Red flags are warning signs that signal your relationship could be toxic. They often appear early on, but you may not acknowledge them until things become problematic. Here are seven to watch for.
Love bombing is a behavior often seen in people who have narcissistic or borderline personality disorders. At first, it may be exciting that a new partner is so eager to be with you, but then things may start to feel off. Ross describes it as feeling too good to be true. The person might “make you feel amazing, but there’s nothing behind it,” she says.
They may also engage in “all-or-nothing thinking that can turn on a dime,” where the mood is great “and all of a sudden a fight comes out of nowhere, and you’re in this horrible place,” Ross explains.
All relationships have conflict at some point or another, but if you’re feeling constant stress, it’s probably not a healthy dynamic. You might feel like it’s easier not to tell others about certain behaviors or details of the relationship because they wouldn’t understand, creating more tension for you.
“If you’re covering things up [and] justifying behavior that you know on some level is wrong,” says Ross, that’s a red flag. She adds that a feeling of walking on eggshells or having constant drama are signs things aren’t heading in a healthy direction.
Gaslighting is a type of manipulation that happens over an extended period where one person causes the other to question their thoughts, memories, and even how they perceive reality. It can take place in any relationship, from family to romantic.
Gaslighting is usually a red flag for spotting people who are manipulators, according to Phillips.
Lying, especially at the beginning of a relationship, can be an indicator of bigger problems in the relationship. Phillips notes that lying might be linked to infidelity or hiding compulsive addiction behavior. For example, he says, “I knew a case where someone was making money, but they were saying they didn’t have the money, and [the money] was going toward something else.”
On the other hand, if you feel like you can’t be honest with your partner about certain things because of how they might react, that’s a red flag, too.
In healthy relationships, people pay attention to each other’s needs. Being dismissive could look like “not willing to be involved in some other interests that a partner has,” says Phillips.
Dismissive behavior is not simply forgetting to attend an event after agreeing to it. This is an intentional attitude that can leave the other party feeling rejected.
“When we start to see narcissistic behavior, we tend to see dismissing,” says Phillips.
Attempts to Isolate You
If you’ve noticed other relationships dropping off because one person in your life doesn’t want you to associate with others, this is toxic behavior. A partner engaging in this behavior might say things like, “I don’t really like that friend, let’s not go out with them again” or “I don’t like your brother; let’s not see him again,” says Ross. “They feel slighted by people in your life and start building a case so that you can’t see them,” she explains.
Isolation attempts can go beyond toxic and get into abusive territory if the person becomes very controlling.
Defensiveness could be an indicator that healthy changes or shifts may not be possible.
If you call out red flag behaviors early on in a relationship and get pushback or defensiveness, Ross says, “You have to ask yourself, is this something I can live with?” She adds that as a therapist she can help people shift things if they want to, but “if the other person isn’t motivated to shift or change something or pay attention to it, they will not do it.”
If you think your relationship may be toxic or even abusive, seek the help of a licensed mental health professional, or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233). (You can also text START to 88788 or chat with the hotline.) In a life-threatening emergency, call 911.