A “red flag” is anything that functions as a warning sign that someone is not the right fit for your needs and desires in a relationship. This term has been used for years to describe characteristics and behaviors that commonly lead to abusive or unhealthy relationships. This said, even though many of us are familiar with the term, not everyone knows exactly what to look out for to avoid these red flags in their relationships.
So, before we delve into why we miss or even find red flags appealing while we are dating, here are some of the most common relationship red flags to watch out for as you begin (or continue) dating.
- Controlling behavior or lack of trust
- Inability or unwillingness to resolve conflicts
- Feeling like you can’t be yourself or relax
- Constantly feeling as if you are conceding rather than compromising together
- Feeling unable to share your feelings
- Receiving concerns about your partner or relationship from multiple trusted family members or loved ones
- Codependency or inability to make decisions alone
- Pressure to move faster than you feel comfortable in the relationship
- Lying or breaching your trust
- Abuse — including verbal, physical, emotional, sexual, financial, gaslighting, or any other variety of abuse
- Feelings as if you have to give up your goals, interests, or other relationships
- Increased symptoms of mental illnesses or lowered self-esteem
Why Do We Find Red Flags Attractive While Dating?
While the red flags listed above may seem obvious to notice and avoid, realistically, spotting these flags may be harder than you think. Most of the time, a trait or behavior that should signal that red flag for you doesn’t seem bad at first — sometimes, it may even be the thing you find most attractive about your date. But why is this?
For some people who grew up in unhealthy environments with toxic relationship dynamics, red flags can actually feel comforting and familiar. But, even individuals who grew up with the healthiest relationships may still find red flags appealing while dating. To see why this might happen, let’s look at a hypothetical situation.
Say that you are going on a first date with someone. They select the place, pick the time, order the meals, talk about their professional successes, and are charming and assertive during the date.
Now, to you, this could come off as your date showing you that they can take care of themselves and provide for you. For many of us, feeling taken care of is incredibly attractive. But what if they continue to do this for every date? Eventually, that assertiveness and confidence that you found so incredibly alluring early on has now surfaced as controlling and condescending behavior — red flags you didn’t notice earlier.
How Some Appealing Traits Turn Negative
The truth is that sometimes those traits that we initially found attractive early on in the relationship can be signals of controlling or other unhealthy behaviors that seem to “come out of nowhere” later on in the relationship.
While you may not notice it on that first date (or even the second or third time it happens), eventually, that “confident” or “assertive” behavior that you found so appealing becomes overtly controlling. The way that your partner seemed protective of you in the past becomes possessive, and the way that you found them so “direct” gives way to rudeness.
So, in a sense, these traits do not necessarily “turn” negative, but rather as you spend more time with the individual or take the time to look deeper into their actions, you notice the traits and behaviors for what they always were. In other words, remember that our first impressions can be misleading.
Why We Ignore Red Flags
Now, you may be wondering why anyone would enter into a relationship that clearly displays red flags like the ones noted earlier. The unfortunate truth is that there are many reasons why we (either consciously or subconsciously) ignore these flags.
Some of the most common reasons for this selective blindness are:
- Moving too fast in a relationship
- Past traumatic experiences that influence what you see as normal in a relationship
- The flood of hormones in your body that accompany attraction
- Not trusting yourself and your instincts
- Underestimating or belittling the red flags you do notice
- The stubbornness of not wanting to be wrong
- Wishful thinking or optimism bias preventing you from seeing what is really happening
More often than not, it is a combination of reasons that keeps us from heeding red flags that appear early on in the dating process. For example, we are often blinded (or at least influenced) by our optimism or desire to like someone, and we rush into a relationship without really taking the time to examine the behaviors of our partner. Because of this, we don’t notice the red flags until much later in the relationship.
Catching red flags as early as you can is one of the best ways to ensure that you can escape from an unhealthy relationship before it gets serious — and more challenging to leave. So, whether you are just beginning to enter a new relationship or you are reflecting on one that has begun to feel stifling rather than uplifting, knowing what to look out for is critical. Now, we realize that it is not always easy to identify red flags when you are in the relationship in question.
Still, with practice, self-awareness, and emotional maturity, you can learn how to spot these issues early on — which may save you from entering a toxic relationship in the future. If you are worried about missed (or missing) red flags in your relationships, you may want to consider seeking guidance from a therapist.
Therapy can be an excellent tool for helping you to notice and bring attention to red flags in your relationships. It can also help you cultivate the emotional maturity and skills you need to address these issues in your relationships as well as continue to grow as an individual. So, if you want to learn how to cultivate only healthy and nourishing relationships in your life, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at Love Heal Grow today to get in touch with one of our therapists.