Red Flags in a Relationship

August 28, 2014

5 min read


Telling the difference between a minor problem and a major character flaw.

When you’re dating for marriage you want to make sure your partner has proper respect towards you and others. At the same time, no one is perfect, and your partner is likely to have some characteristics that bother you. How do you tell the difference between a minor problem and a major character flaw?

Recent statistics indicate that the majority of later-regretted relationships had indicators, signs that were ignored or denied because everything else felt so right. You’ve probably heard the phrase red flag used to describe these signs. But every little difference is not a red flag. Indications that a relationship is headed in the right or wrong direction are known as red, yellow, and green flags. Here’s a little more about each with some examples.

Green Flags

The green flags are the easy ones to identify. They are the qualities that make you interested in a relationship with this person. They are what attract you to this person: his charisma, her sense of humor, his generosity, or her kindness.

Elana called, excited about her growing relationship with Aaron. “He’s wonderful, and is so thoughtful! He remembered it was my birthday and brought me flowers last week. I can really tell he cares.”

The following signs all indicate moving ahead is a good idea: he or she pursues you genuinely, gives the relationship proper attention and time to develop, shows interest in you by asking questions about who you are and what your hopes and dreams are and acts in ways you respect.

Yellow Flags

Yellow flags are one category of questionable traits. These are the situations or qualities that give you pause but do not necessarily spell the end of the relationship. A yellow flag is something that you don’t appreciate and have to decide whether or not you can live with in the long term.

Sarah came to me to speak about Dave, a guy she had met online and had been dating for several weeks. “He’s great,” she said, “and I really like being with him. The only thing is that conversations with him feel like he’s is trying to top every story I tell.”

Someone who seems out to top your stories might be self-centered... or just competitive. Yellow flags don’t necessarily sound an alarm, but they shouldn’t be ignored either. They should be examined closely. Ask yourself: “What effect will this behavior have on my life? Is this something I can live with? Is it simply annoying or something deeper?”

Here are some additional things to watch for in the yellow flag category: Have you had several dates (4+) and you had to be the one to travel every time? Do you have to hunt down the other person for a date or phone conversation? Are you feeling like you may be the only one interested? Has your date let you down or cancelled last minute without explanation? Do you feel bored on dates and constantly look at your watch to see the time? Yellow flags in dating may identify questionable traits or your own instincts saying, "I'm not interested."

Red Flags

Red flags are danger signs. A red flag is more than a characteristic you don’t like; it is something that will make the relationship impossible.

Leah was nervous after her fourth date with Adam. He had taken her to an elegant restaurant and ordered several expensive dishes, three alcoholic drinks, and had then asked her to pay at the end of the evening. She was even more uncomfortable when he insisted he was perfectly sober and wouldn't let her drive home.

Michael had a great time whenever he went out with Lori. But lately she had been calling and texting him more than a dozen times a day to “check in.” If he didn’t respond right away she would become upset, sometimes crying and accusing him of not caring.

When you identify a red flag it’s time to stop and figure things out. People try to put their best selves forward in dating, but negative qualities tend to bubble to the surface over time. When you discover these qualities, it’s time to ask yourself some serious questions. Do you feel disrespected by your date? Does your date seem more interested in your money or social status than in you? Do you receive incessant calls asking where you are, who you are with and what you are doing? Have you caught your date in several little white lies? Does your date have a temper? Do you worry about what kind of parent this person would make? Do you feel unsafe when you are with this person?

If your answer to any of these questions is yes, that is a strong indicator that this is a relationship you want to walk away from right now. Keep in mind that whether the characteristic is something universally impossible (your date turns out to have several wives in another state) or just impossible for you (your date is a heavy smoker and you are asthmatic) does not change the fact that it is a red flag.

Give the person you’re dating your all and assume that your date is also putting in his or her best effort. Watch their overall character and consider the balance. While some things may improve over time, if your date has a character flaw which involves rudeness or disrespect you may want to reconsider this person’s potential for being your life partner. Having said all that, I know it may be very challenging to differentiate a flaw from a red flag. Rely on the mentors and good friends in your life to help you differentiate between the two. A good friend or mentor will have your best interest in mind and will be able to honestly point out real pitfalls in a potential suitor.

Remember: appreciate the green flags, be able to live with the yellow ones and walk away from the red ones.

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