It can feel very easy to spot unhealthy relationships from the outside. When your friend’s partner isn’t treating them well, you may want to immediately express your concerns. Or, when a celebrity’s significant other cheats on them, you let your opinion be known on Twitter and TikTok (been there). But when it comes to your own relationship, it might not be as easy to see and acknowledge the red flags.
“A relationship red flag is something that is considered a deal breaker or a non-negotiable for a person, that doesn’t necessarily have to do with their individual preferences, but more so with the character, behavior, and emotional maturity and availability in the relationship,” Dr. Christie Kederian, a relationship expert and licensed family and marriage therapist, explains.
Yes, there are some signs that really can’t be ignored. If you get cheated on and know you can never trust your S.O. again, then you may realize you have to GTFO of that relationship. But other red flags are more subtle — and often easily forgiven — and sometimes, you may even find yourself ignoring the bad signs because you don’t want to admit the person you love isn’t actually that great for you. But it’s important to be able to notice red flags in your relationship, so you can deal with them appropriately and decide if this relationship is really the best for you. Below, relationship experts discuss the biggest relationship red flags, offer advice on how to deal with them, and list signals that it might be time to break up with your S.O.
1. They make you feel bad about yourself.
You deserve to date someone who treats you like royalty, period.(by dressing differently or ditching your friends) that could be a sign they don’t really like you for you, and you deserve someone much better. Also, if your partner is constantly putting you down, or if their behavior towards you makes you question your self-worth, it’s time to say goodbye. A good relationship will lift you up and make you feel good, not knock you down.
“Anytime someone minimizes your accomplishments, lowers your self-esteem, or makes you feel bad about yourself, it can definitely be a red flag for their empathy and love for you, and also for themselves,” Dr. Kederian explains. “Oftentimes, when people don’t feel good about themselves, they make others feel small and bad about themselves as well.”
“Relationships are supposed to add to our lives. They should be a net positive,” Dr. Stephanie Freitag, licensed clinical psychologist, adds.
2. They have you second-guessing their feelings toward you.
Games aren’t cool when you’re in a relationship. It should be obvious that your partner is into you. If it’s not so clear, that’s a red flag that merits a serious conversation.
“It’s not a great foundation for a relationship when you don’t have that emotional security,” Dr. Rebekah Montgomery, licensed clinical psychologist, explains. “Sometimes it takes time for you to know how you’re feeling, or for them to know how they’re feeling. And it would be good for them to be able to talk about that. But if they’re making you second guess, then it’s going to undermine the future of the relationship.”
At the beginning of a relationship, your S.O. may go out of their way to show their love for you. That might wane off as the relationship continues over a few months or years, but you still should feel comfortable and secure with your person.
3. They don’t listen to you.
If your S.O. never pays attention when you talk to them, what’s the point of dating? “This can be a sign that they don’t have the care or emotional capacity to truly love you how you want to be loved in a relationship and be a partner that can meet your needs,” Dr. Kederian says.
They don’t need to recall your conversations word for word, but they should put their phone down, listen, and offer thoughtful input. That goes double when you’re stressed or upset. Sure, their eyes might glaze over when you’re talking about the never-ending Don’t Worry Darling drama, but anyone who is worth your time should take a genuine interest in you and your life.
4. They don’t support your goals.
Maybe you ask them to run flashcards before your big test and they say no. Or maybe you talk about your big dreams of running your own company one day and they laugh you off like they don’t believe you can do it. That doesn’t feel good at all. Whoever you date should believe in you and support your dreams and ambitions. If your partner is always shooting down your goals, they might be insecure about their future — but that’s no reason for them to bring you down.
“It’s really important to reflect on why you’re in the relationship in the first place, because if you don’t feel like there is value added, then it’s probably not the right fit,” Dr. Freitag says.
5. They pressure you to get physical before you’re ready.
Choosing to hook up or have sex is a big decision. There’s no reason to rush into it until you’re really, truly ready. The right person will respect you by listening to your boundaries and taking things at a pace you’re both comfortable with.
“They’re not respecting your boundaries or acknowledging what’s important to you,” Dr. Montgomery explains. “That makes the relationship not feel emotionally and physically safe.”
6. The relationship is all about them.
You hang out at your S.O.’s house when it’s convenient for their schedule and always get pizza because it’s their favorite food. If they’re never taking your interests or likes and dislikes into account, then that’s not OK. Relationships are all about compromise, on the big and small stuff.
“Relationships are about an even exchange,” Dr. Freitag explains. “Of course, there are going to be ebbs and flows in that, depending on life circumstances.”
“There has to be equality for people to generally feel satisfied in a relationship,” she adds. “A lot of times, when there isn’t that balance, people tend to feel like there’s a lack of fairness in the relationship, and that can lead to sour feelings. And when that arises, it’s harder to maintain a relationship.”
7. They don’t try to get along with your friends or family.
Your partner doesn’t have to be besties with your besties, but they should make a serious effort to get along with the people who are important to you. And they should want to introduce you to their family and friends, as well. “Someone that’s committed to a relationship and cares about you would show up in actions towards people that are important to you,” Dr. Montgomery explains. “Caring for others is an extension of caring for you.”
If your friends and family don’t necessarily have heart-eyes for them, they might be picking up on red flags that you’re a little too smitten to see.
8. Your friends don’t like your S.O.
Chatting with friends should be fun and easy. If you’re doing mental gymnastics to avoid dropping your partner’s name and incurring the wrath of your friends’ dislike, that’s a huge red flag.
If a friend comes to you with concern about your relationship, although it may be hard to hear, it’s so important to listen to what they’re saying. “It’s scary and overwhelming to get that information from people in your life,” Dr. Freitag says. “You might not agree with every point, and your friends don’t always have a full grasp of what’s going on in your relationship. But if they’re coming and expressing concern, it probably isn’t coming from nowhere… Real friends care about you and your well-being. They notice unhealthy patterns in your relationship, and they have the courage to speak out, in spite of the adverse effects that may happen.”
It’s more than likely they aren’t randomly hating on your S.O. just to hate. They know you deserve way better (and wish you knew that, too). “Try to be really open-minded and remember that for a friend to come to you, they have to be pretty concerned,” Dr. Montgomery adds. “It’s coming from a place of concern and worry. Acknowledge that they’re doing this out of love and care for you.”
9. You’ve never met their friends.
In all the time you’ve spent together, you’ve heard countless hilarious stories about your partner’s friends. So… where are they? If you’ve been dating for a while and still haven’t met their friends, that’s fairly suspicious.
“In some way, they are potentially hiding you, or hiding something about themselves. There isn’t full transparency.” Dr. Freitag explains. “And in order to really integrate into one another’s lives, you need to meet each other’s important people.”
You can learn a lot about a person when they’re in a group setting versus one-on-one. “How people interact with their friends says a lot about who they are,” Dr. Freitag adds.
10. They call you “crazy.”
“People use that term when they’re trying to invalidate your emotional experiences,” Dr. Freitag says. It’s a red flag that they aren’t mature enough to really listen to you, and own up to their behavior. “They’re negating your emotional responses and experiences, in a sense of manipulating you to believe that they’re not important,” she continues.
11. They cheat on you.
The response to being cheated on is extremely subjective, and some people carry different definitions of what it means and what constitutes cheating. But, “any kind of betrayal or dishonesty is a violation in the relationship,” says Dr. Montgomery.
“When you enter into a relationship, you’re in an agreement to be faithful to one another, unless you have an open relationship,” Dr. Freitag adds. “If you’re violating terms of that agreement, you’re essentially violating trust. It’s less about the behavior, and it’s more about the way that it makes you feel in the relationship — it leads to greater insecurity and mistrust.”
If this happens, Dr. Montgomery advises that the most important thing you can do is have a discussion. Talk about what might have led to the cheating, whether you both want to stay in the relationship, or whether there were any underlying issues. “[But] if it’s something, you know you can’t forgive, then it doesn’t make sense to try to stay,” Dr. Montgomery adds. “You don’t want to hold that against someone, either.”
12. You always text your bae back right away, but they take their time to respond to you.
If your S.O. goes a few hours without returning your text every once in a while, it’s NBD. If they rarely write back on time and sometimes not at all, consider why you text them back right away. Because talking to them gives you butterflies? Because you’re having a fantastic conversation? Because you’re polite? And why aren’t they returning the favor? If their texting flaws bother you, let them know. They might not realize they’re taking so long, or, they might not feel the same way about you — in which case, you don’t need that in your life.
13. They get jealous when you spend time away from them.
A healthy relationship involves spending time together, sure, but it also includes time apart. If your S.O. gets salty once, they might just feel left out. Schedule a date night, or invite them to tag along during the next group outing. Try to talk it out and understand why they got upset. But if they repeatedly have trouble trusting you to be on your own, that’s a huge red flag that they could be unnecessarily controlling.
14. They threaten to break up with you all the time.
This is emotionally manipulative behavior. “Breaking up evokes a lot of really strong emotions in people,” Dr. Freitag explains. “And if [your partner] is using that as a control mechanism, it’s hard to feel any sort of stability or security in the relationship.”
You should feel secure in your relationship and comfortable enough to be yourself around your significant other, not walking on eggshells constantly.
15. They always flake out on plans.
If your S.O. cancels one or two dates here and there to study for a big test, that’s understandable. But if they constantly flake out because they want to play video games at home, or something better came up, they clearly don’t respect you or your time. You should be with someone who will make time to hang out, because they truly enjoy spending every minute they can with you.
“There’s always going to be competing demands for our attention,” Dr. Montgomery says. “A strong relationship communicates that you’re my number one as often as can be. It can never be all the time, but as often as can be.”
16. Or, they never initiate dates.
We’re not saying your partner needs to take you out on fancy dates all the time. But if they never want to go out in public together, whether it’s to grab burgers, see a movie, or go for a walk, that could be a sign they’re not ready to commit. They’re maybe not listening to you (see #3), or they might be more interested in a physical relationship than a real relationship. Whatever it is, you’re worth more than that and you deserve someone who wants to show you off.
“This person should be willing to make efforts to give you attention, to prioritize you, to create an experience where you guys can connect,” Dr. Montgomery says. “If they’re not willing to make that effort, they’re not going to be able to sustain a relationship in general.”
17. They’re not cool about the things you like.
There’s a difference between gently teasing you for your love of the Kardashians and making you feel dumb for caring about what’s going on in the lives of Kim, Kourt, and Khloé. That difference, BTW, is respect. Your S.O. doesn’t need to love everything you love, but they shouldn’t make you feel bad for liking the things you like.
Another red flag that falls in line with this is if they can’t tolerate a difference in opinion, Dr. Montgomery says.
“We can disagree about things, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a big fight,” she explains. “If you guys have different opinions about things, they can be respectful.”
18. They never talk about the future.
While it’s important to live in the moment, you also want to know if your S.O. is committed to building a future with you. “There is a good chance that if they don’t talk about the future with you, they’re not necessarily visualizing you in their future,” Dr. Freitag says. “Usually, when people are in a relationship, they want it to go the distance.”
This doesn’t have to mean that you’ll be together for 30 years (though you could be!). But it’s nice to know that your partner wants to make plans for the holidays, or for next summer, to show that they take your relationship as seriously as you do.
19. They don’t have other strong relationships.
It can be concerning if they don’t have other close people in their life, Dr. Montgomery says, whether it be family or friends. “A good barometer of whether someone can have good, strong, healthy relationships is if they have other ones, even if they’re non-romantic,” she explains.
20. They’re secretive.
This red flag isn’t completely obvious at first, but if they routinely leave out small bits of information here and there, it could be cause for concern. “That could be a red flag, in terms of their ability to be forthcoming and be open about when there are problems,” Dr. Montgomery says. Whether it be about school, work, or other aspects of their life, it’s important to know that your partner is being honest and straightforward with you.
How do you know when to end a relationship?
There’s not a clear-cut answer to this, but it’s most important to acknowledge your feelings and emotions. “How are you feeling in your relationship? Of course, you’re going to have down moments and days, but in your best moment in the relationship, when things are going smooth and well, how are you feeling?,” Dr. Freitag asks.
Relationships should make you feel happy, content, and joyful. “If you don’t have as much of a positive association with the relationship, it probably should end,” she adds.
If you’ve brought up your concerns with your partner, or have confronted them over their red flag behavior and they haven’t changed (or made the effort to change), it might be time to walk away, Dr. Montgomery says.
“If you’re concerned enough to be noticing a lot of red flags, that is information that might require you to take a really hard look at what you’re getting from the relationship,” Dr. Freitag explains. “If you’re at the point where you’re more focused on the red flags than doing fun things together, then it might be time to consider why you’re in the relationship in the first place.”
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