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Recognising Red Flags (But Not Where You Think)

Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength.

Sigmund Freud.

Starting a new relationship can be a thrill. There’s so much potential, and so much to learn about this new person in our lives. The tummy butterflies are on overdrive.

At the same time, depending on how your last relationships ended, this new beginning can be terrifying. Putting yourself out there means making yourself vulnerable, and susceptible to getting hurt, and those butterflies can feel more like a flock of psychotic pigeons.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to protect ourselves from the hurt we experienced in previous relationships by keeping our eyes peeled for all the warning signs in this new, potential partner: the infamous red flags.

Source: Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

While pondering on this topic, I decided to Google what people consider to be “red flags” in relationships, and came up with the following, among others:

  • your partner badmouths their exes.
  • your partner has trouble apologising.
  • your partner doesn’t make time for your family and friends.
  • your partner doesn’t respect your boundaries.
  • your partner lacks communication.
  • your partner shows no interest in your life.
  • your partner lacks trust.
  • your partner never talks about your future together.
  • your partner parties too hard.

Now, there were a LOT of lists out there stating all the things that could be wrong with your potential new bae, and these were just a few. The tip of the massive, emotionally-damaged iceberg, if you will. Clearly, people are worried about this (or these articles wouldn’t have been written in the first place). What I’m really curious about, though, is how often people stop and think about their own red flags. How often do you sit down and think about the red flags that others may perceive in you as a potential partner?

Source: Matthew Fassnacht on Unsplash.

For example, you may be guarding your heart from someone who really cares about you, because your ex treated you badly. While this might seem like a reasonable strategy to you (who wants to get hurt again!?) it may come across to your new love interest as a lack of trust (a red flag!). And if you don’t talk to your potential partner about this, you’re not communicating (another red flag!).

If this isn’t a problem you have, then great! But how about some of the other items on the internets endless collection of red flag lists?

It can be so uncomfortable dating someone who doesn’t know what they want. Not knowing where you stand with someone because they haven’t analysed their own feelings and goals is a recipe for relationship disaster. So, don’t be that person! Think clearly about where you want to be in the future, and the roles your bae will play in that future, and talk about it. That way, you’re both on the same page, and if your aspirations don’t match, you can call it quits amicably before you’ve wasted too much of each other’s precious time. If your partner doesn’t want to discuss it, well, at least you know you’re not the one holding that particular flag.

Source: Joshua Ness on Unsplash.

It seems to me that most of the red flags on every list can be painted a different colour by just discussing them openly and honestly with your partner. Don’t like their family? Find a way to (gently) explain the way you feel (But remember that if you care about this person it’s important to make an effort to be a part of their world). This is better than being the barer of the flag and just making excuses not to attend family gatherings. You wanna party, but you’re dating a teetotaler? Compromise and meet them half way.

Relationships are chaotic and messy and never easy, but they’re worth all the trouble when you find a good one. This is difficult to do if you’re so focused on finding all the problems with everyone you meet, and impossible if you’re doing that without acknowledging that you, yourself, may not be perfect.

As we get older, we all approach new relationships with more baggage and more emotional damage. We have more crazy exes, more financial worries, more stress. Understanding that no person is perfect, and therefore no relationship is perfect, may help to calm some of the stomach pigeons of anxiety when it comes to trying out a new relationship. The first step is making ourselves vulnerable, facing our own baggage (and our red flags), accepting them, and doing what we can to make them a little less red.

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