How to Spot Relationship Red Flags
Relationships are the only way we know how to connect to others. We are either good at them or, really bad at them. This is not the same as being an introvert or an extrovert. Most often we mistake the people who are able to make friends easily, as people who are great at relationships. That may not be true at all.
Good relationships require understanding and respect and cannot just survive on good communication skills. It takes a lot more to have and maintain good relationships, than just being able to talk to people. You need to care about the other person and create a balance of giving and receiving.
When you’re in a healthy relationship, things just seem to fall into place. Everything aligns — communication, trust, mutual respect and support are all part of the package. But, when you find yourself making excuses or looking for justification for missing these key elements, you’re either already in, or heading towards an unhealthy relationship.
The phrase “Love hurts” has become so common that people accept pain as part of the relationship and are not able to see the red flags early in the relationship and sometimes, not see it at all. However, it’s never that ‘black or white’.
For anyone who has been in a relationship with someone who has treated them in an unacceptable way or caused them pain, knows when things just don’t align. However, if the pain is caused due to arguments or differences of opinion, it is usually seen as too minor an issue to walk away from it.
So, when is the argument too big or the pain too severe, to warrant a break-up? What needs to happen for someone to say “Enough” and walk away before they are so deeply involved, that walking away is not an option anymore. That usually happens when people have too much invested in the relationship such as number of years together, finances, joint businesses and/or children.
By the time we notice the red flags and warning signs, we may be too invested already. Here is where we begin re-assessing what we probably missed or dismissed because — let’s be honest — we do not want to see what is not working in our relationship when we want to stay in it. Sometimes, getting out of it causes more fear than staying in it.
We ignore, deflect and dismiss what is not working and fool ourselves into believing that we have dealt with it. But, negative emotions not dealt with do not just vanish into thin air. The illusion of having moved past pain makes us think we have ‘handled it’, but all we have done is suppress it.
So what are the warning signs and how should we handle the situation? (This is not gender specific and can apply to both genders).
Here are the 5 Red Flags that should not be ignored.
1. Dismissing doubts : - If a doubt arises, it must be dealt with. A simple example is when your partner behaves suspiciously when you ask to use his phone. The phone is just an example and it could be replaced with anything like a car, or bank account or being introduced to his parents or friends. Any situation, where you may hear an excuse for why he cannot give you something, and it just feels wrong, it probably could be. When in a relationship, if you feel your partner is constantly trying to convince you that your thoughts and feelings are wrong and tries to dismiss them instead of discussing them, it’s a red flag that should be addressed. People who have nothing to hide, are an open book and usually willing to discuss things.
2. Hot & Cold vibes – Things are going great and all of a sudden, your partner distances himself from you for no reason. He doesn’t call, he is always busy and distant and he wants some ‘me’ time. If you feel like you are being pushed away, don’t dismiss it as needing 'space'. Freedom in relationships is natural but you do not need to be dismissed, for your partner to feel free. If you are getting sometimes hot and sometimes cold vibes with no explanation, it’s a red flag that he may not be that into you or he will continue to take you for granted and expect you to be there whenever he needs you.
3. Do as I say, not as I do – If you are familiar with this phrase then you know what I mean. Being with someone who has a different set of rules for themselves and different for you, can really create a lot of confusion in the relationship. It can also set the foundation for one toxic experience after another where what is learned is the inability to trust anyone, including yourself. You never know where you stand and what is acceptable in the relationship because he may say one thing, such as he is 100% loyal to you but he may go and betray your trust by supporting those who have hurt you. Things just don't add up. This is one of the red flags in an unhealthy relationship where he expects one thing from you, while doing its opposite for you.
4. Forced Conversations - Everyone has those awkward moments when you run out of conversations and the silence is uncomfortable. Whilst that can happen from time to time, if that is more norm than exception, something may not be right. It’s not always about how interesting the conversation is but how easily it flows. Are the conversations superficial or based on the same topics? Are there too many awkward moments where the conversation lags? Or, is one of you or both of you unable to be open or honest with each other? Do you find yourself keeping what you really want to talk about to yourself? This is a red flag as this could be a sign of not only lack of communication but also trust. Relationships based on fear are unhealthy no matter how much you try to justify them. One of my clients described it as "walking on egg shells". If you can’t freely engage in conversations about a large range of topics — including uncomfortable and vulnerable topics — you probably won’t be able to communicate effectively when it really matters.
5. Incongruent behavior : The last and most important red flag is incongruency. If there is no alignment between what is being said and their body language, it’s time to be honest with yourself. If you keep hearing all the right words from your partner but don’t feel the right emotions, something is fishy. Words have energy and their energy affects us in many ways that cannot been seen, but only felt. If you hear your partner talk about love, support and commitment but do not feel loved, supported or in a committed relationship, don’t brush it under the carpet. Your body and mind have the ability to pick up signals that are subtle. So, if something doesn’t feel right, have the courage to at least question it and talk about it instead of dismissing it and ignoring it.
Unhealthy relationships never start out “toxic”. Red flags are not always easy to spot when they appear but are very clear to see in hindsight.
This is usually possible when one is out of the situation and is able to stand at a distance and observe things they missed when they were in the situation. Emotions have a way of clouding our judgement. . If you are happy, you will want to ignore the red flags to avoid ruining your happiness and if you are already in pain, you will try and dismiss the warning signs to avoid dealing with more pain. Some may even feel ashamed of themselves for thinking that way about their partner. Emotional sabotage and confusion is very common in toxic relationships.
Toxic relationships like healthy relationships usually start out as amazing. The partner looks perfect in the beginning, meeting every one of your needs, and saying all the right things. Everything looks rosy and feels perfect. You feel loved, blessed and full of gratitude at having found the right person to spend your life with, and then the cracks appear and you are not willing to believe that the perfect person is not so perfect after all.
Little by little, the red flags start waving. You may see them but feel that your mind is playing tricks on you. You try and convince yourself that nobody is perfect and we all have flaws and you may chalk it down to differences in personality.
The thing about red flags is, they don’t go away. If somethings is not working, and you do nothing to make it work, how will it miraculously work on its own. We all want things to magically resolve themselves. I always call it Divine Intervention and I have prayed for it many many times in my life. Unfortunately, Divine Interventions are not guaranteed to appear when we need them and to wait for them could mean staying in a relationship that can rob you of a lot more than just your love and your time.
Toxic relationships have the power to destroy us to a point where we lose our faith in love and sometimes in ourselves too.
The bitterest pill anyone can swallow is facing the music and realizing that no matter how much you emotionally invested in, or loved someone, they do not love you and/or are not capable of ever being the person you thought them to be. It’s difficult to accept that you can’t change them. In order to get your life back, you may need to walk away from them and start again.
Never give up hope that you will love again or that you deserve to find someone who can accept and love you as you are. In order to do that, you need to accept and love yourself first. Being open and honest with yourself is the key to happiness.
What you suppress does not go away but comes back stronger and hits you harder the longer you choose to keep it hidden. It can manifest in your life in many different ways and rob you of your ability to trust and love altogether.
No matter how hard it seems to walk away, it's a lot harder to stay. Start by asking yourself if this is the life you want to live. Work on loving yourself and understanding what love feels like and then decide if what you have is worth keeping or letting go.
Until next time,
Kanchan ‘loving myself’ Kulkarni
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