It's typically not until the demise of a relationship that we gain the clearest perspective about what actually transpired and where things went wrong. Warning signs we may have missed while we were in the throes of a new romance—or deep into a relationship in which we've invested so much time and effort into working—suddenly become glaringly apparent.
But as we're navigating the first few months with our partner and getting to know them, what we can look out for is red flags—specific signs that are telling of problematic behaviors and tendencies that could hurt the union down the line. "A red flag is a good intuitive image to help you process what you're really feeling," explains Abigail Brenner, MD, a psychiatrist and Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association who recently outlined the top relationship red flags in Psychology Today. "At the end of a difficult relationship, people often say, 'He (or she) told me who he (or she) was at the very beginning, but I just didn't listen.'"
Jill Weber, PhD, a clinical psychologist and the author of Breaking Up & Divorce and Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy, warns to keep a close eye on these red flags in a relationship. "While your relationship doesn't need to be perfect, you do need to watch for some troubling patterns and trends over time," she advises in Psychology Today. "It is not unusual for people to spend months or even years with someone, all along sensing that the match is not a good one."
To avoid these pitfalls—and wasting time on someone who isn't right for you when the warning signs are there all along—keep scrolling to learn some of the major red flags in a relationship.
Lack of Communication
"When talking about your days, your sexual desires, your future hopes, or even your vacation desires, can you and your partner mutually express yourselves?" asks Weber. If your partner shuts down when you bring up emotional material or changes the topic when the subject gets deep, Weber says to take note. "I find that when it's a good match, couples find it easy to be open early on," she assures. "You may not share your darkest secrets right away, but it should feel exciting and enticing to both share and to learn about your partner."
Brenner warns to be wary of individuals who avoid discussing issues or expressing how they feel. "Often when it would seem most important to be open and honest, they distance themselves emotionally, leaving their partner hanging, or having to deal with a situation on their own," describes Brenner. Some behaviors may include moodiness rather than verbalizing negative emotions and giving the "silent treatment."
Lack of Trust
"When a person has difficulty being honest with himself or herself, it may be hard for them to be honest with you," notes Brenner. She goes on to say that it may be a learned way or habit of coping rather than calculated and malicious, and yet it is still a red flag regardless of the intention. "A person who holds himself or herself unaccountable for their actions lacks integrity and lacks respect for their partner," she asserts.
Your Friends and Family Don't Approve
"If there is something 'off' about this person that seems obvious to those who know you so well, you may need to listen to what they're telling you," advises Brenner. She acknowledges that oftentimes when we're in a new relationship, we can be defensive when it comes to criticism about our new partner. However, sometimes it's an outsider's perspective that's needed. While you don't need to navigate your relationships under the direction of your concerned friends and family members, Brenner says that it is worth it to at least hear them out.
If your partner attempts to "divide and conquer," as Brenner puts it, "driving a wedge between you and other significant people in your life," such as friends and family, then this is a definite red flag. Your partner should not be controlling where you go, who you associate with, or limit "your world to allow in only what is important to them." Brenner warns that your partner may frame this needing to choose between others and them as an expression of "love."
Wanting Different Things
Having different interests and even opposing viewpoints than your partner is what keeps life interesting, yet Weber warns that for long-term goals and how you desire to live your life, you and your partner should share a similar vision. She suggests discussing your future with your partner and then taking into account the big ways in which you align and where you vary. Next, take what they say seriously and don't think that you can change or manipulate them into getting on board with something they have communicated they do not want, like kids, activities, or living in a certain part of the country. "People are who they are," reminds Weber. "And over time, differences of this kind can become huge stumbling blocks to happiness."
Not Being Able to Be Your True Self
Weber states that the best thing about long-term commitment is having someone who knows you inside and out—and loves you anyway. "Notice if you are putting on an act with your partner, or if you find yourself consumed with saying the right thing or doing the right thing in their presence," she suggests. "Also, notice if your partner is able to let his or her guard down with you." A comfortable ease is necessary to create a bond with your partner that outlasts the passion, and is what "makes it possible for couples to be silly, spontaneous, sexual, and more comfortable taking on new risks and challenges," reminds Weber.
If there is one "red flag" that should never be rationalized, excused, or tolerated, it's abusive behavior. As Brenner underscores, "any form of abuse, from the seemingly mild to the overtly obvious—verbal, emotional, psychological, and certainly physical—is not just a red flag but a huge banner telling you to get out immediately and never look back."
Here are the signs you're in a relationship with a narcissist.