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5 Relationship Red Flags: What You Should Know

heart-pinned-to-wallDo you ever get the feeling that something is really wrong with your relationship — but can’t put your finger on what? Not all red flags are obvious. Of course, things like physical abuse or infidelity can be easy to recognize. But many signs of trouble are harder to spot.

As a relationship therapist, I’ve seen a lot of serious problems. And they often have common underlying themes. Of course, partners can change, and therapy is a great place to start. Sometimes, though, it simply won’t get better. And there is usually a pattern to those situations.

Watch out for these red flags that can signal big problems in your relationship that aren’t likely to go away anytime soon:

The Red Flags:

1. Different Values

Being different from each other is no bad thing. Different personality types often complement each other. And you can always learn new things from someone with a contrasting take on life.

But there’s one big exception. Core values. If your core values are very different from your partner’s, then that’s a major red flag. Do you know what your core values are? Could you define them, if asked?

Think about these questions: Do you want children? How important is your work to you? What are your views on creativity? Hard work? Religion?

You may never align 100%. But if there is a major gap and neither party is willing to compromise, that’s a recipe for ongoing conflict. If you disagree on your core values, your relationship may be on rocky ground.

2. Inability to Apologize

We all have our faults. Part of loving someone is accepting those faults. But that doesn’t mean your partner never has to say “I’m sorry.”

Saying “sorry” demonstrates many things. It shows you know you’re not right all the time. It shows that you care about other people. And it shows that you are willing to resolve conflicts in a civil, adult way.

Of course, apologizing is hard for many of us. Often, it’s plain difficult to put our egos aside. But over time, that can turn into a serious problem—and generate a lot of hurt feelings!

Part of being a mature adult is recognizing one’s faults, acknowledging them and trying to improve. If your partner cannot seem to handle this, it’s a concern. On the one hand, it can mean that someone doesn’t have the skills to resolve problems. On the other, it could be that he or she lacks respect for you. Either way, it’s a major red flag.

3. A History of Failed Relationships

Has your partner always struggled to maintain happy relationships, either with past lovers, family, or friends? Everyone has a few upsets in their past, but if your partner has a history of failed relationships, consistently blames others, or is unable to find a reason for these failures, you should be asking some tough questions.

4. Trust Issues

Trust doesn’t happen right away. It is something that builds over time between two people and becomes a sacred part of their life together. However, if you have a continual sense of uneasiness, you need to pay attention.

You may feel like your partner isn’t telling you everything. Or it might seem like there is much you don’t know about him (or her), and that he is unwilling to share. If you feel like your partner has a hard time trusting you or telling you the truth (or vice-versa!) it’s a serious red flag.

5. Controlling, Possessive, or Abusive Actions

Abuse comes in many forms. It is not always just hitting or insulting. It is a spectrum of behaviors used to control people.

Any of the following behaviors from your partner should ring a loud and clear alarm:

  • Wants you to spend less time with your friends and family
  • Doesn’t respect your boundaries
  • Wants you to quit your job, school, or hobbies
  • Accuses you of being unfaithful or always wants to know where you are
  • Takes your money or runs up your credit card bills
  • Criticizes you excessively or says no one else would ever want you

These are not low-key flags. They are flashing neon red flags saying you need to get out of this relationship ASAP. Seek help if you need to.

In the end, there is a range of unhealthy behaviors that can prevent relationships from ever succeeding. In some cases, people can change. It’s best to identify potential issues early on and talk about them with your partner, as openly and honestly as you can manage.

Tell your partner why you are concerned. Base your conversation on observed behaviors, rather than assumptions. Tell your partner how these behaviors make you feel, and listen carefully to your partner’s responses. Communication is vital if things are going to get better. In some cases, seeking help from a trained professional is the best way of tackling these red flags head on and giving your relationship the best chance of success.

5 Relationship Red Flags: What You Should Know

Harriet Pappenheim, LCSW

Harriet Pappenheim, LCSW, BCD, has over 30 years’ experience in relationship and couples therapy, helping couples and individuals find a deeper content and personal fulfillment in their relationships. She is a founding therapist of Park Avenue Relationship Consultants (PARC), a group of expertly trained clinicians based in NYC, specializing in couples therapy, family therapy and marriage counseling. Harriet is the author of For Richer For Poorer: Keeping Your Marriage Happy When She’s Making More Money. She has also been featured on national radio, Good Morning America and the Today Show. Harriet can be reached by calling 212.289.0295 or through the PARC website.

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APA Reference
Pappenheim, H. (2018). 5 Relationship Red Flags: What You Should Know. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 16 Feb 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.