If you’re already feeling the effects of a toxic relationship, speaking to a licensed online therapist can help you regain solid ground. But by watching for certain signs, you can also address issues in your relationship before they become traumatic—or, if necessary, exit it safely before taking too much damage.
Below, we look at 10 relationship flags that should never be ignored, with tips on how to address or, in extreme cases, escape them safely.
1. Poor or absent communication
It may be a cliché, but communication really is key to any relationship. Communication should be both frequent and meaningful, and never one or the other. If you communicate often but in a casual manner, and never seem to really “connect” over important topics, that’s just as bad as not talking at all. If your partner seems distracted, disconnected, aloof, or avoidant, it may be a sign of something more serious.
One way to address this is by expressing your concerns to your partner without attacking them (which may simply cause them to close up even further) and discuss strategies for communicating better.
2. Lack of trust
Being in a relationship means talking about parts of yourself with another person that you don’t necessarily open up to about with others. This kind of intimacy requires a deep level of trust, and its absence signals a lack of the same. If your partner must always know your whereabouts, is often suspicious of you or your motives for being in a relationship, or persistently doubts your romantic or sexual fidelity, it likely points to a lack of trust.
Building trust takes time and effort, so there’s no quick fix for this one. Fortunately, of all the red flags on this list, lack of trust is one problem that can be solved particularly well with the help of marriage or couples’ counselor, making this a promising place to start.
3. Controlling or manipulative behavior
In a similar vein, people who lack trust often try to gain control over their partner or the relationship. They may not even realize they’re doing it—although, others, like those with narcissistic tendencies, are adept and willful manipulators. Manipulation comes in many different forms, such as driving a wedge between you and loved ones; using your emotions, fears, or regrets against you; or outright lying to get you to behave in a certain way.
Manipulation is a form of emotional abuse and a major red flag. It probably indicates a need to end your relationship immediately. If you feel safe doing so, you can express your concerns to your partner. If they recognize their behavior as inappropriate and engage in a serious effort to change (like speaking to a therapist), there may be hope. But if they deny it, threaten you emotionally or physically, or try to convince you you’re crazy (a technique known as “gaslighting”), make your exit swiftly and permanently.
4. Your friends and family don’t like them
Relationships are tricky things— when you’re in one, it can be hard to see what’s really going on. Your significant other doesn’t have to get along perfectly with everyone in your life—but if your closest friends or family have serious doubts about them, it’s time to reevaluate your situation.
To do so, you’ll need to adopt an outside perspective. Speak to your friends and family to make sure you fully understand their concerns, then try to see things from their perspective. Are there certain red flags, like those on this list, that you may have been glossing over or choosing to ignore? Does their behavior coincide with what your close ones have said?
A certain level of protectiveness from your loved ones is normal—but if there’s a general consensus that this person isn’t good for you, it should be taken seriously.
5. Moving way too quickly
We’re all guilty of getting wrapped up in the excitement of a new love interest. But a high level of intense (apparent) connection can be a red flag for multiple reasons. It may be a form of “love bombing,” a manipulative tactic that involves showering someone with affection to get onto their good side. Or it may demonstrate a pathological need for immediate but ultimately superficial connections that belie more serious issues. Either way, if your brain is telling you to pump the breaks, do so.
This is one area where clear, open, honest communication can be a huge help, and you may want to seek out the aid of an online therapist that specializes in couples’ therapy. You and your partner need to be aligned on pace and direction. If you’re not, the relationship probably won’t work out, and it may be better to get out of it now.
6. Disrespectful to you or other people
A partner who’s disrespectful to you on a regular basis is a serious red flag and indicates it’s time to end things. But you should also watch for how they treat other people. A person’s behavior towards store clerks and wait staff, for example, people on the street or public transit, or their own friends and family can all be very telling.
Even if they treat you well, their disrespect towards others is indicative of deeper issues that are bound to rear their head later on in your relationship.
Unless the behavior is only very recent—in which case it may stem from stress or a recent trauma, and warrants a sensitive but serious conversation—it’s unfortunately unlikely to change any time soon, meaning it’s time to get out.
7. Consistently irresponsible or unreliable
Everybody drops the ball from time to time, and spontaneity can be a fun and exciting way to spice up your love life. But like many red flags on this list, there are limits to how irresponsible or unpredictable a partner should be. If your partner’s irresponsibility or lack of dependability has started negatively impacting your relationship, it’s important you address it.
As with above, if the change is recent, it may be related to something going on in their life that they need help with. But if it’s the way they’ve always been, and you find yourself constantly fixing problems caused by their irresponsible or unpredictable ways, that’s a serious red flag. It demonstrates a fundamental lack of maturity, which is something all meaningful relationships need.
8. Ongoing substance or alcohol abuse
This is a tricky one, because when you care about someone deeply, it can be hard to “abandon” them in a time of need. But different types of addiction, substance abuse, and alcoholism are serious mental health issues, and need to be addressed by a professional, not a partner.
If your partner suffers from an addiction or abuses substances like alcohol or drugs, the best thing for them and for you is to get them the help of a therapist. Many online therapy platforms offer counselors who specialize in addiction—but with more severe cases, you’ll want to prioritize on-site therapy, rehab, or even hospitalization.
Finally, know that your own health and safety comes first. Your only responsibility is to advise them to get help and to leave if you feel the situation is out of your control.
9. Unresolved issues with a past partner
Lots of people are able to maintain a healthy, amicable relationship with past partners. In other cases, though, people enter into new relationships without having fully exited, either physically or emotionally, a previous one. “Rebound relationships” are a prime example of this.
It may manifest as an inability to commit or as a failure to create boundaries with a past partner. If a person’s ex is still a prominent figure in their life, it’s likely there are unresolved feelings.
If that’s the case, it’s probably best to cool things off. Simply waiting around to see where the dust settles puts you at risk of getting hurt and makes for a rocky start to any relationship. Be clear about your concerns with your partner, then either take a break or break it off, depending on the situation.
10. Physically or emotionally abusive
At the start of this article, we mentioned that some red flags warrant an immediate exit. Physical or emotional abuse of any kind is one of them.
Abusive relationships result from dangerous dynamics of power, dependence, possession, and fear. They are often complex in nature, and abuse can take a variety of forms. But there is no excuse, ever, for physically or emotionally harming someone.
Leaving somebody you have strong and complicated feelings for can be hard. It may even feel impossible—like you can’t make it without them or that doing so will put you at risk.
If you are in a physically or emotionally abusive relationship, you owe it to yourself to exit it quickly, safely, and permanently. If you need help doing so, you can speak to online therapists from a variety of platforms or in person with a local therapist.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, do not wait. Call 911 (US), 112 (EU) or your local emergency line, now.
Relationships are complex. They require communication, trust, honesty, maturity, investment, and mutual respect. The red flags above represent 10 of the most common ways relationships can go wrong, but it’s not an exhaustive list. The most telling measure of the health of a relationship is how it makes you feel.
If your relationship lifts you up, makes you feel supported, and improves your everyday life, chances are you’re on the right road. But if your relationship causes you pain or doubt, makes you feel insecure or unsure, or demonstrates any of the red flags above, it’s important to take appropriate action. And if you need help determining what that is, your best bet is to speak to a therapist from any of the best online therapy sites available today.