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What Warning Signs to Look for in Relationships

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on January 05, 2023

If you were in a toxic relationship, you’d know it — or would you? Whether you’ve been with your partner for ten years or two weeks, it’s worth your time to occasionally reevaluate the health of your relationship. Learn more about the biggest red flags in relationships, and learn how to get out of an unhealthy relationship in the following guide.

If you feel unsafe, are being physically abused, or are concerned about a child’s safety in your situation, please get help immediately. Reach out to your doctor, mental health counselor, or the closest domestic violence shelter for assistance.

What Are the Biggest Relationship Red Flags?

If you're wondering how to tell if a relationship is unhealthy, you're far from alone. It can be difficult to judge a relationship when you don’t fully know a person yet. However, there are many ways to tell if a person isn't capable of a mutually respectful relationship. These are a few unhealthy relationship signs:

Emotional immaturity when there’s conflict. You might wonder why your partner can’t just talk things out when the two of you disagree. They’re a good person, but they can’t seem to handle what seems like normal relationship conflict to you. 

Signs of milder emotional immaturity might be ignoring their own responsibility when there’s an issue, making inappropriate jokes instead of having a discussion, or giving you the silent treatment when they’re angry. A severely emotionally immature partner might lash out physically, call you names, or try to belittle you.

Anger. Anger is a normal human emotion. However, anger can be very difficult to control. A sign of a partner who isn’t emotionally healthy is that they lash out when frustrated by even the smallest things. Anger can be a red flag if it’s used to inspire fear in a partner or maintain control over them. In these situations, your partner’s anger is emotionally abusive.

Control. Does your partner wish you would wear their favorite style of clothing, even if you hate it? Perhaps they insist on knowing where you are at all times or being able to access your texts and emails. These are controlling behaviors, even though they might seem like they come from a place of love or care.

Violence. Physical, sexual, and psychological aggression are huge red flags in any relationship. According to the CDC, as many as 41% of women and 26% of men experience one or more types of intimate partner violence (IPV) throughout their lives. Stalking and refusing to take no for an answer are additional forms of psychological aggression.

Dishonesty. Your partner frequently lies about who they are texting or where they were when they're supposed to meet you for lunch. Sometimes, harmless “white lies” might be told to save someone’s feelings or to make yourself look great on a first date (though there are often better ways to handle these situations). These lies don't necessarily signify doom for your relationship.

Chronic lying is different as it shows a lack of respect and trust. If your partner seems to skirt around the truth, hide large parts of their life from you, or refuse to make your relationship public, these are big red flags.

Isolation. In a healthy relationship, your partner would encourage you to pursue your own interests, goals, and dreams. They would make time for their own friends and family while also giving you the space to maintain connections with your people. 

In an unhealthy relationship, you may notice an intensity that seems “romantic” at first. Over time, your partner might try to isolate you from other connections, hobbies, or friendships to maintain control over the relationship.

Blurry boundaries. It’s tough to recognize boundary issues if you grew up without them. For example, if your parents had access to your phone until you left home, you might think it’s normal for a partner to go over your texts and search history. Consider the following types of boundaries that your partner should respect:

  • Financial: Your money is your own, and it shouldn’t be dictated by your partner unless both of you agree that it's easier to have one partner manage the money. Budgets and large financial decisions should be made together.
  • Physical: It’s not okay to touch someone if they don’t want to be touched, even if you were intimate with them previously. If your partner doesn’t respect this, this is a huge relationship red flag.
  • Emotional: Close relationships are great — but there's such a thing as being too close. Don’t rush headfirst into a relationship by sharing too much too soon. Codependency occurs in intense relationships when one or both partners can’t function without the other’s input on life decisions.

What Questions Should I Ask to Determine Whether My Relationship Is Healthy?

Many people will tell you to “go with your gut” when assessing a potential partner (or an existing partner). However, there are many reasons why your instincts may not work well for you. For example, you could have grown up in an abusive home. Or you may have a history of choosing unhealthy partners and can no longer discern a toxic partner from a healthy one. Asking "what are relationship red flags?" makes sense at any stage, and it's never too late to reevaluate. 

Based on what you now know about healthy and unhealthy relationship dynamics, you should be able to determine which way your relationship leans. It might help to have a trusted sibling, friend, or parent weigh in if you feel like you can’t be objective about your partner. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I feel free to be myself?
  • Do I maintain other relationships outside of my romantic one?
  • Does my partner support my goals and dreams?
  • Do I feel a strong need to please my partner no matter what?
  • Do my partner and I maintain separate interests and hobbies?
  • Do I constantly question whether my partner likes or loves me?
  • Does my partner respect my boundaries?

How Should I Leave an Unhealthy Partner?

If you notice any of these warning signs in your partner’s behavior, it might be time to end the relationship. If you've only been with your partner for a few weeks, letting go might just be a matter of having an uncomfortable conversation with them. 

On the other hand, if your partner is possessive, controlling, or manipulative, you might need help from a trusted loved one or a professional (like a social worker or someone from a domestic violence shelter) to leave the relationship.

Take relationship red flags seriously, and don't make excuses for your partner’s poor behavior. It’s not your job to fix, help, or care for someone else. Pay close attention to warning signs and focus on finding a partner who treats you with respect.

Show Sources

SOURCES:
American Psychological Association: “Control anger before it controls you.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Fast Facts: Preventing Intimate Partner Violence.”
Domesticshelters.org: “How to Recognize Emotional Abuse,” “Relationship red flags.”
Love is respect: “How to create boundaries in romantic relationships.”
Mental Health America: “Co-Dependency.”
Office on Women's Health: "Leaving an abusive relationship."
Onelove: “10 signs of an unhealthy relationship.”
Simply Psychology: “What Is a Toxic Relationship? 7 Signs and What to Do.”
Wright Foundation: “Is it Ever Okay to Tell “White Lies”?”
Youth.gov: “Characteristics of Healthy & Unhealthy Relationships.”

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