Red flags can glare at you in the face to prevent you from staying in a toxic relationship.
It may be the disapproval from your friends and family. They’re begging you to break up with your significant other because they notice the controlling signs or abusive behaviors.
You may even notice an apparent red flag on a first date.
My friend went on a first date where a conflict in religion immediately appeared, followed by different values in general. A potentially polite conversation transitioned into a harsh condemnation of her attitude, career, and work ethic.
There was not a second date.
But not all red flags are obvious at first glance. Some of them hide behind the facade of a person on their best behavior during a honeymoon phase. Eventually, the pretentious acts fade, and the true colors come out.
They may seem like not a big deal at first. But these little red flags can lead to more significant problems for your relationship down the road.
Here are seven subtle red flags that you shouldn’t ignore in a relationship.
1. A small age gap when you’re younger
Age gaps exist, and we shouldn’t ridicule people for following their hearts.
But a more subtle problem exists when you’re younger.
Dating someone ten years older is much different when you’re an 18-year-old dating a 28-year-old versus when you’re 28 dating someone ten years older.
A 28-year-old and a 38-year-old may have more similarities despite a ten-year age difference. Both people likely experience their fair share of relationships. They’re probably both graduated from college, looking to start a family, and are both working full-time jobs.
A weird power dynamic develops because you’re in different stages of your life.
I had a friend in high school dating a college student. This turned into a college student dating a college grad working full-time.
The dating continued until the older person wanted to settle down and get married, while my younger friend didn’t.
Another complicated layer is added when it’s your first relationship. You haven’t fully experienced life, much less a serious relationship. Your perspective on a healthy relationship can skew due to lack of experience. How can you truly know what to expect as “normal?”
Therefore, this early relationship as an adult you engage in makes you feel like this is normal. And harboring this mindset can set a problematic tone for other relationships too.
It’s not until you get in another relationship that you realize the problems don’t exist in other relationships.
2. They’re always right (even when they’re not)
Ever heard of someone who will keep arguing even if they know they’re wrong?
That’s a classic example of someone who isn’t interested in working together for a solution.
Seth Meyers, Psy.D, explains a common thread among individuals who share the need always to be correct.
In Psychology Today, Meyers explains “The personality orientation — always right, never wrong — isn’t authentic or rooted in reality (because it’s impossible for anyone to be superhuman, or always right), so the foundation of this belief system is faulty and maladaptive.”
It’s tiring to stay in a relationship with someone who fights for the need to be right. The attitude to always be right can extend to the most ordinary and mundane things too.
There may be deeper issues at play. Your partner could have developed this mindset from living with a parent that was always right. Or they’ve been burned when they’ve let their guard down before.
But staying in a relationship with someone whose stubbornness trumps any resolving conflict is problematic.
Someone that possesses toxic characteristics will condescendingly approach conversations. The “I’m always right” attitude can lead to gaslighting and make you question yourself constantly.
Focus on the outcome — is your partner trying to resolve the problem? Or is their priority to prove to you that they’re right?
3. Checking your phone because they don’t trust you
Having a partner who demands to check your phone because they don’t trust you leads to more problematic behavior. And it’s more common than you think.
WhistleOut surveyed 1,600 Americans to get their thoughts on phone privacy and the impact it has on relationships.
The survey had the following results:
- 50% of respondents admitted they’ve looked through their partner’s phone.
- 31% of those surveyed said they would snoop if they suspected something.
- 38% of respondents claimed that they got into a fight or broke up as after snooping through their partner’s phone
- 43% of respondents didn’t find anything romantically incriminating after spying on their partner’s phone.
The subtlety here is essential to recognize. It’s one thing if you’re out cheating and your partner checks your phone. It’s another thing for your partner to obsessively monitor your phone like a child when you’re committed to your relationship.
If someone demands to go through your phone without regard for any privacy, you’re going to feel like you’re walking on eggshells. And that’s for someone who doesn’t have anything to hide.
One of my friends admitted her insecurity led her to check all her boyfriend’s messages. She went through his texts, Facebook messages, and Instagram DMs. Even Skype messages with his exes from three years ago weren’t safe from her eyes.
He let her freely browse because he didn’t have anything to hide.
And while no cheating ever occurred, the constant phone checking and questioning led to a continual make-up and break-up cycle. Overanalyzing one text or a comment made before they even met led to argument after argument.
It’s okay if you share your phone passcodes with your significant other. But it should be out of convenience rather than a lack of trust.
4. Their living space is questionable
Getting a glimpse into how your partner lives can provide an indicator if your lives will be compatible.
Witness how your partner manages their living space. Will this match your lifestyle and cleaning habits once you move in together?
My friend told me he learns a lot about someone just by buying cleaning supplies.
Hint — if they don’t know what to buy, they probably don’t clean very often!
From doing their chores (are their dishes always in the sink) to clean laundry, organization and personal hygiene are vital.
Then there’s the issue of splitting the chores evenly.
I remember when I first saw my boyfriend’s apartment after he moved on. The sink filled up to the brim with dishes. His logic? Use all the dishes and clean them all at one time.
I quickly realized that I would take over the dishes when we’re together. Even though I may spend more time doing household duties, he takes on the more difficult chores like mowing the lawn and cleaning the bathrooms.
The best way is to divide and conquer those pesky chores together. Working as a team helps alleviate the stress that builds up from all the tasks you think about daily.
5. They buy a lot of stuff!
When you’re in a budding relationship, it’s fun to splurge on dinner dates and travel adventures. It’s a fun investment in getting to know each other.
But when things transition to a more serious pace, it’s essential to evaluate if financial compatibility exists.
When your significant other buys a lot of stuff, this could indicate their poor money habits.
There’s nothing wrong with spending your hard-earned money. But if Amazon packages come flying through your door daily — there might be a spending issue to discuss.
Ultimately, you should be concerned if your partner’s spending habits don’t align with yours.
What can this escalate to?
- Your partner hiding Amazon purchases and online shopping
- Arguments about spending less
- Not being able to reach your financial goals
It’s challenging to pay off your debt when your partner is spending money as quickly as it comes in.
My friend confided in me about his concerns with a new relationship.
“I really like her, but she’s buying stuff all the time!” he said.
I recommend that he should address his worry before it escalates further. As a frugal person, he lives and breathes with spending below his means.
Unfortunately, his girlfriend’s spending habits don’t match his structured, frugal lifestyle.
It’s important to discuss your finances and concerns before they develop into bigger problems.
Are you concerned about your partner’s spending habits? Talk about your overall dreams.
- At what age do you want to own a house?
- How would your lives change if you were debt-free?
- What would life be like if we could retire at 50?
Remember to paint the perfect picture. Then work backward and take the actions to make it happen.
Following this path helps you embark on a positive journey rather than a restrictive one.
A quick recap on subtle red flags in a relationship:
- A minor age gap when you’re younger. This can lead to an uneven power dynamic.
- They’re always right (even when they’re not). You want to find a relationship where you’re able to resolve conflict amicably. Not with someone who refuses to back down even when it’s clear they’re wrong.
- Checking your phone because they don’t trust you. Going through your partner’s phone can be exhausting for both parties. And this only speaks to larger issues of trust and communication.
- Their living space is questionable. The pandemic forcing couples to spend more time under the same roof pushed people to the breaking point. Ensure your partner’s living space can work with how you live too.
- They buy a lot of stuff. Buying a lot of things can mean that you or your partner is living above their means. This may act as a catalyst to financial trouble in your future.
Not all minor red flags have to be relationship deal breakers. But it’s important to initiate transparent conversations with your partner before they fester into someone more troublesome.
What are red flags you’ve experienced in a relationship that wasn’t obvious from the start?
This post was previously published on Medium.
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