It’s time to take off the rose-colored glasses.
Relationships start in all manner of ways. Sometimes there are months of build up before the two of you finally get around to going on a first date. Or one person is more interested at first, and the other side needs winning over. Or maybe you both just know from the first introduction that you share an undeniable chemistry.
In whatever way it starts, at some point, that relationship either ends or becomes serious. Maybe you’re starting to fall for this person, or maybe you’re already head-over-heels in love. Or maybe they’ve gone above and beyond to win you over, and you feel almost ready to give in. It’s a turning point in your relationship, which makes it a good moment to give it an honest assessment. Is this relationship as good as you think it is?
Relationships don’t have to be abusive to be bad. A partner can be selfish, or needy, or condescending without becoming abusive. But “not abusive” is still a far cry from “healthy and mutually supportive.” And let’s remember: healthy relationships are the goal.
So, if you’re stuck in relationship limbo where your new love interest seems amazing but still leaves you with some doubts, now is the best time to take off those rose-tinted lenses and take a clearer look at your new relationship. Check out some of these common red flags. Do any of them sound familiar?
1. They’re all about the grand romantic gesture.
We’ve all been conditioned by romantic movies to expect certain kinds of behavior in a relationship. Unfortunately, a lot of that behavior isn’t healthy. A good example is the “grand romantic gesture” that makes its appearance toward the climax of almost any rom-com, right after the male lead has done something seemingly inexcusable and needs to win his way back into the good graces of the heroine.
But here’s the problem: grand romantic gestures are often used to cover up warning signs. They work, because when you’re on the receiving end, you don’t want to seem cold, or unforgiving, or capable of holding a grudge. They can also be used in place of an apology or to ward off an argument. So, does he send you flowers at work but never actually say “I’m sorry?” Does he take you out to dinner but change the subject any time you bring up what’s really bothering you? These aren’t romantic gestures, they’re ways of pressuring you into holding in your feelings and playing along.
No grand romantic gesture is worth the cost of poor communication in a relationship. If you feel like your partner’s actions are causing you to push aside concerns, or if they make you feel like you’re being pressured into committing faster than you’re ready for, it’s time to cool things down so you can understand what you really want.
2. They play hot and cold.
If you’ve ever had someone treat you like the most important person in the world one day and give you a cold shoulder the next, it can make you feel like you’re going out of your mind. It’s understandable if there are some ups and downs, but it’s not OK if you have no context for what’s going on.
If they won’t explain why they’re behaving in that way, or if they deny that they’re treating you differently, then you need to have an honest conversation about it, or walk.
3. You’re making excuses for them.
We talked before about how important communication is in a healthy relationship. It could be that your partner is struggling with something, and they don’t know how to talk with you about it. But when they don’t communicate what’s going on, it leaves you to fill in the blanks.
Most of us have excellent imaginations—particularly when it comes to explaining away warning signs in a relationship with someone we care about. But some people count on your ability to explain away their behavior because that keeps them from having to create an explanation you may not accept.
If you have to constantly justify troubling behavior to yourself or those around you, it’s time to get some honest answers from your partner about what’s going on.
4. You’re the only one who “understands” them.
At first, being told you’ve gotten to know someone deeply in a way no one else has before feels gratifying. It means you’re special. Your relationship is special. And if previous relationships haven’t worked out, well, it’s just because those other people didn’t understand like you do.
However, this can be a troubling pattern. Do all their relationships seem to fall apart for the same reason? Not just romantic ones, but relationships with friends and family as well?
People who claim to be chronically misunderstood are often in denial about the thing that’s really sabotaging their relationships. They have difficulty accepting responsibility for their own actions, and are likely to blame problems on you. In the end, they’re likely to either convince you that you’re always to blame, or they’ll leave to find someone who “understands” them better.
5. They make you feel guilty.
Is everything wrong your fault? If not explicitly, do you feel like you’re failing the other person in some way? Not loving them as much as they love you? Do they treat small requests like significant burdens?
If you feel guilty without having done anything wrong, then it’s possible your partner is manipulating you to get more of what they want. This behavior can be subtle, and you might not detect it right away. Maybe they’re trying to pressure you into something and hope to make you feel bad by turning them down.
6. They don’t respect your boundaries.
Boundaries are crucial in any good relationship. Not just physical or sexual boundaries, but personal and emotional ones, too. That means your partner needs to listen if you say you’re uncomfortable with certain behavior. It also means that they shouldn’t demand for information like passwords to your computer or phone if you’re not willing to give them away, and that they shouldn’t keep prying into a subject if you’ve made it clear you don’t want to talk about it yet.
This behavior is especially troubling if it only goes one way. You should respect your partner’s boundaries, too. But if they’ve created a double standard by which it is OK for them to ask for the password to your computer but unacceptable for you to have theirs (or some similar situation), then it’s about time you asked why their rulebook doesn’t apply to you both equally.
7. You don’t get along with each other’s friends or family.
Relationships are hard when the people closest to you don’t get along. That said, we can’t expect everyone to like each other equally. Some people aren’t very compatible, even though they’re just fine as individuals. And it’s unlikely that all your friends like each other, even though they all like you. So why should you expect them all to hit it off with your boyfriend, or for you to connect with all his friends?
You shouldn’t. But if none of your friends get along with him, or if all his friends drive you up a wall, then it’s a strong sign that something’s wrong. Even more crucially, if he’s trying to undermine your relationships, that’s a sign of controlling behavior.
8. Their needs are always more important than your needs.
It can feel good to be needed—at first. But needy people all have one thing in common: they’re selfish. They may try to cover up their toxic behavior for a while by embedding themselves into your life, but this is an attempt to establish codependency. If they can create a cycle of dependence, then they can make it harder for you to leave them.
It is normal to have some needs, but your needs and those of your partner should balance each other out. Furthermore, your partner should not make it impossible to live a confident, healthy life, even without them.
Just because you can’t see the red flags doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
Not all relationships have red flags. In fact, we hope that yours doesn’t. But taking the time to give your new romantic situation an honest appraisal can save you heartbreak in the future.
Don’t be afraid to bring up your concerns with a trusted friend or family member. Even if you think things are going great, listen to the people who are close to you if they seem to spot something you don’t. And talk to your partner about your concerns. Their response will show a lot about their character.
Finally, don’t ignore your gut. If you feel smitten and uneasy at the same time, don’t brush that anxiety aside. Your intuition could be telling you something important. Trust it.