Deep down, something is wrong from the beginning, but you don't want to admit it to yourself because you would rather be in an unhealthy relationship to avoid the pain of breaking up.
Maybe your relationship has up till then been amazing, and out of nowhere the great dynamic between you and your significant other changes. Still, you decide to ignore the unhealthy aspect of the relationship because you really do want it to work. We have all seen these red flags in the course of various romances.
Red flags are easily recognizable, and designed to alert you to human hazards. When you see a skeleton with cross bones, you will likely conclude that the contents of a container are poisonous. When you see a red flag in your relationship, it should cause you to realize that something is just as bad.
Even with this knowledge, why do we still have trouble admitting to ourselves that a warning sign is really there? Why do we gravitate toward or choose to stay with behaviors, personalities and actions that are inherently toxic for us? Why do we ignore the warning signs when our friends point them out to us?
My red flags include religion, politics, cigarette smokers and someone who's unable to communicate emotions. Other tell-tale signs for me are someone who does not enjoy meeting new people, or someone with limited direction or motivation.
More Than Just Irksome
When surveying others to uncover their red flags, I got an array of responses. One of the most important included when someone spends "more time drinking than being productive."
Cameron said: "I had a relationship where jealousy became a big issue. Now I screen for that. If I find out the girl has jealousy issues, that would be a 'red flag' on the new relationship."
Now, this is far worse than a pet peeve. Most likely, you can get over a minor annoyance or someone's particular shortcomings, but you cannot get over a red flag. Sometimes, you need to experience a red flag before you realize it is one.
Patrick ended a relationship in the last year with someone he truly cared about, but the time to end it was right.
His ex was very pretty, but she needed constant reassurance and encouragement from her boyfriend. At the time, it seemed a normal part of their relationship, and Patrick was happy to make her feel better about it.
"After being in a relationship with someone who always relied on me, now I know I need someone who is their own person and can take care of themselves. I'm attracted to people who are independent, very confident and have a strong self-esteem," he said.
We have all been blinded by love. It can cloud anyone's judgment -- or at least prevent you from seeing what you know you should see.
After dating someone who was very argumentative, Bianca's red flag became someone who was confrontational just for the sake of being confrontational. Her college boyfriend of a year was never satisfied with her plans, and would always change them for no reason.
If she suggested meeting at 5 p.m., he responded with, "How about 5:30?" She said it was not about the time, but more about his need to be in control.
"It didn't really bother me because I was kind of in a trance. I thought we would get married, but then when we broke up, I realized how unhappy this part of him made me. Some of his behaviors were ridiculous. For example, he yelled at me in the grocery store one day because I put something back in the wrong place. He told me it was selfish and not someone's job to clean up after me."
She knows now that he was manipulative, and that his temperament was most likely representative of something deeper.
"If we ended up together, it would have been a really different kind of life -- all his way. He actually just got married and lives in a secluded, small town. A part of me still misses him, but then the rational part thinks it would have been an awful life. In order to be with him, I would have had to give up myself."
She knows now to steer clear of anyone who acts even slightly controlling or argumentative.
More hurtful red flags are those that are often very subtle, and begin happening after the relationship's started.
Kat had been in a healthy relationship with Michael for a year when he began pulling away physically and emotionally.
"I felt rejected sexually. It was very hurtful because his actions showed that he wasn't interested anymore. When I would stay over, he'd just want to go to sleep. I knew something was going on because before, he couldn't keep his hands off me," she said.
Instead of talking, Michael would give her excuses. He told her he was "stressed out from work," "tired," or worse, "it's not you." She admitted to herself that the relationship took a real turn when he began communicating differently.
"When he went to my friend's birthday party with me, he was cold the whole night. He didn't talk to anyone. He clearly wasn't trying. Before that, he would have made a huge effort to talk to my friends. I didn't feel the emotional connection we once had, when we talked all the time and had so much fun. Now, he just didn't seem into me."
When the relationship ended, Kat wasn't surprised; he wasn't even returning her calls.
Looking back, she said that she should have talked to him about his behavior without letting it continue for a month.
"I was asking him, 'What's wrong?' when I should have said, 'I know something's wrong, you're pulling away for me, and let's talk about it.' "
It's clear that red flags are serious. We need to teach ourselves how to acknowledge their existence in order to end a disfunctional relationship. It's important to realize what works for us and what doesn't, so that when we date, we know if a person is right.
With each different relationship, we learn more of what we really need in a companion -- and what we can live without.