An arc on the NBC sitcom 30 Rock involved TV writer Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) penning a comedy sketch-turned-book called “Dealbreakers,” in which she provides examples of things a person does that should signal the end of relationship. These dealbreakers — including “if your man has to sneak you inside his house to avoid his mother” — can also be described as “red flags.” As a person who is dating or in a relationship, being aware of potential red flags is crucial. Your time, money, and energy is precious, and the last thing you need to do is waste any of it on a person and relationship that is toxic or doomed to fail. It goes without saying that any relationship involving emotional, physical, or domestic abuse by a partner, overt or otherwise, should be terminated immediately. But what about the more subtle signs that slowly breed toxicity and an unhappy partnership? Here are just some relationship red flags you should keep in mind.
Lack of trust
If you and your partner can’t trust each other, that’a a major red flag, according to psychiatrist Dr. Abigail Brenner, writing for Psychology Today. “When a person has difficulty being honest with himself or herself, it may be hard for them to be honest with you,” she writes. “Some of this behavior may not be calculated and malicious but simply a learned way or habit of coping. However, being out-and-out lied to is a no-brainer. A person who holds himself or herself unaccountable for their actions lacks integrity and lacks respect for their partner.”
Feeling like you can’t be yourself around your partner
We all deserve to be our authentic selves, so if you’re in a relationship where you feel as though you have to be a different version of yourself, that’s not a good sign. “As a relationship progresses, you should feel more comfortable with your partner and share more of yourself,” Sharon Martin, a licensed clinical social worker, writes for PsychCentral. “It’s a red flag if you either don’t feel increasingly safe to share your experiences, interests, thoughts, and feelings or you feel judged or criticized when you do and begin to hide or suffocate parts of yourself that your partner disapproves of.”
Lack of communication
If your partner has trouble effectively expressing how they feel about something — or just holds back completely — that does not bode well for the relationship. “Often, when it would seem most important to be open and honest, they distance themselves emotionally, leaving their partner hanging, or having to deal with a situation on their own,” Brenner writes. “Often, whatever is ‘communicated’ is expressed through moodiness, and sometimes the dreaded ‘silent treatment.'” This applies to anything from conversations about money, their past, or any issues that may naturally come up in a partnership.
You shouldn’t expect your partner to give you a rundown of every person they’ve dated from middle school to now, but if they had a significant relationship it would make sense that it would come up. You should also probably find out early in your relationship whether they have children or are dealing with custody issues as these would be a significant part of their daily and personal life. Same goes for if they carry excessive debt or have a hard time managing money and finances in general.
They want you to give up your goals, interests, friends, and/or family
Even if you’re part of a relationship, you can (and should!) maintain your own identity. Part of this includes having your own friends, hobbies, and goals for your life. And if your partner isn’t on-board with this — or actively trying to stop you from doing things or seeing people you love — that is a definite red flag. “A relationship should add depth and joy to your life; it should make you feel more alive—more yourself. It shouldn’t diminish who you are and what’s important to you,” Martin writes. “And while it’s normal to spend a lot of time with a new partner at the beginning stage of a relationship (and consequently less time with friends or family), it’s a red flag if you feel like your partner would be angry, jealous, or critical if you spent time with your friends and family.”
The early stages of love are often full of small irks and quirks you tend to dismiss in your new partner, and while chewing with their mouth open shouldn’t automatically be a deal-breaker, possessiveness, toxicity, and gaslighting should be. Trust your instinct and your gut, if at times your new partner makes you feel uneasy, talks down at you, questions you about your whereabouts, or talks to you in a way that feels more like an interrogation, they might be showing a side of them that is problematic. You should never feel like you’re walking around eggshells around them and should never have to edit your actions, thoughts, or words to avoid making them angry. All these signs of abuse, even in the height of early relationship throes, are red flags of issues that are problematic.
Be honest with your new partner, tell them how their words and actions make you feel, and stop this kind of behavior in its tracks.
If you’re not sure if you’re being gaslit, here’s a concise explanation by psychoanalyst Robin Stern in a 2019 article for Vox: “Undermining a partner’s emotions and feelings is a way to deny their reality. Continuous invalidity of how the other partner feels about a situation is just as effective as saying their perceptions are wrong. The emotional chopping away during those moments has the effect of convincing the other person that they could be imagining or “making up” scenarios that don’t exist, when in all reality, what that person is feeling or experiencing is real.”
Your friends and family don’t like this person
Speaking of your friends and family, if they don’t like the person you’re dating, take that seriously. It can be easy to dismiss their input (especially if they have a tendency to meddle), but if there’s a near-unanimous hatred for your partner, your loved ones could be onto something. “If there is something ‘off’ about this person that seems obvious to those who know you so well, you may need to listen to what they’re telling you,” Brenner writes. “Often, in the throes of a new relationship, hearing criticism about your new ‘beloved’ may not be welcome, but others may see things more clearly from an outsider’s perspective. At the very least, hear these people out.”
They go overboard early in the relationship
You’re probably thinking, Wait, don’t I want someone to go overboard for me? Sure, sometimes you do simply strike gold with a significant other who wines and dines you, sweeps you off your feet, and woos you with hours-long dates right from the start — and continues to do so throughout your relationship. However, this type of behavior can also be a hallmark of a serial dater. Their quote-unquote end game? They want to hook you early so that they can get what they want out of the relationship and then move on.
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