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Red flags in a relationship. Hmmm. They glare at us. Why don't we see them? Or is it that we see them, but have choose to turn a blind eye? I’m certain we’ve all been there at least once.
Today, I’m going to help you uncover 13 early red flags in relationships you should promptly address before you entangle yourself in the web of a toxic relationship. We’ll discuss why people miss the warning signs, the potential consequences, and how early intervention can prevent regret and heartbreak.
And if you’ve already found yourself the victim of a dead-end relationship, you can still gain useful knowledge regarding what red flags you may have missed… to keep it from happening again.
What are Red Flags?
A red flag is a flag that is red in color and typically used to warn of danger or command you to stop or retreat. Red flags are thrown up in sports to temporarily stop the game when an athlete breaks game rules.
Relationships experts and counselors use the term “red flags” when discussing signs of potential problems in dating. The signals should draw attention to things that are not right about your partner's behavior towards you or others, or the relationship as a whole.
Clinical psychologist and relationship expert, Dr. Wendy Walsh, Ph.D., explains that “In relationships, red flags are signs that the person probably can't have a healthy relationship and proceeding down the road together would be emotionally dangerous.”
Red flags are also different from yellow flags in relationships and usually more severe. But that's another article for another day.
Why You Miss or Ignore Early Red Flags in Relationships
You may not miss or overlook them on purpose. You probably had a gut feeling something was “off,” but couldn't really wrap your head around it for these reasons:
WARNING: 13 Early Red Flags You Should Never Ignore
To follow are 13 early red flags in relationships to look for and NEVER sweep under the rug. Red flags are signposts of a potentially toxic relationship. Think of them as non-negotiables when looking to establish a healthy, happy romantic or platonic relationship. Many of them are manifestations of personality traits that don't just change overnight.
So, if you're thinking of ignoring them until they go away or hoping the individual will evolve into a better person, you might be disappointed. Some of the red flag behaviors you're about to discover, such as manipulation and abuse, are difficult to address even through psychotherapy.
1. Love bombing
Love bombing is likely happening if the person you're dating floods you with excessive romantic gestures. Are they showering you with expensive gifts, attention, affection, flattery, and grandiose declarations of love even though they just met you?
Those are common signs of love bombing and you typically see them when dating is in the honeymoon phase.
In established relationships, your partner may inundate you with romantic gestures if they did something wrong and wish to quiet you.
Love bombing is one of the narcissist's tools of the trade for manipulating their partners. I totally missed this red flag years ago when I was engaged to a narcissist. I was clueless at the time about early red flags in relationships and love bombing as a narcissistic abuse tactic.
He told me we were soulmates within six weeks of meeting him. When I tried to break up with him, he love bombed me back into the relationship.
His M.O. was sending flowers, gifts, and money, and offering to take me on expensive vacations. It was a crazy cycle of abuse and an emotional rollercoaster I couldn't get off.
2. Stories of “Crazy Exes”
Talking about exes on the first date and especially badmouthing them is a huge red flag. While I was cluelessly dating the narcissistic guy, he loved to complain about all of his “crazy” exes. According to him, all of them treated him badly even though he treated them so well. Yeah, right!
People, such as a narcissist or otherwise toxic person, will try and paint their ex as a bad person. They usually do so on the first date and in the earlier period of dating.
The goal is to come across as a victim so you could feel sorry for them. It's a psychological tactic to get you to rescue them from their “bad” exes.
Notice how the individual never usually owns up to their mistakes and the drama they created to make their exes act “crazy.” To the very least, degrading the people they once cared about and labeling them as crazy conveys disrespect.
3. Jealousy or controlling behavior
Jealousy when coupled with possessiveness and attempts to control you isn't love. These are signs of an insecure and possibly abusive partner. Take the nearest exit! If you stay, things will only escalate and before you know it, you're being dominated by the individual.
Jealousy and control may show up as monitoring your calls and forcing you to explain where you're going or who you're texting. In other cases, they may isolate you from your friends and family to exert more control over you. This isolation tactic is typically used by abusive partners.
Jealousy and control can turn into stalking by phone, via social media, or in person. They may show up at your home or workplace unannounced and give some flimsy excuse such as “I was in the area and decided to pass by.” BS! You're being stalked and stalking is a crime.
4. Inconsistent communication
It's well-established that communication is key for all relationships and romantic partnerships to work. You need to talk to know and understand each other's thoughts, emotions, and needs and resolve misunderstandings.
If calls, texts, and face-to-face conversations are sporadic, that could mean there's low interest or the person is too self-absorbed to interact.
Some people are quiet and less talkative such as those considered as introverted. But even in their reservedness, an introvert may communicate regularly to show that they care. They'll ask deep questions to get to know you on an intimate level.
I've noticed that a lack of or inconsistent communication is a sign of emotional unavailability. There's also a strong possibility the person doesn't stay in touch consistently because they're dating other people.
Whatever the reason, you really can't get to intimately know someone or build and maintain a healthy relationship when you hardly talk.
5. Lack of emotional intimacy
If you're already dealing with a lack of communication, you're probably also experiencing an emotional intimacy void. Emotional intimacy involves having open and honest conversations about your deepest thoughts, feelings, fears, and complicated emotions. You should feel safe sharing that kind of information without being judged or criticized.
Creating a deep connection allows you to get to know each other beyond what's physical. It helps you to create emotional bonds and develop trust, two necessary ingredients that help create long-lasting relationships.
If you notice your romantic interest doesn't ask you questions, e.g., about your past, family, and life goals, it's a sign they don't really care that much about you. In turn, they won't freely tell you things about themselves, such as their childhood, desires, goals, and dreams.
Trouble with emotional intimacy is usually also a sign of emotional unavailability and makes it difficult for your partner to allow themselves to be vulnerable. When that deep connection is missing, you probably won't feel loved, supported, safe, and secure.
6. Trust issues
The importance of trust in romantic relationships cannot be overstated. It's really not rhetoric if you're looking for a healthy, happy partnership. Your relationship is supposed to be a safe place. However, it's difficult to feel safe in the absence of trust.
Trust creates a strong foundation for a future relationship, and it takes time to develop. For this reason, relationship experts encourage us not to rush to commit. You should suss out the person and determine if you can believe them and rely on them.
Having a partner who will be there for you when you need them the most makes life a litter easier.
Trust is built through consistent communication and being open, honest, and vulnerable. Even simple things like keeping their word and providing emotional support can make you feel safe and secure.
If your partner appears closed off, sneaky, or hides things about themselves or whereabouts, you may begin to feel a lack of trust. The likelihood of feeling this way is greater if you're someone who already has trust issues that stem from betrayal in past relationships.
7. Emotional unavailability
I wouldn't date or stay in a relationship with someone I cannot reach on an emotional level. Would you? If you're looking to love and be loved, an emotionally unavailable person won't cut it. Emotional unavailability means the individual is unable or incapable of showing vulnerability. For example, they're not revealing their emotions and or true selves
Other signs of emotional unavailability include inconsistent communication. The person may avoid intimate talks about your lives or the future, refuse to put a label on the relationship, or outrightly shun commitment. Men and women attempt to keep you in this gray area when they wish to keep their options open.
You need to be honest with yourself and quit when you realize the person is in it for the benefits but doesn't want to commit. You deserve someone who recognizes your value and respects you enough to call you their girlfriend or boyfriend within a reasonable time of dating.
8. Lying and cheating
These two are grouped together since they usually co-occur, particularly if your partner is narcissistic. I hate to break it to you, but the fact of the matter is profuse lying and cheating are tactics narcissists use to manipulate you and break you emotionally.
Cheating is done and used to triangulate you with someone else and make you feel not good enough. However, not every lying infidel is a narcissist.
What's important is knowing that they are major red flags that don't change color. What you have control over is seeing them for what they are instead of minimizing the behaviors or thinking the person will change.
A liar doesn't turn into Honest Abe and, as the saying goes, “Once a cheater, always a cheater.” Don't be fooled by these two other lies frequently told by cheaters. “I've never cheated before.” ‘I only cheated ONE time.”
What are the odds you're the one they chose to cheat on for the first time? I almost fell for it when the narcissist I was dating told me these famous lies. But I knew better. Staying with someone like this can only bring you more disappointment and heartache.
9. Substance abuse
Substance abuse is a clear red flag, particularly if you're someone who doesn't drink or use drugs. These are dealbreakers for me. There is so much negativity surrounding a relationship with a substance abuser that can cause it to fail even before it gets off the ground.
People generally abuse alcohol or drugs to cope with stress and physical or mental illness. Using this unhealthy coping strategy is a sign that they struggle with emotional regulation and self-control.
Another thing. Being with a substance abuser puts you at risk of developing a co-dependent relationship you may have difficulty ending later on. Substance use disorder is a mental disorder. The individual doesn't have the mental capacity to cultivate a healthy relationship as a result.
Codependency can happen in any relationship without you realizing it's happening. While closeness is important. If the person you're dating starts excessively relying on you to meet their emotional and psychological needs, it's a sign of codependency. You may eventually start relying on them to feel wanted, secure, or “enough.”
People who struggle with low self-esteem may easily entangle themselves with someone who has the tendency to over-rely on their partner. Empaths are also at risk due to their kind and supportive nature.
While it's okay to be there for your partner, helping can turn into enabling if they're struggling with issues like substance abuse.
11. Lack of empathy
I like to think of empathy as that one thing that makes us truly human. Imagine being with someone who acts rude, disrespectful, or abusive towards you without feeling remorse.
The narcissist comes to mind. A person who lacks empathy can act this way pretty easily. Why? They are unable or incapable of feeling the way you feel.
That emotional disconnect can leave you feeling hurt or not understood. It feels good to have a partner who listens to you intently and is there for you when you're sad or down. A partner who isn't empathetic may not likely feel your sorrow or emotional pain.
Narcissists are unable to establish healthy, loving relationships because their core personality traits don't allow it. They tend to engage in abusive behaviors such as control, gaslighting, and manipulation to get their way.
Coupled with that, reasoning with them about their behaviors is draining and frustrating. Honestly, they can't help themselves if they have narcissistic personality disorder, a condition that needs to be diagnosed by a psychiatrist.
Red flag traits include love bombing, gaslighting, lying, cheating, manipulation, triangulation, and discard. You might spot one easily by their grandiosity, sense of entitlement, and delusional mentality.
Other narcissists are covert, and you'll only realize you're in their trap after you've fallen for them.
The narcissist's primary intention is to use you for their selfish needs. They usually discard their partners once they are no longer serving those needs. You may never be the same after dating a narcissist.
13. Physical, emotional, or mental abuse
Physical, emotional, and mental abuse are red flags you shouldn't tolerate under any circumstance. Run as far away as you can from the abuser.
This may sound dramatic to you, but it's the only way to communicate how serious abuse is for your physical, emotional, and psychological health.
While spotting physical abuse is easier, acts that constitute psychological and emotional abuse may go unnoticed. Common signs include controlling behavior, name-calling, lying, cheating, disrespecting your boundaries, and giving you the silent treatment.
These are a few of many toxic traits that should serve as relationship red flags and shouldn't be tolerated at all.
Abuse in any form has long-term consequences, particularly on your mental health. You may notice you start feeling disappointed, insecure, less confident, anxious, or depressed.
The person you initially thought was a good match turns out to be not so good for you at all. Emotional trauma can also lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What Happens When You Ignore Early Red Flags in Relationships?
It's imperative to ask yourself why would you proceed to establish (or not end) a relationship that shows signs of being emotionally hazardous? If you were convinced the girl wasn't good for you in the first place, why didn't you heed the danger signs?
You may have valid reasons such as not knowing what relationship red flags are and what to look for. Nevertheless, here are some things that can happen:
When we ignore early red flags in relationships, we set ourselves up for a toxic or co-dependent relationship we may eventually struggle to end. Either that or we keep trying to work things out, feeling that letting go will be a loss after all we've invested.
Unhealthy relationships take a toll on mental health one way or the other. You may think you're strong and left the relationship unscathed, but trauma can be hovering underneath. Signs of trauma from a bad relationship include insomnia, lowered self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
You can't really make up for time loss dealing with someone who has chronic personality issues that make them a toxic partner. I wasted three whole years of my life dealing with a narcissist.
I didn't see numerous red flags or knew what narcissism was at the time. Every time I tried to leave, he would love bomb me and manipulate his way back into my good graces.
There was pathological lying, cheating, and much more. I reckoned I was in a trauma bond with the narcissist and that made it difficult to leave him for good. I was eventually successful after three years.
Those are years I (or you) could have spent in a healthy, loving, trusting, and rewarding relationship with someone else.
Final Thoughts on Early Red Flags in Relationships Not to Ignore
People aren't perfect, which means signs of potential issues down the line will show up… eventually. But you're more likely to spot them earlier if you're aware of them. Once you do so, an important question to ask yourself is whether to address them to try and improve the relationship – or call it quits.
The decision is a personal one, given what is a red flag for me may be something you're okay with. The bottom line is that some relationships aren't good for us. Therefore, we must love ourselves enough to walk away if our physical, mental, and emotional health are at risk.
They say hindsight is 20/20 and that may explain why we usually see red flags as clear as day after the fact. Looking for something similar to read? How about 25 Toxic Personality Traits You Should Watch Out For?