Having trouble deciding if your relationship is toxic? Whatever the type of relationship, learn to read the flags to make the best calls for your relationships.
Relationships are complicated. From intimate partnerships to familial and platonic relationships, there are delicate intricacies and balances we try to maintain to sustain them all. There are moments in every relationship where we find it difficult to decide whether our relationship is healthy or toxic, worth keeping, or has overstayed its welcome. Most of us are familiar with social media trends identifying red and green flags, but what about everything in between? The ones that warn us or may even be telling us we’ve found a good one. This piece is dedicated to helping you understand the signs in your relationships, determine if they are healthy, and help you free yourself from ones that are toxic.
Before we begin a discussion about the types of flags that exist and what to do with them, it’s important to note that this list is not all exhaustive but rather a broader introduction to the concept of signs in relationships.
These flags aren’t just about the other person, they’re also things to note about yourself that may help you discover the nature of your relationship and figure out how you got there in the first place.
Red flags are usually the easiest to spot and typically what we tend to look for. They’re the behaviors that we find intolerable and that make maintaining a relationship difficult—dealbreakers if you will.
Controlling & Manipulative Behavior
If you feel like you constantly have to walk on eggshells around your partner, friend, or family member or watch what you say out of fear of their reaction, make sure you check your boundaries. It's not their way or the highway, no matter how much they want it to be, and you shouldn't be made to feel like you're always at fault. These behaviors may also include minimizing or attempting to invalidate your experience. You may feel yourself constantly craving validation for your feelings based on their behavior. You shouldn’t be made to feel that you have to constantly prove that your thoughts and feelings are important to someone you care for. You can’t change how they make you feel, but you can change how you choose to respond to it.
"The red flags are usually there, you just have to keep your eyes open wider than your heart. " — April Mae Monterrosa
In any relationship, romantic or otherwise, there are moments where we realize we aren’t as alike as we may have thought and despite our care for someone else we may butt heads. While disagreeing isn’t necessarily cause to call it quits with someone, it can be a reminder to address and adapt to differences. Moving through life’s challenges can be a point of growth for most relationships, but dealing with each other’s different ways of thinking and reacting to those circumstances can also bring out the worst in us. Give one another grace, as we aren’t always at our best on our worst days but do take note of how the people in your life react to stress and changes.
Changing Your Identity
While it’s natural to pick up some mannerisms and traits from spending time with someone you care about, you shouldn’t have to change fundamental parts of your personality just to spend time with them. Finding new traits within someone else that you admire (i.e. discipline, work ethic, goals, etc.) can be a good thing, but don’t sacrifice your identity for it. Changing who you fundamentally are, neglecting yourself, or sacrificing your needs/wants for theirs is not acceptable. This could be an indicator to do some self-reflection as you may not have a strong sense of self if it’s so easily lost in others. Being a chameleon has its benefits but you should always aim to be yourself because that is why people choose to spend time with you in the first place.
Yellow flags are not necessarily a cause for alarm by themselves. They can be a sign of things we may need to adjust to or they may rise to the level of a red flag. Just like a yellow light at an intersection, yellow flags are a warning to slow down take another look, and proceed with caution. Sometimes you can speed right through a yellow light. Sure an unusual or quirky behavior can be just that, or it can lead to something more alarming that could ultimately become a dealbreaker.
Maybe they cancel plans with you to hang out with someone else or for a special occasion. There are certainly a number of acceptable reasons why they cancel on you, but if they consistently choose to cancel to preserve and nurture other relationships, maybe they aren’t respecting your time or worse yet, you. Rather than drawing a line in the sand on this behavior alone, consider an open-ended discussion with this person. Sometimes our expectations for the kinds of time we spend with others aren’t theirs and this may be an opportunity to make an adjustment that works better for both of you.
Feel like you’re always asking questions and keeping the conversation moving? Maybe it’s their lack of effort or maybe they’re socially awkward. The danger of one-sided conversations is that they can be a sign of a one-sided relationship, where one person is investing more than the other. Communicating this way can lead to unnecessary conflict and misunderstandings which can leave you feeling confused or even resentful. Managing any relationship takes the participation of all involved parties, no one should feel like they’re always carrying the team or the conversation.
Constructive critiques can be valuable information to help you improve a relationship. Be cautious if they’re constantly jabbing, nitpicking, or correcting you. When it's constructive, criticism can help you understand how your actions are being perceived but when it's not it can be taken as hurtful and discouraging. Constant criticism can be a form of asserting power or control over another person depending on the critic’s motivations. Maybe they give unsolicited advice as a way of relating, or maybe they’re threatened by something within you that they envy. If they’re coming from a genuine place and the criticism is legitimate, open and honest communication may resolve any negative feelings. Try to understand their motives so that you can respond and reach a mutual resolution. We all deserve to be treated right by those who matter most to us.
Green flags are usually overlooked. They are the things we love about our relationships with others. The flags that let us know we are safe and can be comfortable with this other person. Green flags can feel confusing, especially if you’ve been in previous toxic relationships or experiences. Relationships with largely green flags can help us feel empowered to be our most authentic and create a positive environment that is mutually beneficial.
They Respect Your Boundaries
When you tell them you can’t, won’t, or don’t want to do something they don’t require an explanation or reason. They don’t take it personally or pressure you into doing things you aren’t comfortable with. They may even ask more questions to better understand or empathize with you but they support your choices and respect your feelings. If you find yourself setting a boundary with this person, they won’t feel threatened by it or make you feel bad. Someone who accepts a boundary you set is revealing that they want to build a mutually beneficial relationship. They trust and care for you, and value your needs.
You don’t feel like you have to check yourself before you say something to them, you know you can be your whole self and they will accept you as you are. They embrace all that you are, despite your flaws, and don’t make you feel bad for being yourself. You can poke fun at one another with lighthearted jabs without crossing boundaries, and if something does cross the line you can talk about it openly without taking offense. Having relationships without judgment can help you thrive within yourself and are certainly worth keeping around.
You Can Talk About Everything & Nothing
Every conversation doesn’t have to be heavy or deep. Meaningless conversations don’t have to feel faked or forced because you just enjoy talking to each other. They’re just as interested in the most basic parts of your day as the worst day of your life. They genuinely listen, and you can trust them to honor and share with you as well. In the same sense, silence with them is peaceful, not painful. They can say as much with a look as with words, and you don’t feel the need to fill the space between chats.
Need A Time Out? Weighing The Pros & Cons
If your relationship is truly balanced and healthy you’ll notice you have more green flags than red. The green should certainly outweigh the yellow, and any sign of a red flag should warn you to be cautious. If you find more red flags than anything else, take that as your sign that it may be time to reconsider that relationship in your life. Removing yourself can be easier said than done, but when you find yourself in this predicament – block out some time to tune into your self-care and mindfulness. Bonding with your inner self can help you create a sense of inner peace so that you can make the best choice. Do something that will put you in an empowered, self-reliant state like treating yourself to a solo date, exercise class, or a treat.
Still aren’t sure where your relationship(s) stack(s) up? Use this as your starting point to take inventory of how much value each relationship provides you with in your life. Consider all the flags and how much weight you want to give to each item. Sometimes a red flag for someone else is a yellow flag for you. Green flags can help cancel out red or yellow flags if there are enough good things happening, but no matter how much good there is, the comfortability of a relationship won’t withstand the number of alarms buzzing in your head.
Struck out? Stay tuned for tips on how to remove yourself from unhealthy relationships.