Did You Overlook Any of These Relationship Warning Signs?

When we first start dating someone, it’s easy to overlook traits that might seem like obvious red flags to outsiders. In the early stages of a new relationship, we are automatically drawn to the most appealing qualities of our partner. If we do notice anything disagreeable, it is often quickly dismissed as “something I can handle or change,” or “no big deal.” Unfortunately, what’s initially considered to be a fixable “flaw” is often something that’s really at the core of the individual. Early on, these “minor” issues can evolve into “deal-breakers” that can doom a relationship.

After many years of experience working with clients (couples & individuals with relationship issues) in my counseling practice, I’ve noticed many recurring signs that indicate the likelihood that an unhealthy relationship is not too far ahead. It’s especially important to be alert for these red flags in the early stages.

Interestingly, when asked, many clients who complain about their partner in counseling sessions admit: “I kind of saw it at the beginning,” or “I ignored it, and chose to not let it get to me,” etc. Be on the lookout for these warning signs from the start:

  1. Intrusive extended family members can be a problem, but usually only if your partner isn’t willing or capable of setting boundaries. Is your partner enabling family members’ behaviors, or allowing intrusive behavior to interfere with your relationship?
  1. Are other relationships (or career/job) frequently prioritized over you? Sometimes what is described early on as “this person is so unselfish, always helping out others” can turn into being with a partner who prioritizes everyone else above YOU and your needs!  Additionally, someone may have an unhealthy focus on his or her career at the relationship’s expense (workaholic tendencies).  This quality can be directly tied to the core character of the individual – which makes it unlikely to change.
  1. Sexual incompatibility. This is an important issue to address at the beginning of a relationship. If there are sexual issues early on, they are unlikely to go away without mutual effort. Too many couples ignored their differences, or believed they would get better, but found their sexuality issues only exacerbated over time.
  1. Your partner has drug, alcohol or addictive behavior, especially if he or she hasn’t even acknowledged what’s happening and/or refuses to address it.
  1. Inability to take responsibility for his or her actions. If your partner doesn’t own his or her behavior early on, this is a major red flag that doesn’t bode well for the future of your relationship.
  1. If someone has emotional relationship baggage that is unresolved and hasn’t been addressed. These issues commonly involve jealousy, envy, possessiveness, or insecurity.
  1. Treating family, friends, and/or strangers poorly can be a sign of abusive tendencies, and sometimes anger management issues. When might you be next?
  1. If your partner fundamentally does not accept who you are, or tries to change who you are at your core. Does he/she want you to be an extrovert when you’re really an introvert? Does he/she want kids, but you don’t?  Assuming someone will change his or her mind, or core values and beliefs, is a huge mistake and an ominous sign.
  1. If your partner is critical or shows contempt for you. According to research by Dr. John Gottman, criticism and contempt (which is even more damaging) can destroy a relationship, sometimes very quickly. It’s a type of character assassination when your partner criticizes who you are as a person, and not your particular action or behavior.
  1. Noticing your partner has anger management problems – and ignoring it. This trait too will only get worse as the relationship progresses.
  1. Demonstrating behavior that is overly controlling and/or possessive. This can show up in how you spend your money, or even push back on your desire to be with your friends.

If you identify one or more of these warning signs, it doesn’t mean that your relationship is doomed, but it does make sense to get support and not ignore the problem(s). Staying alert for red flags and making smart decisions in the early stages of your relationship can save lots of grief and heartache down the road.

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