Creating healthy relationships starts by picking the right person. Even on a first date, you can find out a lot about a person’s character, if you listen carefully. While it’s tempting to let yourself fall into the excitement of a new relationship, it’s important to protect yourself when starting new relationships. You can do this by “interviewing” a potential partner before deciding to fully commit.
Part of the dating process is to identify potential “red flags” can help you avoid getting involved in an unhealthy relationship. These “red flags” are specific behaviors that lead to potential problems down the road. People show up exactly as they are from day one. All the signs are there, you just need to pay attention!
Once you know what to look for, you can save yourself a lot of heartache. For this article, I’ll share three relationship red flags that are easy to spot: gaslighting, an inability to manage stress, and one-sided relationships. By the end of this article, you’ll be able to spot these behaviors and make an informed decision before getting emotionally involved.
Gaslighting is a word used to describe a set of manipulative behaviors that make other people in their lives (such as intimate partners) feel crazy. A person who gaslights makes negative or demeaning comments about their partner. They communicate from a place of superiority because they need to be in control at all times.
When someone engages in gaslighting, their goal is to make the other person doubt their reality and adopt their beliefs no matter how destructive they are. When these demeaning messages are conveyed indirectly, the gaslighted partner begins to doubt their ability, and may even fear that they’re mentally or emotionally unstable.
This type of manipulative behavior is common with alcoholics and addicts, as well as with people who generally lack empathy for other people. These people retain control by picking apart other’s character, and instilling a profound sense of self-doubt in their partners.
At first, this behavior may be difficult to recognize, especially in the “honeymoon phase” when everything is new and exciting. Red flags appear as subtle (and not so subtle) suggestions to disregard your own opinion for the person who is gaslighting. The “gaslighters” often show little interest in other people’s perspectives unless it agrees with their own. All of these tactics are abusive and can erode a person’s self-worth over time.
What you can do: If you’re worried about gaslighting ask yourself: does this person appear to need to get his or her own way a lot? Do they get irritable and annoyed when their opinion isn’t valued above others? Do they actually tell you that specific events (which disagree with their perspective) did not happen? If so, you may be experiencing gaslighting.
2. Poor Stress Management
Another important red flag is how a person handles stress. When those feelings aren’t managed well, you have problems. Many of us think we need to “power through” stress, but it’s healthier to allow ourselves the time to slow down. When productivity is valued over self-care, you pay the price in ongoing stress and irritability.
When physical and emotional signs of stress are ignored, they build up and leak out in destructive ways. This is how some people begin using substances like alcohol, marijuana and food (among other things) as a convenient way to take the edge off.
Watch how your potential partner handles stress. When life gets tough, having adequate coping skills can make the difference between enjoying life and taking it out of your loved ones. Being able to handle life’s disappointments without relying on substances or outside sources, you can thrive in your relationships and in life.
The danger of being unable to cope with stress is the tendency to displace those emotions onto those closest to you. At first, the person may get irritable easily and blame others but over time this reaction gets worse. Irritability turns into yelling and eventually can be a sign of mental or physical abuse.
Does your partner articulate his stress and take steps to handle it? Does he ignore the signs of stress hoping it’ll go away on its own? Does your partner minimize stress by saying he just doesn’t feel it? These are all indicators of an inability to handle stress.
What you can do: Look at their ability to cope with stress. Without healthy coping strategies, you may be in for a bumpy ride. Ask if they are open to learning new ways to handle stress. If your potential partner doesn’t see a need or gets defensive – that’s a definite red flag.
3. Attracting One-Sided Relationships
The third red flag happens when a relationship becomes one-sided. One person sacrifices their needs for someone else’s. If you’re always the giver or you tend to ignore your needs for the sake of someone else’s – you are likely in a one-sided relationship. This imbalance creates a pattern of hurt and resentment because the relationship starts to feel more like an obligation than a joy.
Here are some red flags that you might be in a one-sided relationship:
- One person tends to dominate conversations.
- One person’s problems seem more “urgent” and requires lots of attention.
- One person’s needs become the focal point in the relationship.
- One person begins to feel more like a caretaker than a partner or friend.
- One person doesn’t feel comfortable asking for what he or she wants.
What you can do: Share your concerns by naming the behavior without blame. Their response will tell you all that you need to know. If they have a big reaction without any willingness to look at this behavior, run for the hills!
Of course, no relationship is perfect and everyone has strengths and weaknesses in their personality. Because the “honeymoon period” feels so amazing, the tendency to gloss over a person’s flaws is common but not smart. As glorious as falling in love is, it’s critical to pay close attention to any uncomfortable feelings you may experience in the courtship. Red flags often start out as gut reactions or a bad feeling that you can’t shake.
Being able to recognize red flags early in a relationship requires trusting yourself first. Don’t wait until these warning signs create dysfunction in your relationship. If you can’t discuss your concerns with your partner, confide in a trusted friend or consider counseling.
Unfortunately, these red flags often indicate that a potential partner may not actually be ready for a relationship. A person who engages in gaslighting, avoiding stress or one-sided relationships is probably not emotionally ready to have a romantic relationship.
Ultimately, all you really can do is take care of yourself and protect yourself from future heartache. As hard as it may be, it is important to respect yourself by nurturing the relationships that honor who you are and be willing to let go of the ones that don’t.
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Michelle Farris is a marriage and family therapist in San Jose California. She works with individuals, couples and offers online courses. She specializes in anger management and healing codependent relationships. She’s a therapist who “walks her talk” and supports others in transforming habits that hurt. She writes a blog on how to build self-esteem, set healthy boundaries and build relationships without sacrificing yourself. It’s the power of accountability and unconditional support that helps you move forward, let go of the past and truly heal. Visit her website to Get Free Access to Michelle’s Resource Library.