Red Flags in a Relationship

I need to preface this by saying that I am not a relationship expert. However, I am now 31 years old (young!) and I was not lucky enough to meet the man of my dreams in school, or even right out of school. This means I dated around and have dated many men who were not right for me. And, unfortunately for me, I have firsthand experience in the area of unhealthy relationships. Though that might be fortunate because I actually think I needed to experience those relationships to understand what I want and genuinely need in a partner…

Maybe you were lucky and met your match early in your life, but maybe you were like me and needed to figure yourself out first. And figure out what you wanted. And figure out that the people in your early years of dating weren’t winners.

The glasses are heavily rose tinted when you are 16 and your boyfriend has a car, I know.

What I am taking a million years to say here is I have been in unhealthy relationships and at the time there were tons of red flags that the relationship was not meant to be. Some things I recognized as red flags and I just glossed over or ignored or made excuses for them. Some I didn’t realize were red flags at all until I was in a healthy relationship. It really took getting into a healthy relationship for me to truly understand how good things can be if you are with someone who respects, appreciates and trusts you.

I know this type of thing has been written about over and over by everyone and all the magazines and every advice website and all the relationship experts…I know. But it’s always been written about and we always have friends who warn us (I did), but when you are in it it’s really hard to recognize the warning signs and see the red flags for what they are. And once you do, it is very difficult to get out of a relationship that you suspect is not right for you. Again, I know, I’ve been there. Especially if your lives are entwined and you live together or own property together, even if you’re not married and don’t have kids. So I am hoping that maybe someone in an unhealthy relationship will see this and realize that they deserve better.

Here are some big relationship red flags, and many of the ones I ignored over the years, in no particular order (mainly towards men, but only because that’s my experience – I’m sure it works both ways):

1. Having the same argument over and over

Arguing is one thing, but if you and your partner continually fight about the same issue without being able to come to a resolution or even a compromise… It’s not the issue, it’s a fundamental difference between you. In my experience the repeat fight without resolution stemmed from the fact that we were so opposite that our entire personalities conflicted with each other, so we would never be able to understand where the other was coming from. We were fundamentally different in the ways that really mattered. Sure, opposites attract and all that, but you can be opposite in many ways and still share important values and be on the same page.

2. Getting angry about little things

Say, for example, you accidentally drop a plate of food on the floor and the plate shatters and the food spills everywhere. If your significant other freaks out and yells at you, RED FLAG. No one meant for that to happen, it was an accident. It’s not like you purposely threw the plate on the floor, stomped on it, and then did a happy dance around it. If your partner overreacts to the little things like that, it’s going to be a problem. How will they handle something major?

3. Jealousy and/or Controlling Behaviour

There are so many examples of this, but I’m putting them under one umbrella. Basically, does your partner constantly worry that you are going to cheat on them? And do they take that worry out on you? Examples can include:

  • Hacking into your email/Facebook/whatever.
  • Grilling you when you work late, or are late getting home from something.
  • If they make you feel like your entire day needs to be accounted for.
  • Acting jealous towards other men you know or talk to.
  • When you’re telling a story and you mention another guy, your partner gets fixated on the guy (but who’s the guy? did you talk to him? did he hit on you?) so much that he completely misses the entire point of the story you are trying to tell. This then causes you to censor what you tell him. And if you are ever called on the censoring (ex – “You never told me there was a guy there!”) you will be battered with questions about it.
  • They don’t compliment you (because they don’t want you to feel good about yourself because then you may cheat on them, of course), but they may say “Hmm…you look better than usual today. Is something going on at work?” As in, who else are you looking hot for? You must be cheating.
  • Trying to control the way that you dress – ie: your skirt’s too short, your top’s too low, your pants are too tight. Not okay.
  • They make you feel guilty when you have done absolutely nothing wrong.

4. They don’t appreciate your unique qualities

I have always really liked the colour of my hair and I don’t want to mess with it. An ex of mine tried to convince me for years that I would look hotter if I dyed my hair dark. And my favourite compliment that I hear from other people is that I am funny. An ex of mine did not think I was funny, and would routinely tell me that he just didn’t think I was very funny. That’s cool, I’m sure not everyone does…but you know it’s something that I like hearing and that you are hurting me when you say that, and you know it.

5. They are not supportive of, or don’t value, the other important relationships in your life

The first time your partner meets the people in your life who are important to you, they should be wanting to make a good impression. If instead they get mad about something trivial and cause a big scene in front of everyone…well, that’s a really obvious warning sign that you should not ignore. They may try to excuse that behaviour, too much to drink, your friends are acting “slutty”, whatever it is…but there is no excuse for acting that way.

But there are more subtle signs than that. Even just acting irritated when you want to hang out with your friends. Making you feel guilty for wanting to have a life outside of them. I dated someone who made such a big deal every time I wanted to go out with my friends, including my best friend who is like a sister to me, that it got to the point where I didn’t want it to turn into a huge issue so I just wouldn’t go because it was so much easier not to. I almost lost some of my best friendships because of this.

6. Your friends and family do not like your significant other and do not approve of your relationship

Big red flag. These people know you best, and they can see the issues that you are ignoring. They can tell when you are not being yourself. My friends told me that I was not “me” with an ex, and I didn’t see it, but they were right. I was trying to change myself into someone I thought he would like better.

7. He criticizes you and/or puts you down, whether subconsciously or not, and he compares you to other women and you do not come out favourably. Or he criticizes you and says that he is joking.

Your partner should want to lift you up! Putting you down is controlling behaviour – I believe they put you down because of their own insecurities, because they want you to believe you aren’t worthy of being with someone great and they are scared of losing you. If he puts you down in public or in front of friends, game over. If he points to a random girl on the street and says “You know, I really like a good thigh gap on a woman,” look out. No good can come from a comment like that.

And if he makes a comment that bothers you and then says “Babe, just kidding!” Joking around with someone doesn’t give you the excuse to say whatever hurtful comments you want. And especially if your partner is concentrating on something that they know you are self-conscious about. That is not funny to anyone.

8. He leaves you behind

Okay, this one is kind of silly but I need to mention it. I dated someone who, whenever we arrived somewhere in a car, on a date, to someone’s house, wherever, he would get out of the car as soon as it stopped and start walking without me, leaving me to struggle to catch up. It’s not like I need someone to hold my hand wherever we go, but to me this showed such disrespect. Like he didn’t even have a thought for me. I look back on this and I honestly feel it was a metaphor for our entire relationship. It showed his selfishness.

9. Doesn’t respect your boundaries, or your property

If he doesn’t understand that no means no. Get out.

If he is angry and destroys something of yours (example, throws your WORK LAPTOP during a fight). Unacceptable.

10. They don’t look after their own responsibilities

Job, pets, kids. If they don’t take responsibility for the things they are responsible for, that’s a problem. You do not want this person as a life partner.

11. If their go-to response during an argument is “You’re crazy!”

You are not crazy. If something is bothering you, you need to be able to talk it through. Having someone respond to you like this dismisses your opinion and makes you afraid to speak your mind. Maybe your partner doesn’t agree with you, but they should still be willing to hear what you have to say.

12. You feel like you’re walking on eggshells

And anything you do or say may set them off.

13. Similarly, you can’t speak openly

If you feel like you can’t say what’s on your mind for whatever reason (he will become defensive, make fun of you, judge you, etc.) this is a problem. Communication is so, so important. If you can’t speak your mind it will fester until it becomes a big issue and probably cause resentment.

14. Dismissing the things that are important to you

Your goals, dreams, and aspirations are valid. Your partner should support you in your life wants. You should support each other!

15. If you need to constantly reassure yourself of their good qualities

If you are reading through this list and are agreeing with many of these points, but then you immediately brush it off and say to yourself “But he was so nice when he did this that one time!” Relationships like this are not all bad, otherwise why would you be in them? Of course they have their amazing moments, and the people their good qualities. But the amazing moments and good qualities do not excuse the red flags.

16. Your gut feeling

This is a biggie, and a sign that I ignored over and over and over. If you feel like the relationship is not right for you, it’s not. If you have that little niggle of worry in the pit of your stomach, please don’t ignore it.

There are a ton of others, but this is already quite lengthy. I just want to say, these red flags will not go away and get better with time; they will get worse. If your partner doesn’t trust you from the beginning, you may say to yourself “Well, once we have been together for a while and I prove to him that I am trustworthy, things will change.” No they won’t. They will get worse. The problem is not with you, it is with them.

And the biggest GREEN FLAG for me? Feeling like I have a partner in life. This is the first time where I have felt like I have a genuine partner in my life. Someone who has my back, who looks out for my best interests, and who respects me as well as loves me. I can’t tell you how amazing that feeling is.

If you are experiencing any of these things and need someone to talk to, feel free to email me at happyorhungry [at] gmail [dot] com. I’ve been there and I promise things are better on the other side of those relationships.

Any big red flags that I’ve missed? What are some of your deal breakers?

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40 responses to “Red Flags in a Relationship

  1. Great article Lindsey!!!

  2. I’m pretty amazed that you would have taken anyone’s crap like you’re talking about. Especially throwing the laptop.
    I couldn’t imagine treating anyone like that, unfortunately a few of these are familiar things I put up with and didn’t realize it…

    I want a recap of the circus and seeing the elephants story, complete with drawings

  3. Pretty good list there. I had the boyfriend that always acused me of cheating (because he was) and would ask his friends if they thought I was good-looking or not, because I guess they had to think so for him to think so? One of his friends bought me a rose once (you know when people go around selling them in bars and stuff) and my ex took it out of my hand and slammed it against a tree. Like you said, I made excuses for him. FOR SIX YEARS. But I guess that’s made me part of who I am today even though I should have broken it off after 4 years like I originally wanted to!

    I’m glad you found Evan and we’re scared off of meeting people on the interwebz because that boy is a dream.

    • Oh boy. I will be emailing you.
      It’s true. It made me a part of who I am today. I am stronger because of it and I know way more about what I want/need in a relationship, and more importantly what I will not tolerate.

  4. Thank you for posting – all single girls dating should read this and probably initial at the bottom saying that they have read it and understand it. It would save a lot of heartache and strife. #iknowfirsthand

  5. You pretty much nailed it! Granted I don’t have much experience in the matter (considering Ive been dating the same guy since I was like, 15 haha) but still, I have helped a lot of friends through breakups that happened way later due to some pretty big red flags.

  6. Great list! I have had many of those experiences in my dating life and I especially love that you touched on the “gut feeling”. I have discovered in my 41 years on this earth my gut feeling has NEVER lied. I hope lots of girls read this list and take it to heart! When you find the right one your whole being will know it! (So happy I have!)

    That said, am so glad you found Evan. All those other experiences happened so you can help others and also so you realize what a gem you have now. So happy for you!

    • Mine has never lied either, so why did it take me so long to listen to it?! WHY? Yes when you find the right one, YOU KNOW.
      Thank you 🙂 and what you say is right. I never want to take Evan for granted because I know how terrible it is to be with someone who is so wrong for you and really does not appreciate you.

  7. Jennifer Chiddenton

    I ended a relationship that I knew was bad last November and many of the red flags you listed were present. I made a pact with myself to find someone like you did. I remember reading your recap of you and Evan’s “Love Story” in December 2013 and said to myself if she can find someone so great, so can I. This time around I knew what I was looking for and I wouldn’t settle for anything less. I also did the online dating thing and after meeting many many duds I finally found someone who I feel is a genuine partner in life and I am so excited for the future. Its been 3 months and it actually scares me I found someone so great but in a good way! It is well worth getting out of bad relationships and waiting to find someone truly good for you! I’m so happy you found Evan too, you guys seem great together!

    • This comment really brought tears to my eyes. Thank you so much for telling your story. I am so happy you found your partner after your not so great relationships!!! I know exactly what you are saying about being three months in and it scares you. I would never have even thought a relationship like this would be possible.
      Seriously thank you.

  8. So THAT’S what happened to your laptop. Also, your ex never smiled. Another red flag.

  9. A lot of these come down to the whole, “are you dating a boy or a man” kind of thing. If you’re 22 and reading this list, the red flags are still valid but less so than if you’re noticing these attributes in men over the age of 30. A similar red flag for a gentlemen would be, “she can’t hold her drink and always gets blacked out drunk.” Well, if you’re dating a 22 year old, it kinda comes with the territory but if you 30 year-old GF acts the same way … huge red flag. Ditto with attention, girls want attention and woman want respect. Date a 22 year-old and you’re more likely to get the former. Having said that I have known some very mature people under the age of 25 and some very immature people over 30. But in general, many of the red flags listed should naturally evaporate as a man matures – if not, run don’t walk away.

    • That’s actually a really good point about the men vs boys thing, and girls vs women. I totally agree on that. Of course you also have the people who never grow up and will always act like girls and boys.
      In general I think a good partner will make your life easier, and a bad partner will make every little thing seem harder.

  10. It’s so crazy how so many signs can rear its ugly head and yet we are so capable of ignoring them. FOR YEARS!! Your gut is never wrong in any aspect of life and once you realize this, things really do get better. The guilt trips are the WORST! You have done nothing wrong and yet all you can think of is “How is this going to turn around and be my fault?” You then begin to “preplan” a conversation that should not even exist in the first place. Another big thing to remember is….your friends really do know you better than you know yourself. Most times. Lol they see things you don’t see. I think most of these red flags would seize to exist if people were comfortable in themselves. To be happy with someone you must first be happy by yourself. Then you will realize your self-worth and not stay
    with someone who brings out the worst in you, rather than the best.

    • +1 to guilt trips, preplanning the conversation, and being happy with yourself first. Big time to all of those things. You nailed it. Preplanning the conversation really hit home to me, because I used to think that all the time “how am I going to phrase this so that it doesn’t make him ask me a million questions about something completely insignificant.” I need to be able to just speak freely to people who will not judge me, or it changes who I am.
      Excellent comment Sherbear, I love your face.

  11. I continuously got ‘you’re crazy’ from my ex when I tried to speak with him about any issues I was having with the relationship. It really messes with you and it took a messy breakup and time away from him to realize that I really wasn’t being as crazy as I thought. I experienced many of those red flags but unfortunately just didn’t have the ability to see any of them because I was so into this guy. It really sucks having such amazing chemistry with someone who is so totally wrong for you! I also think that I really needed to get to know and my needs before getting into a serious relationship.

    I also agree with the boy vs man comment. However, I’m a 22 year old woman who isn’t just looking for attention but a partner. You shouldn’t have to go through a relationship thinking ‘why is this so hard?’ or ‘why is this work?’ or ‘why am I upset more than I am happy?’ However I really do value the experience of that shitty relationship because now I know what I want and deserve! Great post.

    • I hear you, I so hear you. I could have written your first paragraph. I did feel sometimes like I was turning into a crazy person! I too value my experiences because they made me who I am now, and I wouldn’t appreciate how great things can be. You are a 22 year old WOMAN! Thank you for your comment, it was really thoughtful and I appreciate it.

  12. As a recent divorcee, I would add that many of these apply in reverse — meaning, if you read this list and see YOURSELF as the person who always puts your partner down, looks forward to times when s/he is a way doing stuff with his/her friends, you think their goals/aspirations are lame/not enough, you legitimately don’t trust them to be around the opposite sex (whether they’ve done anything to warrant that feeling or [usually] not), you don’t think they’re funny, you don’t want to show them off to the world, you get mad over the littlest stuff or you keep things from him/her to avoid having that same fight/go-nowhere discussion, then THIS IS ALSO BAD NEWS.

    If you’re the “bad guy” kinda like I was — in something that started off probably 85-90% good — please quit while you’re ahead and get out. It’s damaging not only to the other person who you don’t trust/respect/legitimately want a relationship with, it’s damaging to you too. You BOTH deserve better.

    I’m ashamed that I let my feelings deteriorate the way they did before getting up the courage to leave, but mistakes are tools to learn from. I’m 10,000x happier now with BF than I ever was before, and it really is like coming up for air in knowing how GREAT life can be with the right partner.

    • Now this is interesting. I too feel like I was once the asshole in a relationship, for kind of the same reasons as you – wasn’t feeling it. But I think it stemmed from somewhere different for me (from somewhere different than when someone was the jerk to me). It wasn’t that I was jealous, it was more that I just didn’t care anymore. And yes yes to the BOTH deserving better and mistakes being tools to learn from. It’s so good when you are with the right partner, I’m happy you’re happy and not the jerk anymore.

  13. Lindsey, thank you for writing this list. I wish EVERY single girl (or girl in an unhappy relationship) could read this and realize the BASIC requirements for a solid relationship. I am so glad you found Evan!

  14. That’s a really thorough list. I had very nearly forgotten about the extremely creepy ex I dated about a year before I met my husband (who is adorable and – GREEN FLAG – always tells people nice things about me, so that I meet them and they say, “Oh, you’re David’s wife! He says you’re an amazing artist! Awww…). Anyway, creepy ex did a lot of the things you listed – especially the whole accounting for every minute of the day, hacking/stalking, etc. You touched on it, but a biggie for me is alienation – if the man tries to alienate you from your friends, so that you become isolated and rely only on him, that’s such a red flag.

    • Aww, you are an amazing artist!!!
      Oh yeah, alienation is bad bad news. I could write an entire post on just that so I tried to shorten it. But it’s crazy how it slowly happens, and you kind of notice it but justify it anyway. I think you really have had to experience that in a relationship to be able to understand it. I am glad you found your adorable husband 🙂
      PS – Meant to write back to this weeks ago.

  15. I love that you are posting this. You are completely right. People read articles like this all the time and they always say… “that isn’t how my boyfriend is…” I was in a horrible relationship and I did not pay attention to any of the red flags even when they were very obvious and my friends and family did not like the guy. Fortunately, I am not in it anymore but it still has majorly affected me. I hope no one ever has to be in a negative relationship because no one deserves that. I know I did not deserve it. I hope to find a guy who will treat me right.

    Another red flag… isolates you from friends, say degrading comments about other people around you, lies, manipulative, only wants what works for him…. I could go on and on..

    Thank you though. We all deserve a good guy.

    • You will find the guy who will treat you right, and the good thing about being in that horribly negative relationship is that you will KNOW when that guy comes along. Let it affect you in the good way like that, like you had to experience it to be able to truly know what you want and what you won’t tolerate in the future.
      I really believe if you are just reading it and haven’t experienced this kind of relationship yourself you won’t be able to understand how someone could put up with that behaviour. But, we do. We did. But never again!!!

  16. AWESOME POST! I was in a relationship and he did many of these things. Especially the criticizing thing and of course because of the criticism, I couldn’t speak openly, and he ALWAYS left me behind. And not only that, but we’d get somewhere like into the party or HIS family gathering and he’d just ditch me and I’m just standing there and some people are like “who’s the redhead?” Gee thanks. I’d always feel miserable after spending the weekend at his place and then relieved when I got back to my place. Then by Thursday, I was making plans for the weekend again. Then he broke up with me and I was devastated. Cried and cried and thinking that I’d have to start over etc. Went to see a counsellor I’d seen in the past and the first thing he said was “Pretend you’re the queen of the world and you had a magic button. If you pushed it you could have him back right now, exactly as he is, forever. Would you push it?” I said no right away and he said “what are you crying for? He did you a huge favour.” HE WAS SO RIGHT. Not only that but if I was more upset about starting over and being single than I was about not having that guy, that’s a big clue. Baha!!

    • Oh I so feel you. You really reminded me of something with this comment. One of my exes, whenever we would go to his parents house, would go into the kitchen himself and get a drink and snacks and stuff and not offer me anything. Like dude I don’t feel as comfortable here as you do. I can’t just help myself.
      He really did you a favour breaking up with you. So glad your counsellor helped you see it! So better to be single than to be in a bad relationship.
      And sorry for the delay in my response 🙂

  17. It’s so interesting to think about what we were willing to accept in the past and how we talk ourselves into it “being ok” somehow when it’s really not! I am so glad you and Evan have found each other. It gives me hope that someday maybe I’ll find my Evan, too 🙂

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  19. did we date the same guy? 😛
    another big red flag. they tell you that no one will ever love you as much as they do.

    I was nodding my head in agreement throughout this post. SOmetimes I get mad at myself for wasting so much of my precious youth on that guy, but heck, I finally did meet a wonderful man and maried him and he is nothing like my ex!

  20. Wow, almost every example sounds like it was directly quoted from someone I knew. It comes down to maturity. I’m not disagreeing, it’s definitely important to recognize these signs and get out SOONER than later, but without the bad relationships you wouldnt know a good one. As someone mentioned, these traits should go away with age, maturity and self confidence.

    • They SHOULD…but I don’t think they always do. Sometimes I think that’s just how controlling people are, forever. But I do think in a lot of cases it takes a relationship like this for them to learn a lesson and snap out of it as well. And yes, gain confidence.

  21. Thank you. I’m late to the party here, but this was sitting in my reader and I got to it just when I needed it!

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