Red Flags in Relationships
Updated: Apr 19
This article was co-written with Hanan Rahan and first published in The Local Rebel #3.
Red flags can be defined as a behaviour, action, and/or set of values that present themselves within a relationship which may indicate underlying abusive or toxic behaviour. While it may sometimes be difficult to identify a red flag in your relationship, it is useful to think about how the actions and behaviours of your partner make you feel. If you find yourself constantly feeling hurt, traumatised, or distressed after interacting with your partner, it is worth taking a step back and examining your relationship with this person and their pattern of behaviour.
Red flags aren’t as obvious as one might think — they can come up casually in everyday conversations, actions, and behaviours that set a precedent for how your partner conducts themselves, especially when conflict arises in your relationship. Recurrent experiences of this behaviour can lead to normalisation, or acclimatisation of the behaviour. This process of normalisation occurs gradually enough that our thinking patterns move towards acceptance of the behaviour and an assumption that they are part of a normal relationship. This sets the standard for what we think is normal and fine and what we will tolerate in our relationship.
While “red flags” and “abuse” can refer to similar things and overlap a lot, the former is a broader term. Red flags may not always indicate a behaviour — it can also signal a belief system or personal values. So, for instance, a red flag could be someone who never cleans up after themselves and expects their partner to. If this is never contested, this becomes a staple in the relationship. This could lead to the same behaviour branching into different aspects of the relationship, or more worryingly, ideas about how the couple should conduct themselves and the roles they play. This is worsened by existing power dynamics, such as gender roles or financial status.
Another misconception is that red flags primarily exist in romantic/sexual relationships when really, the name doesn’t owe itself to any particular kind of relationship. Any relationship can have red flags. Parent-child relationships, work relationships, friendships: the list goes on. The only difference between romantic and aforementioned relationships are the way you conduct yourself, your expectations, and boundaries that you set for the other person. Which can be both good and bad! So how do we go about taking care of red flags (and more importantly, ourselves)?
You can begin to root out potentially abusive behaviour through introspection, reflection, and if it helps you, discussion. Take time to sit with how you feel about the relationship, and interactions within the relationship. Does anything immediately come to mind? Are there incidents you feel you have trouble thinking deeply about or telling anyone- whether yourself or your friends? If you have a reliable third party who has witnessed enough of the relationship, can you go to them and ask what they think of the person?
It’s easier if you were to visualize the role of red flags in a relationship; red flags are what we call the “markers” or “signals” of such behaviour that can point to deeper rooted issues bleeding into the relationship; history of abusive behaviour; or future implications of abusive behaviour. It can start with a nagging feeling, and then a realization of all the other times you have felt this way or have been on the receiving end of bad treatment.