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Why Do We Ignore Red Flags in Romantic Relationships?

We hear that hindsight is 20/20. We may often find that clarity is ignited like a firework in the wake of a dissolution, in the aftermath of a romantic relationship that doesn’t go according to plan. You see, you may believe that this person is “the one” and then it’s incredibly heartbreaking when another realization manifests — “Oh, wait, this person is not the one!”

And like many of us, I’ve been down this path, whether it was pertaining to serious or non-exclusive relationships. It’s that light bulb that turns on in the post-relationship reflection that says “duh, the writing was on the wall!” Huh, interesting. But if so, why did I choose to go down that road in the first place?

Good question, Lauren. (Let’s ignore the fact that I just addressed myself in the third person.) Well, this is where I talk about red flags. I perceive red flags as signs that insinuate that compatibility is not at the forefront early on — and that truth could have been buried, inherently, deep down. But this is also where I talk about the reasons as to why we choose to ignore such signals.

In my opinion, vulnerability is a significant factor. When the heart and mind are already preoccupied, we are often left feeling vulnerable and jumping into a relationship can be viewed as a source of healing, not unlike covering a wound with a bandaid. This doesn’t imply that feelings are not real, but because there was never a period to recuperate from the last broken heart or the previous stressor, the warning signs (that this person isn’t the right person to be with) do not appear as daunting. (Sometimes, there’s even vulnerability in the mere fact that relationships can begin when the parties involved don’t know what they want just yet; this can especially happen when people are young.)

Hope (and a sliver of denial) can also play a role in ignoring red flags. It’s only human, it’s only natural, to hope that something better is on the horizon if issues are present. It’s understandable to want to transcend the relationship conflict that’s occurring, even if that conflict is a byproduct of fundamental differences.

(And while I’m focusing on romance, these sentiments can apply to friendships as well.)

In Psychology Today’s 2011 article, “Relationship Red Flags — Are You Ignoring Them,?” Susan Biali, M.D, discusses the importance of awareness. “The moment of truth may pass across our ears, eyes or heart in a flash, but we usually notice it,” she says. “It’s what we or our psyche decide to do with this information that matters most.”

Biali talks about listening to our intuition when there is a pesky voice that tells us we are very uncomfortable in a relationship (uncomfortable to the point where we know the problem is deeply-rooted in compatibility).

“In the moment it’s not much fun to listen to your gut or consciously acknowledge the truth, especially if it means being deeply disappointed, losing a friend or circle of friends, or having to stop going in a direction that at first seemed wonderful and full of promise,” she says. “But the avoidance of future pain and the life-giving better choices that can be made instead, are truly worth celebrating.”

A relationship issue that looks like a red flag to one person may be different to another individual. Everyone has their own personal desires and limits. Regardless, listening to our intuition in those circumstances, right away, can help us move further away from red-flagged situations.

As humans, it’s more than understandable to be vulnerable and to have hope that something better lies ahead. I don’t think we should beat ourselves up for having those emotions and acting on them to the best of our ability (at the time). Understanding why we choose to ignore red flags can be helpful in moving forward. (I personally love labels and knowing what’s rooted at the source.) And by truly listening to our intuition, romantic red-flagged scenarios can be avoided and patterns can be broken, too.

Why Do We Ignore Red Flags in Romantic Relationships?

Lauren Suval

Lauren Suval studied print journalism and psychology at Hofstra University, and she is a writer based in New York. Her work has been featured on Thought Catalog, Catapult Community, and other online publications. Lauren's e-book “Coping With Life’s Clutter” and her latest book, “The Art Of Nostalgia,” a collection of personal essays, can both be found on Amazon. She loves to be followed on Twitter @LaurenSuval.


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APA Reference
Suval, L. (2018). Why Do We Ignore Red Flags in Romantic Relationships?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 26, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/why-do-we-ignore-red-flags-in-romantic-relationships/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 10 Nov 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 10 Nov 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.