Being in a relationship can be a beautiful and empowering thing. But not all relationships make our lives better.
Truth be told, some relationships damage our well-being and impair our mental health. Some relationships can be toxic or even violent—it's important to keep an eye out for red flags.
But what are red flags? Simply put, they are warning signs that a person cannot have a healthy relationship. They can indicate unhealthy and even manipulative behavior. Excessive jealousy is something to look out for. Frequent lying is another. It's important to remember that red flags can be insidious... and that they can grow bigger over time.
The question is: What do you look out for?
Couples therapists told us what to look out for after Redditor Gnerdy asked the online community:
"Couples therapists, without breaking confidentiality, what are some relationships that instantly set off red flags, and do you try and get them to work out?"
"These are typically young women..."
"When one person is entirely dependent on the other, especially at a relatively young age. I mean financially and emotionally."
"These are typically young women (sometimes young men as well) who do not work, do not have children, stay home all day and have no friends or hobbies outside of hanging out with their spouse. Very unhealthy, and a huge red flag. Always ends in a painful and messy breakup."
"Generally, we try to get them to find a friend, join a community, get a job or volunteer - something to provide them with self worth and personal fulfillment outside of their spouse."
The idea of joining a relationship without anything of your own to fall back on is legitimately terrifying.
"One person says..."
"One partner says they’re seeking your services to help them determine if they want to stay together; the other partner says they’re seeking your services to make it so they stay together."
"Then it’s about highlighting the points and allowing the person who is on the fence decide what they want, since the other person knows."
That's so depressing, just waiting for someone to decide if they want you. Sadly, it's common.
"This comes in many forms, from gaslighting to just simple denial of another's opinion. Most of the time one or both parties are simply trying to be heard on an emotional level with an event or topic that was brought up, but the other party takes this as a personal attack on their ideals."
Do not tell someone how they feel or what they think. It won't end well.
"I saw a couple..."
"I saw a couple that was doing "retaliatory" cheating (and telling each other about it). When they got through their anger, they decided to call a truce and made peace. With their level of emotional maturity, I doubt it lasted. I don't know if I helped them or prolonged their suffering. It was their decision to come to counseling, so I think it was the help they wanted."
"Other clients realize what they really want is "divorce counselling". What's the best way to behave civilly and minimize damage to the kids while we go our separate ways?"
I think it would be great if divorce counseling were normalized. It would save a lot of people a lot of pain.
"People who approach therapy..."
"People who approach therapy with the idea that they must convince the therapist that they’re right and their partner is wrong. Almost like they’re complaining to a parent or boss to have them sort out the problems."
Pointing out all the things your partner did wrong and demanding that the therapist tell you how to fix it isn't a winning strategy for any relationship.
"Contempt. When I experience true contempt from one in the relationship I know it is usually over. Look towards a peaceful ending at that point if possible."
Ah, contempt! One of the four horsement predictors of divorce!
"When people come in..."
"One of the biggest red flags I see when working with a new couple is when they've totally forgotten the good. Part of relationship therapy is reconnecting a couple with what they like about each other, what initially attracted them to each other, and what the positives are between them."
"When people come in and they've been so unhappy for so long that they actually can't remember what it was like to be in love, or to even like each other, they're just about hopeless."
"You don't have to be happy for therapy to work--but if you can't even reminisce about the good times, then the good times are probably over."
This makes sense. Why did you get together? What did you like about each other? What do you love about each other?
It's important to keep that in mind.
"It erodes trust..."
"Couples in a tit for tat arrangement. For example: I cheated so you can have one night to cheat with whomever. Or I violated your trust and did drugs, you can go out and do whatever for one night. It erodes trust and compounds the hurt."
Yeah... nothing about that behavior is even remotely healthy. People should just leave at that point.
"I most commonly see..."
"Control to an excessive amount. I most commonly see partners having to send pictures holding up a certain number of fingers or proving that it's a live picture. This is abuse."
This is utterly heartbreaking. Hopefully these patients recognized the signs and bailed.
"Overbearing parents and in laws. I understand there's a ton of cultural nuance here, and I work with couples who have arranged marriages, as well as the south Asian community. However, when a spouse is more allied with their parents and calls them on speakerphone for fights, or often speaks ill of their partner to their parents, I usually see these couples stay very unhappily married for years."
Overbearing parents can absolutely threaten a relationship. It's important to remember that your relationship is separate from your parents — and that your partner deserves your love and allegiance.
Knowing how to identify red flags in a relationship is extremely important. In order to address them, you must learn what they look like and why they are so dangerous.
While this list isn't exhaustive, it's definitely a start. It is possible to identify red flags and put an end to toxic relationships before the damage is done.
Have some thoughts of your own? Tell us more in the comments below.