Skip to main content

8 Relationship Red Flags You Shouldn't Ignore

Red flags in a relationship aren't always obvious. Here, experts share signs that may mean your relationship headed down the wrong path.

couple arguing
StefaNikolic/Getty Images

couple arguing
StefaNikolic/Getty Images

No one enters a new relationship with the assumption that it will most definitely not work out. We all go into these romantic unions with the belief that this person may be the one for us—that maybe they are our quintessential other half who can make us happy for a while, if not for our entire lives. Unfortunately, the reality is that most relationships—even marriages—don’t work out that way. In fact, as many as half of all marriages in the U.S. wind up in a divorce, according to research from the American Psychological Association. 

When it comes to two individuals in a relationship, sometimes there are natural elements—even little things—that don’t mix, notes Ili Rivera Walter, Ph.D., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)and owner of CityCouples Online Therapy. “If you ask culinary masters, they are able to explain why oil and vinegar don’t collaborate, or why tomatoes and feta are a delicious combination,” she says. “In the same way, sometimes, two people in a partnership do not create a fruitful result. It isn’t either partner’s fault; it’s a matter of differences in personality, values, or perspectives that create a damaging effect for the individuals and the relationship.”

While it’s not always easy to know from the get-go whether or not a relationship is unhealthy for us, there are often signs associated. “Healthy long-term relationships that are good for our well-being, for example, support our growth and development as a people and encourage us as individuals to explore and try new things while still feeling safe and secure in our relationships,” says Jessica Small, M.A., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, premarital counselor and parenting and life coach with Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. “Less healthy relationships, on the other hand, tend to do the opposite—they compel people to shut off part of themselves and to feel anxious about individual growth out of fear of negatively impacting the relationship.”

If you think you might be in an unhealthy relationship, here are some major red flags that relationship experts warn are true relationship red flags.

You or your partner isolates from loved ones.

While space in a relationship is important, Small warns that one of the biggest indicators that a relationship is unhealthy is that one or both partners start to isolate themselves from their friends and family members. “In healthy relationships, we are able to balance our relationship with the other roles in our life,” she says. “If someone's support network is shrinking due to their relationship, it may be due to friends and family not liking the partner (also an obvious red flag), codependency, or a controlling partner.”

Your partner says cruel and unkind things to you.

Your partner should be one of the most supportive people in your life, which means they say and do things that make you feel good—not the opposite. When one partner speaks to the other in a way that's aggressive, unkind, and cruel, it can really do a lot of damage, oftentimes moving into a pattern of becoming verbal abuse or emotional abuse, warns Logan Jones, Psy.D., NYC-based clinical psychologist and founder of Clarity Therapy NYC. “If you feel like your partner is being unnecessarily and consistently critical without being constructive, then that's a concerning pattern,” he says. “It's one thing to give loving feedback with the wish that your partner will improve, learn, and grow with you, but it's another issue entirely whenever you're trying to erode their self confidence.” 

If you feel your partner is emotionally or physically abusive, call the Domestic Violence Abuse Hotline at 1-800-787-3224.

You feel like there’s no give and take.

Another deal-breaker red flag is when an intimate relationship feels nonreciprocal, or that it is a one-way street. “If you sense that your partner isn't making a lot of time for you, doesn’t include you in plans or decision-making, or doesn’t bother to work through disagreements, this may be something to confront,” says Dr. Jones. “If you've had to remind them many times to consider your needs and how you're feeling, and they seem not to care enough to make that their priority, then that's when you might need to reassess if the relationship is becoming unhealthy.”

Your partner is extremely jealous.

Jealousy is one of the ugliest traits in any relationship and a true warning sign, but especially for couples in a romantic relationship. “Sometimes one partner is jealous of the other, such as an attractive aspect about the other's personality or relationship that they consciously or unconsciously wish they possessed themselves,” explains Dr. Jones. “If your partner is wanting you to fail in some way or is actively trying to dim your shine, it may be that your partner is dealing with their own insecurities, but when someone is continuously trying to make you feel small, that’s not a safe space or a relationship where you can grow.” 

Your partner constantly self-victimizes.

If your partner is constantly making every issue about them and pointing the blame on someone else, it may be a huge red flag and a sign of a toxic relationship, according to Dr. Jones. “This mentality where victims paint the picture that somehow others are the source of all their distress is often diminishing, fearful, paranoid and accusatory,” he says. “Ultimately, people who constantly feel like a victim and fear abandonment and complain about the insecurity they feel within relationships often end up pushing people away, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy and therefore their own disaster and worst nightmare for themselves.”

Your partner refuses to evolve and grow.

Change can be hard, but a willingness to do so for the sake of a relationship is essential for both partners. If your new partner is uninterested in growing or evolving or appears very limited in their ability to grow and evolve emotionally, it can be a big deal, according to Dr. Jones. “Perhaps they're inflexible, rigid, or maybe they have overly controlling behavior with little insight into how they are contributing to their own or someone else's unhappiness,” he says. “Sometimes people grow apart, and the loving thing to do is to leave.”

Your partner repeatedly cheats on you.

While any cheating can be cause for concern, repeated infidelity is the most concerning, according to Anita Chlipala, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple's Guide to Lasting Love. This type of lack of trust goes beyond the basics. “I’ve worked with clients who have cheated once, learned from it, and made the necessary changes to make sure it doesn’t happen again, but repeated infidelity can signal deeper issues or an inability to truly commit or one is just not suited for monogamy,” she says. “It’s important for the cheating partner to be honest with themselves and their partner that monogamy is not for them and they should find someone who has similar beliefs around open relationships.”

Certain topics are off-limits.

In healthy relationships, couples are able to discuss difficult topics, create joint goals, and expect accountability, notes Walter. “There are times when a couple has understood that they disagree on a topic, have talked it through, and have decided it’s best not to continue to discuss it,” she says. “On the other hand, when, in a relationship, a partner has secluded an area of their life, or a topic of discussion that is important to their significant other, such as sex, or money, they are essentially demanding secrecy and expecting a lack of accountability in this area.”