I am a romantic at heart. I’m typically thrilled when my friends are in new dating relationships and I root for budding flirtations to turn into love stories. Call me a sap, but I want everyone to end up as happy in love as I did.
But if there’s one lesson I’ve learned repeatedly in adulthood, it’s that there are times when the wisest thing you can do is cut ties and leave. It’s not always easy to see the signs that a relationship is headed in a bad direction when you’re in the middle of that relationship, so here are some “red flags” I’ve learned to watch out for. If you see these in a new or unstable relationship, it may be time to head for the exit. And if they appear in an established long-term relationship or even a marriage, it’s probably time to get outside help, support or even counseling. There are some problems that are just too big to work through on your own.
There’s just no place for infidelity in a committed relationship, and especially not a marriage. And as harmful as the act of cheating is, the deception and betrayal that almost always goes along with it is arguably worse. Can relationships recover after an infidelity? I believe they can and I’ve seen it happen — but not without complete repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. That’s really hard stuff, and requires abundant grace and support.
This might seem like another obvious one, but not all abuse is physical. Verbal or emotional abuse in relationships can be just as much of a red danger flag. If you have a significant other who bullies you, belittles you, humiliates you, or puts you down, it’s time to stop and seek help. Love and partnership never looks like that. Never.
My husband and I talk about this one often. We both have alcoholism in our family backgrounds. And while we both enjoy a microbrew or two, we also know we have to acknowledge the danger of drinking to excess and work hard to stay accountable to each other. With these guardrails in place, we can stay safely in control.
Addiction creeps up on you, and you don’t have be diagnosed with a substance abuse problem before it begins to affect your relationship. Does a substance dependency change your relationship partner’s behavior? Does he or she use lies or deception to conceal a habit? Those are huge red flags.
All three of the above red flags often come hand-in-hand with lying and deceptive behavior. Deception in a relationship may be the biggest warning sign of all, and an indicator of more problems below the surface. Of course, confidence must be earned, and it takes time to develop trust. But when you love and commit to one person to the exclusion of all others, you’re committing to life with them in truth, transparency, and honesty. Love and companionship cannot flourish where there is distrust. And if there’s anything I’ve learned from my going-on-three years of marriage so far, it’s that secrets don’t last long. Do you trust the person who holds your heart? If not, it may be time to walk away.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, he writes that contempt is the primary indicator of a relationship that’s not built to last. There’s a reason for this. In a healthy romantic relationship, you and your partner should feel treasured, honored, and respected by the other. In a marriage, you are committing to be your spouse’s greatest defender, supporter, and advocate. The sneer of disgust or contempt is a sign that one member of a couple does not see the other member as his or her equal. Even when we fight, my husband and I work hard to honor each other and treat each other with kindness and dignity. If we descend to put-downs or belittling each other, it means that something fundamental about our relationship is broken.
Love is hard, and nobody gets it right all the time. But if you discover any of these red flags in your relationship, it’s time to stop and address the problem. Doing so may mean the end of a relationship — but it also could be the first step on a road to healing and wholeness.
Flickr/Kat Northern Lights Man