Whether you are at the beginning of your relationship or you have already spent a lot of time together, if you have, most of the time, the feeling that something is wrong, although you may not be able to say exactly what, don’t ignore this thing, but allow yourself to observe and accept reality as it is.
Often people refuse to see the truth or they find excuses and justifications for their partner's undesirable or harmful behavior because they don’t want to give up the story they have created in their mind about what their relationship and future should be like.
However there are some red flags that you shouldn’t ignore, because they ultimately speak about the way your partner is and can help you imagine what the relationship will look like in the future. For example, if your partner doesn't keep his/her promises now, what do you rely on when you hope that he/she will keep his/her word in the future?
I will list next some of these red flags:
- there is no reciprocity - you feel that you are the only one who offers or you frequently find yourself in the situation of making compromises and sacrifices to please your partner, but he/she doesn’t make any real effort in your relationship;
- there is no consensus - your partner wants things to be done only his/her way, he/she doesn’t take into account your needs and desires, and if you confront him/her, they find a way "to punish" you: he/she gets upset, discredits your opinions, has a "we either do it my way or no way" attitude, he/she makes you feel guilty or ashamed and so on;
- you are often blamed - the way a relationship is built depends on both partners, what goes well and what doesn’t go well is not up to one person, but both contribute. But you are almost always found guilty. Because of you, your partner gets angry, because of you, you fight ("you got me started"), you are responsible for your partner's happiness or unhappiness, for the choices and decisions he/she makes, it’s also your fault if he/she has conflicts with other people, it’s your fault if he/she makes mistakes, if he/she lies or deceives you. It’s your fault simply because he/she doesn’t take responsibility for their own emotions, attitudes and behaviors;
- your personal limits and boundaries aren’t respected - your partner knows that you don’t like certain things and yet he/she continues to do them or he/she simply doesn’t take into account certain needs, desires and requests of yours. The lack of respect for your own boundaries refers to a wide range of attitudes and behaviors and especially at the beginning of a relationship it’s good to pay attention if these limits are respected. If even those boundaries that seem "unimportant" or "insignificant" aren’t respected, how do you think your partner will behave when it comes to much more complex issues? For example, if you reach a certain moment when you feel like a prisoner, when you feel that you “are not allowed” to do certain things because your partner will get angry or upset, if certain things are imposed on you against your will, think what were the signals from the beginning - those seemingly "insignificant" things that you overlooked and that started to amplify over time;
- your partner is the "victim" in all his/her previous relationships – he/she tells you how bad, unjust, lying or false his ex-girlfriends or boyfriends are, how much he/she suffered and how he/she was betrayed and "trampled on", but he/she never assumes his/her own share of responsibility. Of course, it's easy to believe that this was the case, but remember that you only know his side of the story and, in general, a person who speaks ill of his ex-partners and poses in an immaculate partner raises some suspicions;
- your partner makes promises to you and you make countless plans for the future, but in reality nothing happens - from one month to another, from one year to another, everything you would have achieved is postponed and every time his/her excuses and justifications are convincing enough to make you continue and wait;
- on the opposite side, there is a rush and a lack of naturalness regarding the relationship’s evolution - shortly after you meet, your partner starts to pressure you to move in together or to discuss about marriage or children. If you aren’t on the same page, he/she may say to you that you have doubts because you are afraid and that he/she can help you overcome this fear. If you feel that things are evolving too fast, that the relationship is evolving in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, if you feel that your partner wants you for a specific role and not for who you really are, think things through and don’t give in to pressures that take you away from your inner truth;
- your partner shows a bad behavior, disrespect and a lack of consideration for other people - especially when we fall in love, we may ignore certain aspects/traits of our partner that are not directly related to us or our relationship - we can misinterpret an aggressive attitude towards another person as a display of power, we can find excuses for inappropriate behavior saying "maybe they did something to provoke him/her". If our partner treats us nicely, we don't seem to care about anything else. The truth is that things aren’t exactly as we believe. If we really want to know a person, we have to see and observe him/her not only in relation to us, but also in relation to other people. For example, a person whose values are honesty, integrity, politeness or compassion will not only manifest these values to us, selectively, but also to others around him/her. And let's not forget that, at least at the beginning of a relationship, each person wants to be known by highlighting their most beautiful qualities and that sometimes we are told or shown only what we want to hear or see and that it’s necessary to see what else is there, beyond that;
- your partner is possessive, jealous, he/she controls you, but he/she tells you that he/she is not doing anything wrong, he/she just wants to protect you – he/she wants to know where and with whom you are all the time, he/she shows up frequently at your office and tells you “I wanted to surprise you” or, if you go out with your friends, he/she stops to say hello “I just wanted to give you a kiss and I’ll be leaving right away”, he/she checks your phone or asks for your Facebook password saying that "if you have nothing to hide, why don't you let me see?”. In any case, he/she finds rationalizations for his/her behaviors and "nice" reasons like "I missed you," "I was worried because you didn't answer," or "I want to protect you" to hide his/her true intentions - intentions that are related to his/her own insecurity and need for control;
- your partner complains all the time - whether it's about money, their job, other people or the weather, even if at first you tried to understand them, to encourage them and you showed them compassion and empathy, now it has already become tiring for you to notice how he/she finds a problem in any solution and victimizes himself. If our partner doesn’t make a conscious effort to get out of certain negative moods, if he/she doesn’t want to give up certain limiting or harmful beliefs, any attempt to save him/her will prove to be a failure. We will get frustrated and we will even feel that there is something wrong with us if we can't help our partner. But sometimes people don’t want to be helped and it’s necessary to understand that we aren’t anyone’s Savior. By trying to help someone who doesn't really want to be helped, we'll do nothing but waste our energy and invest our resources in a pointless cause;
- there is manipulation and emotional blackmail - you feel intimidated or threatened and for this reason you submit to your partner’s wishes and requirements; your partner threatens to hurt himself or others if you don’t obey; your partner blames you for his/her reactions or behaviors; he/she may say things like "if you don't do as I want, we break up", "if you don't accept this, it means you don't love me"; "you are selfish", generally he/she makes you feel guilty, ashamed, afraid;
- your partner behaves as if he/she knows it all and discredits your opinions - including when it’s about you and your experiences, he seems more interested in showing you how much he/she knows and telling you what to do or what you have done "wrong", than to listen to you and be there for you;
- he/she tries to make you doubt yourself and the way you think when you tell him/her something he/she doesn't like - if something bothers you, he/she will try to convince you that things aren’t like that, that you are exaggerating, that he/she did nothing wrong. If you suggest him/her something he/she doesn't like, isn't to his advantage at that moment, or "doesn't feel like" doing, he/she'll try to convince you that your ideas are bad or uninspired (even if they really aren't). The purpose of these behaviors is for you to start doubting yourself more and more, to not question anything, to rely only on him/her and his/her truth;
- only his/her needs and desires count - your partner expects you to put him/her first, to please him, to be there for him, but when it comes to your needs your desires, he/she disappears - you can’t rely on him, he/she doesn’t show any interest or desire to be "there" for you, he/she minimizes your desires and interests, invalidates or shuts down your feelings. Everything goes perfectly when you give him/her your full attention, when you appreciate him, when you talk with him or try to help him/her with his problems, but if, for example, you also face a problem, he will treat the situation superficially and without interest and will rush to bring himself back in the center of your relationship;
- he/she behaves as if he is doing you a favor for being in a relationship with you – every chance he/she has, he/she points out how wonderful he/she is and how much others desire him/her and that you should feel truly grateful and blessed that he/she has chosen you. He belittles you from the start (as if you weren’t a wonderful person who is worthy of others’ appreciation) and he/she acts superior expecting you to accept anything, to be willing to do anything not to lose him/her;
- you start to lose important relationships in your life, to become estranged from friends and family - gradually you start to notice that "you no longer have time" (ie permission) to maintain the relationships with your loved ones - your partner disapproves of your friends and finds faults in them, he/she gets upset or reproaches you if you meet or talk with them more than he/she considers "necessary";
- you can't trust his/her word, you are often lied to or deceived - your partner is lying so much that you don't even know when to believe him or not. If you confront him with a lie, he/she either completely denies it (regardless the evidence), or he/she finds all sorts of excuses and justifications to save him/her face. He/she deceives you with all sorts of promises to "shut you up", but he almost never keeps his word.
If there are one or more of these red flags in your relationship, take a break and ask yourself why you choose to keep your eyes closed. If we ignore or deny the existence of certain problems, it doesn’t mean that they will disappear. On the contrary, they will grow.
Many times we accept what we know we shouldn’t accept precisely because we still have to work on ourselves - maybe we don’t give ourselves as much respect or love as we deserve and maybe it will be good to put most of our energy in working on ourselves. Not in compromise relationships or in relationships full of turmoil, anxiety and suffering.
Dr. Ursula Sandner