’re ultimately important to know, she adds.
13. They gaslight you or constantly have you questioning yourself.
Gaslighting is manipulation where your partner twists reality, making you doubt your perceptions through denial (“I never said that”) or by blaming you (“You’re too sensitive”). Not only is it a form of emotional abuse, but it’s also very difficult to identify.
“The partner waving this red flag may use the other person’s vulnerabilities against them, making the gaslit one believe that they are to blame for whatever the problem is, and making it difficult to know whether they’re actually seeing a red flag or not,” Dr. Pitagora says. Because gaslighting can leave you second-guessing yourself, Dr. Pitagora advises seeking the support of people who make you feel safe—like a therapist or trusted loved one—to discuss what you’re experiencing and get more clarity on their behavior.
14. They respond poorly when you spend time away from them.
We’ve all been in that fluttery, honeymoon stage of a relationship when spending every moment together feels like you’re living inside the “Crazy in Love” music video. But Dr. Senarighi notes that spending too much time together can make you lose your sense of self and your support systems.
Taking space for yourself is healthy, as is paying attention to how your partner responds when you do. If they pout, guilt-trip you, or get angry when you go out with friends or don’t text them back right away, Dr. Senarighi says those behaviors could point to possessiveness. They could also simply struggle with meeting their own emotional needs, which isn’t a crime but is something they’ll have to resolve if they want to be in a healthy relationship in the long term.
The original article can be found on SELF US.