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5 Relationship Red Flags and What to Do About Them

A woman making a face at the relationship red flag of a guy arguing with her over pizza.

Sometimes when we’re deep in love, we miss signs that there may be trouble ahead. Other times we do notice a few relationship red flags, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the love is doomed. So how do we know the difference?

Dr. Wendy Patrick, a behavioral expert and author of “Red Flags: Frenemies, Underminers, and Ruthless People,” says, “Many relationship red flags function like your vehicle GPS, warning you about objects in the road.”

Just because there are complications in a relationship, doesn’t mean you have to give up on it. Couples can take proactive steps to smooth out issues and improve relationships before things get too far. The key is spotting these red flags early enough. So the help you out, here are the 5 most common relationship red flags and how to work through them.

1. Keeping secrets.
When it comes to disclosing things in your relationship, less is not more—unless your partner is planning your surprise party that is. “People get apprehensive about concealed information because secrets breed suspicion. When you know the least, you fear the worst,” explains Patrick. “Whether it comes in the form of non-disclosures, omissions, or lack of communication altogether, secrecy stifles intimacy. Partners who deliberately keep you in the dark about certain aspects of their lives generate distrust about others.”

What to do: In reality, some partners conceal personal information (e.g. bad habits, past indiscretions) not because they’re being unfaithful or leading a double life, but out of insecurity, to prevent turning you off. Are the secrets your partner’s keeping really harmful to the relationship? “As a relationship progresses, some couples move slower in order to test the water. This gradual process can begin even within established relationships,” says Patrick. “Most partners are incredibly forgiving and accepting—because everyone has their own areas of vulnerability, including personal flaws and regrets.”

2. Trying to change you.
If your partner’s “encouragement” is starting to feel like he or she is molding you into something you’re not, that’s a red flag. “You want to feel like a partner, not a project. And certainly not a fixer-upper,” says Patrick. “But before you decide to move on, consider addressing the problem.”

What to do: When you’re dating someone who’s trying to build his or her ideal companion, communicating your perspective can cease construction immediately. Patrick says, “Verbalizing a wish for a perfect dream house is different than sharing a wish for a perfect partner—because in addition to the fact that it’s impossible to change someone that way, it’s also devaluing who that person already is. Many people honestly lack perspective about the fact that they’re trying to change you, and are refreshingly receptive to having this shoe-on-the-other foot conversation. Some people even think they’re being complementary, not condescending.” In other words, talk it out before you walk out.

3. They’re too into the phone.
You try to reassure yourself that your partner hides behind his or her iPhone keyboard in an effort to maintain work-life balance, yet even short, sweet text messages cannot compensate for relational distance. “In many cases, a partner who prefers to text you from a device designed for talking is not committed to your relationship,” explains Patrick. “The silent message is loud and clear: do not disturb.”

What to do: Lots of people have gotten too comfortable with texting as the major form of communication in their relationships, so you must let the person you’re with know your feelings. “If your partner´s device is truly an addiction and not a relationship substitute, you can both agree on rules of engagement,” says Patrick. “You don’t want your other half to miss an important message, so you might agree on times of the day to (literally) unplug. In addition, practice what you preach. Put down the phone yourself and re-engage.” Show your partner that he or she is the most important thing.

4. A loss of desire.
Patrick says, “A partner who is losing interest in you sexually will stop arranging romantic dinners with candles and soft music, because that setting is designed to facilitate intimacy. They might take you to a ball game, or a movie—but it won´t be 50 Shades of Grey.” In other words, they’ll spend time with you in public, not in private.

What to do: Don’t assume the reduction of gifts and dinners means a reduction in love. Your partner might feel so secure in the relationship that those acts aren’t as necessary for him or her anymore. “Explore the possibility that the behavior is due to finances, not feelings. Courtship is expensive, and many partners are reluctant to admit their cash reserves are in the red,” says Patrick. “Luckily, the best things in life are free. Suggest romantic alternatives such as a picnic on the beach or a sunset hike—then gauge your partner´s reaction to these sensible and equally emotionally satisfying alternatives.”

5. Acting distant.
One of the most unnerving and anxiety provoking events in a relationship is when one partner pulls away physically. “No more intimacy, hand-holding, or cuddling.  Before you jump to an adultery allegation, consider other explanations,” advises Patrick. “Sure it means something—but you need to gently and lovingly find out what.”

What to do: Talk it through. “Sometimes, even after years of blissful marriage, one partner shrinks away physically without explanation, due to his or her own issues. This possibility is often apparent when physical withdrawal is not paired with emotional withdrawal; sometimes it even comes with emotional neediness,” says Patrick.  Depending on the issue or condition, this red flag doesn’t mean you have to walk away.

Remember, relationships have their ups and downs. So even though you may be seeing a few red flags that doesn’t always mean that it’s the end. Sometimes distance or people investing time in you can actually be a weird sign that the relationship is progressing to the next level. But part of making it to that next level is communicating how you’re feeling and addressing issues maturely. If you’re unhappy or unsure, let the other person know why you’re feeling that way and talk it out. You may be surprised at what they have to say.

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