Relationship Red Flags

Your relationship should contribute to your sense of fulfilment, happiness, and connection. If you tend to feel more anxious, distressed, or unhappy around your partner, this is likely a red flag that your relationship is struggling.   Not all relationships make our lives better. Some relationships aren’t good for us. They damage our well-being instead of supporting it.

Healthy relationships involve honesty, trust, respect and open communication between partners, and they take effort and compromise from both people. There is no imbalance of power. Partners respect each other’s independence and can make decisions without fear of retribution or retaliation.

Wondering if your relationship is unhealthy can be unnerving. You may feel like you have grown apart, with all expressions of intimacy dwindling. You may find yourselves bickering instead of talking or allowing inner resentment to build walls between you. For some couples, too much familiarity can become a problem. It’s not uncommon for people in long-term relationships to feel bored. Living a task-driven life that feels like Groundhog Day is enough to make anyone feel restless.

Most relationship breakdowns result from a dynamic between two people. Both people are implicated in some way. When each person is willing to take responsibility for ruptures, relationships can be repaired. However, repair may not be possible for all couples., especially if one person consistently blames the others. If you feel blamed and find yourself regularly adjusting behaviours to suit your partner’s needs, you may be living inside a version of coercive control.

Coercive control is bigger than a red flag – it’s a stop sign. This term describes a pattern of behaviour, including belittling, humiliation, threats, intimidation, withholding or other abuse used to harm, punish, or frighten another person. Coercive control is repetitive and mean and is designed to manipulate or coerce another person by controlling their actions.

Coercive control can be hard to recognise and especially hard to discuss. The perpetrator of coercive control may be abusive without awareness. They may have learnt these maladaptive behaviours from their parents, or they have developed abusive traits in response to past traumas. But even if there are reasons, there is simply no excuse for adults to behave poorly. We all have the option to learn how to behave better. If you are living with someone whose actions are regularly hurtful or damaging to your mental health, it may be time to consider building an exit strategy.

It’s important to note that not all ruptures in relationships result from abuse. Many issues are workable if both people want to make changes. Signs of unhealthy relationships can vary widely. The list below offers insight into red flags that your relationship is struggling. Many of the following concerns can be managed with relationship therapy. (However, if you are concerned that you are experiencing coercive control, personal counselling may be a better option). If couples are committed to developing new strategies to work through challenges, changes within relationship dynamics can occur, and the loving feeling you once felt together may be recovered.

8 Red Flags That Suggest Your Relationship is Struggling

1. One of you tries to control the other

If you’re concerned about a specific behaviour, you should feel comfortable enough to bring it up. It’s OK to express your feelings and ask them to consider making changes. But it’s not OK to tell them what to do or attempt to control their behaviour.

If they do something that really bothers you and you can’t accept it, the relationship may not have long-term potential.

2. Your partner doesn’t respect your boundaries

Boundaries can come into play across your relationship, from respectful communication to privacy needs. If you set a boundary and they push against it or pressure you to change it, that’s a serious red flag. 

Maybe you’ve said, “I need personal space when I get home from work. I’m happy to see you, but I need to de-stress before any physical affection.” 

But they continue to come up to you right when you get home, trying to kiss you and pull you into the bedroom. When you say no, they apologise and say “they just can’t help themselves.”

You might brush this off as a sign of affection and keep restating the boundary, hoping they’ll get it eventually. But their behaviour shows disrespect for your needs.

3. You don’t spend much time together

Relationships often develop when people enjoy each other’s company and want to spend even more time together. Life events can sometimes get in the way of your time together, but these changes are usually temporary. 

Your relationship might be struggling if you consistently see less of each other without a clear reason, such as family difficulties or more responsibilities at work. 

Other warning signs include feeling distant with each other or relieved when you aren’t together. You might even try to find excuses to avoid spending time together.

4. The relationship feels unequal

Healthy relationships tend to be fairly well balanced. You might equally share finances, or balance out a lower income by running more errands. 

But relationship equality can also relate to intangible things, such as affection, communication, and relationship expectations. 

Periods of inequality can happen from time to time. One of you might temporarily lose your income, struggle to help with chores because of illness, or feel less affectionate due to stress or other emotional turmoil. 

But if your relationship regularly feels unbalanced in any way, this can become problematic.

5. They say negative or hurtful things about you or others

There’s nothing wrong with showing concern when your partner does something that worries you. But in a healthy relationship, partners generally take care to express their feelings in helpful, productive ways. 

It’s not healthy to constantly criticise each other or say intentionally hurtful things, especially about personal choices, such as food, clothing, or favorite TV shows. Criticism that makes you feel ashamed or bad about yourself is generally unproductive.

Also note how they talk about others. Your relationship with each other could seem perfectly healthy, but if they use hate speech, slurs, or make discriminatory remarks about others, consider what this behaviour says about them as a person.

6. You don’t feel heard in the relationship

Partners should always feel safe to have their own opinions, even when this means they disagree. If your partner responds to your (different) viewpoint with dismissal, contempt, or other rudeness, this often suggests they don’t respect you or your ideas. 

If you find yourself censoring everything you say because you worry about their reaction, or feel like you’re “walking on eggshells” every day, it may be time to seek professional help.

If you fear physical or verbal abuse talk to a therapist as soon as you can. Don’t hesitate to reach out to friends and family for additional support, too.

7. You don’t feel happy or comfortable around your partner

For many people, key relationship goals include increased happiness and life satisfaction. If you feel uneasy or unhappy all the time, the relationship may not be meeting your needs.

This can happen even when you’re both putting effort into the relationship. People change over time, so feeling dissatisfied and trapped doesn’t necessarily mean either of you have done anything “wrong.” You may have just become different people who no longer fit well together.

8. Disagreements or discussions don’t go anywhere

Healthy conflict resolution typically leads to solutions or compromise. Maintaining a relationship is an ongoing process, so you might not work everything out right away. But you usually feel good about your conversations afterwards. You typically see some progress. 

It’s generally not a good sign when you find yourself talking in circles or about the same issues all the time. Maybe there’s never any improvement, no matter how much you discuss something. Maybe they eventually just shut you out.

Therapy can support you in learning how to navigate grid-locked opinions. However, the shared desire for a win/win compromise is essential.

Questions to ask yourself

It’s challenging to apply the same standards to every relationship. However, if you’re looking for guidance on whether or not your relationship is healthy, there are a few things you can ask yourself:

Is your relationship healthy?

Ask yourself:

  • Does my partner encourage me to grow? 
  • Do we share goals for the future?
  • Do we want the same kind of relationship? 
  • Can I be myself with them? 
  • Do I accept them for who they are?
  • Do we give and take from each other fairly equally? 
  • Is my life better with them in it? 
  • Does our time together have meaning?

If you mostly answered yes, your relationship is a strong one. If you noted several red flags, it’s worth considering if therapy can get your relationship back on track. Love is not just a feeling; it’s a skill set. Learning to listen, self-regulate and genuinely care for another person doesn’t come naturally to everyone. It takes work from both people to build a long-lasting loving alliance that shelters you from life’s storm. The comforting sensation that a genuinely loving relationship delivers is just as palpable as the feeling of hardship. Only you can choose which version you are prepared to live with. If you are struggling, speak up and tell your partner how much you care. Do this kindly, without resentment-filled complaint Ask them if they want to work with you to improve your shared life. You may discover that they are struggling, too. This can be a good sign. It’s the first step to repair.