Relationship Red Flags - Ignore Them At Your Own Risk

Last Updated 04.04.2022
16 min read

There are all shades of the color red, from bright cherry red down to almost pink. And in the world of relationships, red flags can come in all shades on this spectrum.

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Just What are Relationship Red Flags?

The simplest definition of a red flag is that it is a warning sign. For example, you have started a new job, and a co-worker has immediately befriended you and wants to fill you in on all of the gossip about everyone on the team. This is probably someone you should avoid. Or you are interviewing a possible apartment roommate, and they reveal they are a "night owl" while you are not. This will not be a good fit.

Relationship red flags with possible or current partners are just that - warning signs that the two of you may not be a good fit over the long haul. These may be slow in coming, because everyone puts on their best behavior in the beginning. But gradually, their true selves, with their faults, reveal themselves. And it's up to you to decide if these red flags mean you walk away or not.

Pink to Red - Pick Your Battles

As you get into a new relationship, there are things that will bother both of you. Suppose your new squeeze spends the night, uses a spare toothbrush you have on hand, and fails to put the cap back on the toothpaste or doesn't rinse out the sink well enough for your liking? This is a sample of a "very light pink flag." It is something that can be talked about and easily fixed. There are lots of pink flags, light to dark, that are not "deal breakers" - things that can be resolved with good communication and compromise.

Red flags are different. These are serious behaviors that cause you stress, anxiety, and unhappiness. And they can be hard to recognize in the beginning of relationships, mostly because you are so infatuated (and lustful) and both of you are showing only your best selves.

Are you putting up with stuff you shouldn't have to? Take a look at these relationship red flags - maybe it's time to get out.

19 Relationship Red Flags

Study this list carefully. If any of these are in your relationship, you need to ask yourself if you really have a future with this current partner. Remember, it's never too late to call it quits and get out - people do it all the time, even after 20+ years.


Cruelty comes in many forms, but any form is wrong. Emotional abuse can have you feeling insecure, can have you questioning your worth and value, and may lead you to conclude that you cannot be or do anything that someone else would want or need. Those who live in long-term environments of emotional cruelty will probably need help from a therapist to heal and get their heads straight once again.

Physical abuse, or domestic violence, cannot and should not be tolerated. If your partner has ever raised a hand to you, you must find the strength to get out. Run, don't walk, away, even if it is to a shelter until you can make plans for new living arrangements. Physical cruelty will only get worse if you tolerate it.

Social Media and Phone Use

Here's a relationship red flag that may not be obvious at first because, hey, we all use social media, and our phones are pretty much attached to our hips. Here are some signs that you may not want to ignore:

  • They do not post things about you as a couple or any pictures of the two of you together, for friends to see

  • They seem to be texting a lot and not in a location where you can see those messages If you move in too close, they immediately stop and change screens

  • They turn the sound off on their phones, so you do not know when they receive calls or messages

  • They sometimes move to another room when they get a call with flimsy excuses for doing so


There are two types of stashing that should be a big red flag for you:

Avoiding You Meeting Their Family

If a partner does not take you around their family, it's a clear sign that something isn't right. You two may go out among friends, but when events come up that involve family members, they have an excuse for going it alone. If this is the case, your relationship is not valid.

Avoiding You Meeting Their Friends

Here's the weird thing about this situation. A partner may be happy to take you around family members, and they see you two as a couple. But they are leading another existence with their friends. Here is a rather typical scenario: Your partner brings you around their family and they all like you. You two seem to be a good match and they are happy about that. But your partner also wants a separate "life" without you - going to bars and clubs without you, where they can enjoy the role of "single player." This hurts and is a sign that you should doubt their loyalty.

Both types of stashing should be unacceptable to you. Don't ignore stashing and make your plans to get out. This behavior will not change, and you will only be a couple in the "compartments" of the lifestyle they choose. The point is you are worth so much more.

They Rushed into a Relationship with You

This is called "love bombing," This is a type of manipulation with the goal of controlling you, and it explains a lot when you are past the relationship and can put it in context. They come on fast with the "I love you" and "I want no one but you," or "you make my existence complete" kinds of statements, and they push for living together almost immediately. You are so thrilled with the attention and the claims of undying love, that you fail to see what is really happening. Only later, does clarity set in. You realize that you are spending less and less time with friends, pouring all of your energy into this relationship. Your partner has you just where they want you. You have become dependent upon them and the relationship to have all of your needs met. This isn't healthy at all. And you are now developing feelings of discomfort. Listen to your gut - love bombing is a common behavior of super-controlling people.

They Gaslight - A Lot

Put simply, gaslighting is placing the cause of wrongdoing or mistakes on anyone or anything else but themselves. Often, you will be the brunt of this gaslighting. When this happens, you can begin to feel insecure about your own perceptions and take on reality. Comments such as, "I was only joking," "you're overreacting," or "I didn't say that '' have you questioning yourself.

Other forms of gaslighting include blaming parents and upbringing. They act this way because of a bad childhood or poor role models - anyone or anything else other than the choices and decisions they have made all by themselves.

Still another form of gaslighting is to "deflect." When you confront them with their poor behavior, they turn the conversation around to some fault you have. If you buy into that and start discussing your faults, they have "won" again.

Gaslighting is one of the most common relationship red flags in a partnership that is not healthy. Unless they can own up to responsibility for their actions, your relationship is doomed.

They Did All of Their Exes

Among all of the red flags, this should be the easiest to spot pretty quickly. You will probably both mention your exes. That's normal. With you, the relationships with your exes involved positives and negatives, and both of you had faults. In the course of conversations with this new love, though, all of the blame is on the exes and their faults or craziness. If this is what you are hearing, then you need to understand that this is a person who cannot accept any responsibility for any faults they may have - a big red flag, if you choose to see it. If you ignore it, then you will end up in this pot, to be thrown into their barrel of crazy exes.

They Do Not Put on Their Listening Ears

You should feel free to express your thoughts and feelings to your partner. You want to share your opinions, your interests, your goals, and more. But when you attempt to describe these, you are met with apathy and the clear response that they have no interest in these things. This can be an early warning sign that your partner is a narcissist, and that's a serious issue. If it's all about them and they ignore your need to get positive, affirming words from them, your chances for a mutually equal relationship is pretty much dead.

You are Not Comfortable Bringing Them Around Your Friends

You have to ask yourself why you feel this way. Are you afraid of what they will wear for the occasion? Are you afraid that they will use language that will offend? Are you afraid that they will bring up their crazy past or exes? Are they of a different race or cultural background that others will find offensive? Are their politics "wrong?" Most of these issues are yours, not theirs. Dating someone that embarrasses you is not the stuff of which a lasting relationship is made. If you do feel awkward bringing them around your "community," then you should probably hang it up now.

They're Prejudiced

You believe in equality and diversity. As you get to know this new person in your life, you discover that they have strong prejudices against certain ethnic, religious, or other LGBTQ+ community members. You know this is not who you are, and it should be cause for deep concern. It's a red flag that your relationship is headed for trouble. It won't last, so close it out now. This is not a nice person.

They are Abusive to People Who Serve Them

People of all races, genders, ages, etc. can have a sense of "entitlement." They believe that they should be "served" by others. Nowhere is this more apparent than at restaurants, customer service desks, and even in checkout lines. If they use words that are dismissive and/or somewhat abusive to these individuals, you should have a major insight into who they really are. Do you want a lifelong partnership with someone who looks down on others and treats them badly? This type of behavior is not even close to who you are. Consider this a big red flag and get out of the relationship with this person. Words count.

They are Highly Jealous

Jealousy is a normal emotional response if a lover is too friendly with someone else, seems to be texting with and phoning them a lot, and may even be meeting up with them alone. When this happens, you will need to address it and your feelings about their behavior. But here is a scenario that is extreme and a definite red flag. You and your squeeze are on a date at a bar and seated next to others who are all engaged in great dialogue, on a topic you are interested in. You decide to join in the conversation. Your date becomes visibly upset and tells you they want to leave right away. Once you are alone, they tell you that it is disrespectful to talk to others when you are with them. They are angry. Is this a person you want to develop a relationship with? Don't ignore this behavior. It is a sign of things to come.

You Have Very Different Short- and Long-Term Goals

These are red flags that will not always show up in the beginning. But as you get to know each other, you will certainly have talks about what you want to do and where you want to be. You may want to go back to school and get a Master's. Your squeeze has no desire to get any more education. This is not a big deal - you are two independent souls. But what if you want to move to a different state or country in the future, and they want to stay right where they are? What if they see life on a remote beach somewhere, and you enjoy the city lifestyle? Is there room for compromise here? You will have to answer that question for yourself. But, even if you decide to save those decisions for later on, you are only postponing the inevitable. These are the types of red flags you need to think about early on before you become too involved in this relationship.

They Are Not Who They Say They Are

This is a red flag issue that crops up a lot with couples who meet online and then hook up in person. you have responded to someone who says they like to go out to eat, to movies, and to travel. Once you meet up, you discover that their idea of eating out is bringing in takeout, and movies mean binging Netflix series. And that travel? It means going camping at an RV park. Obviously, we want to put our "best" face on when we write our online dating profile, but big exaggerations usually mean that the partner wants to "be" someone they are not. And the goal is just to meet up with others and hope they can have a connection of sorts.

If you value honesty, then this is one of those red flags that you need to take seriously. Do they lie about other things too?

Their Anger Smacks of Violence

We all get angry. You may want to express that anger by going out on the patio and letting out a loud scream. You discover that when this new partner is feeling anger, they kick the dog, punch holes in walls, throw and break things. Do you even have the words to respond to these outbursts at the moment? Frankly, they can be frightening, and they are one of the most serious red flags you will encounter. Will that anger come to be directed at you? If you observe these actions, don't take any chances - move on.

They Abuse Drugs or Alcohol

Today, it is not considered a big deal to occasionally drink, of course. But if you see signs of abuse, especially hard drug use or frequent drinking binges, you have an abuser on your hands. And you may not see this red flag until you have been dating more frequently. These behaviors will not end on their own and do not think that you can change them. You have to decide what you will put up with, but over the long haul, this will not end well. Find a partner who is moderate.

Communication Avoidance

Do you have the feeling that your partner is mentally absent when you are talking to them? Early on in your dating, this red flag may not show up, probably because you are still in the "ain't love wonderful" stage. After a while, though, you get the feeling that they are not listening to you and have not really heard what you have said. As Dr. Jesssica Behr, clinical psychologist states, "If your partner seems absent or like they're not listening to you while you're speaking or doesn't respond to your texts or messages, this is a sign they are disconnected or distracted."

The other thing in poor communication can be an avoidance of serious and sometimes tough conversations. When a partner says, "I don't want to talk about this now," you can pretty much figure they never will. No matter how great a person may be in bed, communication has to be present too, if your partnership is going to last.

They Depend on You to "Fix It"

There are needy people on this planet. Or maybe they are not so needy until they have found you and see you as strong and able to take on their problems too. It begins gradually, and you don't see it as a red flag at first, because you want to be helpful. Over time, you take note that they depend on you more and more. If you are naturally a "giver," then you might be comfortable with this - it's called co-dependency, and a therapist might be in order. But if you aren't good with this arrangement, then your partner needs the therapist, and you need to return to a focus on yourself.

They are Too Possessive

It's fun to spend most of your time together when love is new. But once that newness wears off, you want to re-join your "former" life which means having your own space. If your partner resists and has an emotional moment over this, then that red flag should be going up the pole. Relationships should not be smothering. The smootherer either lacks self-confidence or has a need to control. Either way, the behaviors should be a concern. They're not crazy but being smothered might make you so. Leave and join your past independence again. Your former partner can join one or more support groups for their issues.

They Take Pleasure in Putting You Down

So, they tell you it was just a joke. But those jokes have you feeling like crap because the point of them is to expose your flaws. Most of these behaviors come from low self-esteem and the need to put others down to feel somehow superior. This won't happen on the first date or even the 7th, but as the relationship settles in, it starts. You need to respond to these behaviors right away and tell your partner that the "jokes" hurt your feelings. If those behaviors don't change, then you need to respond by getting out - no need for patience here. This is not the partner or relationship for you.

Consider This Your Reality Check

Take a look at this list. It's one of many resources that you can use to look for red flags in a relationship and can help you set up some rules before you fall into another relationship. And if you didn't see these red flags and are in a full-blown relationship with some of them, then you should get some support and help from a professional so you can address them with your partner or take steps to get out. As couples counselor Folashade Adekunle says, "One reason red flags can be tricky to identify is that so much else in a relationship could be going well." At least in the beginning this can be true. and that explains a lot. You may choose to stick it out and work on those flags with your partner. Just be sure that you aren't putting yourself at risk.

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