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The internet has dubbed character traits like bad grammar and not drinking coffee as red flags (you've seen the memes). And I concur — as a perpetually caffeinated journalist living in New York City, the correct use of the word "you're" and an overpriced cup of coffee are basically my turn-ons. And don't even get me started on people who put pineapple on their pizza. Immediate swipe left.
But jokes aside, there are some legit (much more valid) red flags that really shouldn't be ignored. Sure, maintaining any relationship requires compromise or sacrifice, but you should never give up your wants and needs or put your happiness at bay. And when we're newly in love, relationship red flags can be notoriously easy to miss or ignore — although they're usually clear as day after the fact.
So we've tapped the experts in order to help you spot some common relationship red flags, plus advice for how to deal.
What Are Relationship Red Flags?
If you've played the game "Red Flag or Deal Breaker" with friends, then you know that some "red flags" are totally subjective. Most of the time, they're specific to each individual and their "values, desires, and preferences," according to Jessica January Behr, Psy.D, licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Behr Psychology in New York City. (For example, not being religious may be a deal-breaker to one person and a total non-issue to another person.)
Also, what we consider to be a red flag can evolve over time. "What is a red flag today, might not be one tomorrow, and vice versa," Dr. Behr adds. That said, "some common red flags that people report have to do with communication, values, and judgment," she explains.
Sometimes we get a warning sign, either by someone's words or actions, that they're not ready for a relationship, or not ready for a relationship with you, explains dating expert and Director of Relationship Science at Hinge Logan Ury. But depending on the person and the behavior, it could take one date or several years for that alarm bell to sound.
And unfortunately, it's totally common for us to miss these red flags when we're blinded by love, says matchmaker Susan Trombetti, CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking. "People can be emotionally charged and ignore the red flags in the beginning, or find a way to deceive themselves to lessen the impact because sometimes they just don't want to face reality," explains Trombetti. "Other times, they just miss them if their picker is off or they lack boundaries." Sometimes, they only come into focus once the relationship is over. "You can clearly see them in hindsight and lots of people [realize] the warnings were there," she says.
Below are a few universal toxic behaviors in modern dating that relationship experts say should set off alarm bells. While some can be worked through with communication (depending on what they are and how you feel about them), others, like any kind of abuse, should be considered deal-breakers — aka exit the relationship as soon as possible.
1. Love bombing
Ury tells us that one of the biggest relationship red flags she sees these days is "love bombing," which is when your partner becomes very invested early on. A form of manipulation, the love bomber will talk all about your future, shower you with affection and grandiose declarations of love, and get you to fall for them — only to pull away and leave you broken-hearted. Love bombing is most common among narcissists and goes hand-in-hand with other toxic relationship traits including gaslighting and emotional abuse, so consider this one a dealbreaker.
2. An obsession with social media
While media and social platforms have become heavily inundated in our day-to-day lives, Ury advises watching out if someone is a little too into their profile and following. She shares that 74% of Hinge users see this as a red flag since it can allude to the person being insecure or self-absorbed.
4. Lack of communication
We all know that communication is a key pillar in any relationship. 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 that they are disconnected or distracted, says Dr. Behr. Step one: Have a conversation to see if your different communication styles can be worked through with a little patience and understanding.
5. Controlling or jealous behavior
Some jealously here and there can be harmless, and it is pretty common in a relationship! But if your partner starts to become possessive or controlling of your plans, what you wear, who you hang out with, or isolates you from your friends and family, this can be a serious sign of emotional abuse down the line, Trombetti says.
6. Bad relationships with friends or family
Dr. Behr says a lack of familial relationships or talking poorly about friends and family may be cause for concern, especially if these things are important to you. Ury advises first giving them the benefit of the doubt and asking your partner why this is the case before considering it a deal-breaker. "Perhaps their upbringing made it hard for them to be close to their family, but they've worked hard to cultivate a strong 'chosen family' in their group of friends," says Ury.
7. Extreme emotional reactions
If someone displays unmanageable emotions and easily flies off the handle, this is a serious red flag. Responding with uncontrollable rage or the "silent treatment" could point to abusive (physical or emotional) behavior in the future, says Trombetti. On the other hand, she adds, a lack of empathy may mean they're void of emotion and care. In other words: You want someone whose emotions are in control and appropriate for the situation.
9. Alcohol or substance abuse
If you're dating someone who is often unable to handle their alcohol (and not just on one occasion), or they drink and use substances in excess, they could potentially have an addiction. The first step, in this case, is a serious conversation. If your partner has a binge drinking problem and refuses help, consider this a deal-breaker — it's like waiting for a time bomb to go off. On the other hand, if they can recognize the problem and actually gets help, this could deepen your relationship.
Gaslighting is a definitely hot topic in modern dating right now, so you've probably heard of it. Basically, it means they turn the blame on your for something they did or hold you responsible for the way they reacted to a situation. "It's just a way to blow you up and make you think you are crazy," says Trombetti. Gaslighting is a form of manipulation meant to leave you feeling insecure and questioning your sanity, so trust your gut if something feels wrong and leave the relationship.
11. Downright abusive behavior
While some of the red flags above are considered types of emotional abuse, it bears repeating: if anyone verbally, emotionally, physically, or sexually abuses you or puts you in harm's way, get out as soon as possible and receive any necessary help — full stop, Dr. Behr says. "These are the types of red flags that should not be resolved in the context of a relationship. If you are in harm's way, it is not a red flag it is a stop sign."
How to Handle Relationship Red Flags
As mentioned above, if your partner is abusive in any way or puts you in danger, Dr. Behr strongly urges you to end the relationship. That is your sign to get out now.But with some of the less severe red flags, it can be hard to know whether or not you should address it with your partner or just run. Experts suggest a few steps to take to assess whether or not this is something that can be worked through.
Never ignore a red flag.
If you notice something that is wrong or even makes you feel a certain way, all experts agree: do not ignore it. It's your mind's way of flagging the issue. "Signs need to be interpreted," explains Dr. Behr. It's easier said than done, of course. Sometimes we ignore red flags in a relationship because we really want it to work this time, notes Ury. Or perhaps you're so caught up in the relationship that you let them slip by.
Bottom line: "They're an opportunity to pause, assess the situation, and decide if you should continue investing time in this person," Trombetti says.
Check-in with yourself.
Once you've identified an action or behavior as a red flag, it's time to do some inner reflecting. Of course, you shouldn't compromise on your needs, but there's also the possibility you're being too harsh on your partner. "Take a moment and ask yourself, 'Am I being too judgmental, or is this a genuine issue?'" says Ury.
Talk it out.
If the issue at hand is still worrisome to you, it's time to communicate with your partner. "Let your partner know if their behavior or emotion is unacceptable and unsustainable for you and why," says Dr. Behr, adding that your partner could just be "unaware of how their words or actions affect others" and not ill-intended.
Other times, we misinterpret somebody's words or behaviors based on our own past life experiences. "Asking questions and sharing your own experience can help," says Dr. Behr. "Sharing your own vulnerability and interpretations can help your partner to learn about you and to present themselves in a more accurate way."
Dr. Behr also notes that we all have different love languages and your partner may not be used to showing love in the way you need. The only way to work through the disconnect though is by being upfront and asking for what you need. "Through communicating, you may be able to find new understanding, tolerance, or acceptance of the former red flag that allows the relationship to continue and even grow," says Dr. Behr.
Again, abuse is an automatic deal-breaker and does not require any communication.
If something "disturbs your peace enough to change your behavior," you may want to consider ending the partnership says Dr. Behr. "If you have communicated, shared your vulnerability, and asked for what you needed and the behavior or feeling has not changed, it may be that you and this individual aren't compatible at this time."
If you're not super invested, Dr. Behr says it may just be better to cut your losses and look elsewhere. She adds that oftentimes a red flag just means that you and the other person are not compatible, and that's totally OK!
How to Better Spot Red Flags for Next Time
Unfortunately, we often notice red flags after the love-spell fog of a new relationship wear off. How many times have you easily spotted a red flag once the relationship was over? (For me, more than I'd like to admit.) If you relate to this, there are a few ways that you can improve your red flag radar.
First things first, Ury suggests making a list of common red flags you've come across in the past, especially if you're someone who tends to overlook them. The next time you spot that same characteristic in a potential partner, Ury says to "run in the opposite direction." The sooner you spot a red flag, the more time you'll save both parties, Ury says. And remember, relationships are a learning experience, so take anything you discover from one, and apply it to the next.
The bottom line: If you spot a relationship red flag, don't ignore it and hope it goes away on its own. Face it head-on by asking yourself why it bothers you, communicating your concerns to your partner, and either working through it or ending the relationship.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
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