20 Red Flags in a Relationship

How to spot red flags in your partner
on July 25, 2023
Read time: 10 mins
by Moraya Seeger DeGeare

Green means go, yellow means proceed with caution and red means stop. 

When relationships are concerned though, this color coding takes on a whole new meaning. Unlike the rules of the road, red flags in relationships are not so straightforward. Particularly when it comes to your well-being in a relationship, we’re not a big fan of playing red flag roulette. 

To avoid a toxic relationship, it’s important to learn how to identify common red flags and when it’s time to walk away. 

What are red flags in a relationship? 

Red flags are warning signs or indicators of significant issues or potential problems in your romantic relationship. 

Even though a single red flag isn’t detrimental to your relationship, if these warning signs keep popping up — you should pay attention. Red flags are usually present in unhealthy or toxic relationships, and recognizing these signs early on is crucial for your own well-being. 

Before entering into a new relationship, it’s important to identify your own dealbreakers and relationship red flags. Being clear about what you will and won’t accept from your significant other can help you easily identify and avoid toxic behavior in potential partners. 

Unfortunately, with the application of rose-tinted glasses, it’s all too easy to ignore the red flags — even if they’re waving right in your face. This intentional (or perhaps unintentional) ignorance may preserve your relationship in the short term, but it’s important to trust your gut and know when to call it quits

20 common red flags in a relationship 

In an ideal world, your partner’s behavior should only raise green flags — ticking all your boxes for a healthy relationship. 

However, from major red flags to yellow flags, certain relationship behaviors should raise alarm bells immediately. While every relationship is different, we’ve identified some common relationship red flags that you should not tolerate. No excuses. 

Note that we name abusive behaviors in this article, which may be potentially triggering given your personal history. Please be gentle with yourself and keep that in mind as you read on. 

1. Love bombing 

We all crave a fairytale ending. While Aurora or Snow White fell in love at first sight, with their eternity secured with one kiss, if that happens in reality — there are some questions to be asked and big red flags to be raised. 

“Are you in love with the story you are telling yourself about what the relationship is? Or are you truly feeling deeply connected to this person?” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Expert at Paired.

Love-bombing is recognized as a common form of manipulation, with individuals professing their love for their new partner within the early days of dating and living up to the perfect Prince Charming model. 

However, research shows that this behavior is usually seen in narcissists, with their low self-esteem driving them to exert their control over their partners in an attempt to create a co-dependency dynamic. Once they have this control over you, they strip all the love away — to the detriment of your mental health and well-being.  

2. Lack of communication 

Not everyone is a master of communication, but a lack of interest in healthy communication is a huge red flag. 

More than that, if you catch your partner constantly lying or hiding significant aspects of their life from you, this can erode any trust that you share. Especially if they get defensive and refuse to talk openly about it with you. 

If your partner gives you the silent treatment or refuses to have a conversation because “you’ll get too emotional” or you simply “don’t understand” — this tactic, when intentionally done to cause your partner distress, can be abusive behavior and should not be tolerated. 

3. Controlling behavior 

A lot of people write off controlling behavior as their partner simply “being protective” when these tendencies are more toxic than tender. 

Excessive jealousy or possessiveness indicates trust issues, with your partner taking out their insecurities and frustrations on you. To exert control, they may try and isolate you from your loved ones so no one can call them out on their behaviors. 

Common examples of controlling behavior include directing what you wear, invading your privacy on your phone, or gaslighting sentiments that alter your behavior. Excessive jealousy or possessiveness indicates trust issues, with your partner taking out their insecurities and frustrations on you. 

As isolated behaviors, they may be easy to brush off but these controlling tendencies could be a red flag of what’s to come. Research shows that controlling behavior is associated with a higher likelihood of experiencing physical abuse or violence. Therefore, it’s incredibly important to read these red flags early on to protect your own wellness. 

4. Unhealthy relationships 

According to a UK study, 76% of people identified talking about their ex-partner during the early stages of a relationship as a major red flag. 

More specifically, if your prospective partner refers to their exes as “crazy” and has no healthy relationships with family members or friends — it’s not a positive reflection on their ability to form stable partnerships. 

5. Extreme emotional reactions 

Reacting emotionally to adverse or challenging situations is completely normal, as everyone’s feelings are valid. 

However, extreme emotional reactions that are disproportionate to the situation at hand could be a red flag in your relationship. For example, if you feel like you’re walking on eggshells to avoid a certain response from your partner — this is a form of emotional abuse and is incredibly taxing on your overall well-being. 

“Additionally, your partner might be navigating their own trauma,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

“Intimate relationships often activate a lot of intense emotions, what is vital is that the behavior is acknowledged, interpreted, and each person owns working on that behavior.”

6. Financial secrecy 

While infidelity in a relationship is never acceptable, financial infidelity is just as much of a betrayal. 

If your partner is crossing your financial boundaries, or showcases discrepancies in financial values — this could be a huge red flag for the future. 

“It’s additionally painful when you combine financial infidelity with sexual infidelity,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

“Spending on things that cross another relationship boundary such as porn, sex, and other relationships that have not been discussed previously.”

7. Gaslighting 

What constitutes a walking red flag? Toxic behaviors like manipulation, narcissism, and importantly, gaslighting

This is a common technique employed by toxic partners in order to exert control over the relationship. Gaslighters manipulate their loved ones by undermining their self-esteem, self-worth, and autonomy within the relationship. 

It’s important to recognize common gaslighting phrases, raising the red flags as soon as possible. (Even if they try and say you’re “crazy” for doing so!)

8. Abusive behavior 

Abuse is never acceptable in a relationship. There are various different types of abuse to be aware of, with manipulative behaviors also constituting abuse. 

If you believe that you’re in an abusive relationship, this should be an immediate deal-breaker for any relationship. Once you have identified these behaviors, it’s important to get professional help and remove yourself from the situation. 

9. Lack of empathy 

When you’re going through a tough time, your partner should respond accordingly. 

Even though some people struggle to respond emotionally in times of crisis, your partner should be your shoulder to cry on — at the very least! If your partner shows a consistent lack of empathy for your issues and puts more emphasis on their own, this should be a dealbreaker. 

10. Substance abuse 

Alcoholism or substance abuse is a clear red flag, as it indicates a lack of impulse control and self-destructive habits. 

However, it’s important to remember that substance abuse is an illness and your loved one might need your help. If your partner is struggling with addiction, it’s important to seek help from a professional and have an open dialogue about how you can move forward. 

11. Incompatible core values

Depending on how we were raised, we all have an innate moral code to which we naturally adhere too. 

Even though opposites attract, and everyone has different beliefs, incompatible values could undermine the future of your relationship. Especially if you find your date peppering the conversation with microaggressions or prejudiced behaviors, this could preclude abusive behavior down the line. 

12. Flirting with others 

When you’re in a committed monogamous relationship, there is no excuse for toying with your partner’s feelings. 

Even if it’s not technically cheating, flirting with other people is a way to intentionally play with your relationship boundaries— just to get a rise out of you. If your partner insists on playing games with your emotions in this way, it’s a clear red flag for their behavior in the future. 

13. Pressure

Even in a long-term relationship, consent never loses its importance. 

If your partner pressures you to have sex with them, by guilt-tripping or threatening you, this is a form of sexual coercion and is not acceptable in a loving relationship. 

There are many other forms of pressure in a relationship, whereby your partner manipulates you in order to get what they want. This includes making you cancel your own plans to facilitate their needs or pushing you to do anything that you don’t want to do. 

14. Constant conflict

Healthy relationships are not defined by conflict. 

Even though arguments occur in loving partnerships, they shouldn’t be your only form of communication. Especially when you’re just entering a relationship, conversations should not be escalating to conflict

Take heed of this red flag and leave the relationship before things escalate even further. 

15. Narcissism 

While some narcissistic tendencies can commonly be overlooked or can manifest as silent red flags — there are certain elements of narcissism that are a greater cause for concern.

For example, if they constantly prioritize their needs over yours, this could be a red flag for how they act in future scenarios.

16. Relationship hopping 

Rebounds are a common reaction to the ending of a relationship. Even though this isn’t a helpful method of healing, it usually isn’t done with bad intent. 

However, if your new partner has consistently jumped from relationship to relationship, it’s a sign that they never truly healed from their past. As the relationship progresses, they may take out their unresolved issues on you!

If your partner has never been single or has recently just gotten out of a relationship, it’s likely they aren’t looking for the long-term connection you had in mind. It’s best to recognize this early, to save yourself from heartbreak later on. 

17. Isolation 

Introducing your partner to your inner circle is a key stage in any romantic relationship. 

However, if you don’t want to introduce them to your friends, this could indicate your own insecurities or fears about your relationship. Keeping them away from your friends, so as to avoid a negative reaction, is a major red flag — as you clearly aren’t proud to have your partner by your side. 

Take heed of this self-isolation, especially if your friends admit they don’t want to spend time with your partner either. 

18. Sole support network 

Even though it’s nice to feel that your partner ‘needs’ your support, you shouldn’t be the only person they turn to in times of need. 

This dynamic can lead to a lot of guilt and pressure, making it seem like their happiness is your responsibility. Remember that this isn’t true and it’s important to take a step back from this type of relationship for your own mental health. 

19. Constant reassurance 

Reassurance has its place in a relationship. 

However, if your partner is demanding constant reassurance, this can set up a toxic dynamic. This need for reassurance introduces a lot of pressure into a relationship and doesn’t bode well for a sustainable future.  

20. Different life stages 

As you progress in your relationship, it’s natural to want to make plans for your future together. 

If your partner talks about the future by saying “I want to go here” or “I want to do this” — it suggests a refusal to include you in their plans. This might suggest that you’re at different stages of life and are therefore incompatible for the future. 

Even though this may be a tough pill to swallow, it’s best to take heed of this red flag sooner rather than later. 

How to handle red flags in a relationship 

While we have identified some common relationship red flags, it’s important to consider your own personal red flags in a partner. 

This goes beyond just “icks” or preferences, but behaviors that you would consider relationship ending. Try and communicate these boundaries or red flags in an open and honest way, alerting your partner when their behavior is unacceptable to you. If your partner is receptive to this, you can lower the red flags — as long as they don’t crop up again. 

If your partner consistently crosses these boundaries, it may be time to take the rose-tinted glasses off for good and initiate a breakup. 

What red flags should make you end a relationship? 

Everyone draws their own line in the sand with relationship boundaries. 

However, there are certain red flags that should never be ignored for the preservation of your own sanity and well-being. 

“When your partner intentionally, repetitively, crosses a relationship boundary with the clear intention to cause you harm could mean it’s time to choose your own peace,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are yellow flags?

    Similar to the traffic light system, a yellow flag means to proceed with caution. These signs indicate underlying issues or challenges in the relationship, but don’t raise as many alarms as red flags. These yellow flags should be addressed before they are allowed to escalate further. “When bringing up a potential issue with your partner, express the emotions that arise for you in those moments,” says Seeger DeGeare. “What is considered normal in relationships can vary based on the culture in which you grew up. Therefore, it’s important to discuss relationship boundaries early on and throughout the course of your relationship.”
  • What is the most common red flag at the beginning of a relationship?

    Although it comes in many forms, jealous or controlling behavior is probably the most common red flag at the beginning of a relationship. Even though commonly perceived as protective, these possessive tendencies only escalate further as the relationship progresses — leading to a very toxic relationship dynamic in the long run.
  • What are red flags examples?

    There are many common red flags to be aware of, including gaslighting, love-bombing, or abusive behavior. Even though we have listed some of the most common red flags to watch out for, it’s good practice to tailor your personal list of red flags in a relationship — detailing anything that wouldn’t accept from your prospective partners.
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