Relationships can and often do bring out the best in people. They make us stronger (both individually and as a couple), help us feel more united and remind us that we are not alone in this big wide world. They allow us to feel good about the direction in our life.
And it’s fair to say that when relationships start, just to be together is enough. At that moment, all of our attention and focus is on this new person in our life. If we start to notice some behaviors that might rub us the wrong way, we quickly dismiss them and brush it off. We choose to wait for more information to come to us - before we throw in the towel. That's understandable. We say, ‘give it more time.’ ‘How bad can it be?’ ‘No one is perfect!’
We do this because while in the throes of lust and love, the very last thing we want to happen is for anything to disrupt that or make us question the other person - or, more importantly, make us question ourselves or our judgment.
But, eventually as time goes on our rose-colored glasses because less rosy, and slightly more transparent. We start to examine our relationship with our eyes wide open. And guess what happens to those things that were ‘tugging’ at us earlier in the relationship? Yep. They rise to the top and become those things that really start to bother us. They were hiding in plain sight but we were just blind to it. Yet, don’t be too hard on yourself – most people do that. It’s just the way it works.
And it is here that we find ourselves – being in a relationship that starts to take on a direction we never thought they would and become unhealthy. Some relationships start to suck the energy out of us, tear us down, and do that thing - make us question our judgment. Yet, not attending to these relationship red flags can result in wasting your time and emotional energy and keeping you stuck in a not so great relationship.
Need to recognize the warning signs? Here are a few of those red flags you should keep an eye out for:
1.) He/she lacks empathy and can't see your perspective. When your partner is someone who is consistently unable to see or hear your point of view and cannot focus their attention on anyone besides themselves. This is trouble. When you speak, they are not listening to what you have to say but rather waiting for an opening so they can talk. They are unable to put themselves in your shoes and refuse to take the time to understand why you might feel the way you do. I call these one-sided conversations that undermine the trust and healthy communication relationships are suppose to have.
2.) You don't feel safe sharing. You must feel safe in your relationship and what I mean by this is you feel safe expressing how you feel and that your relationship provides the emotional foundation and environment to talk about what is bothering you. You have the emotional bandwidth to share and your partner has the emotional bandwidth to feel comfortable with your feelings. Whatever they are. Without safety, how will you talk about what is bothering you? You will not. You will hold in your feelings, but eventually they will come out a different way. You might find someone else to confide in. Ask, why don't you feel safe in sharing? What is about this person that makes you feel that way? What is your history? If you do not feel safe and don't feel you can talk about it, you should reconsider the relationship.
3.) They are overly critical. Sure, we are not perfect human beings. We can be critical towards the one we love. I don't speak of the rare instance of criticism, but the ongoing critical remarks that someone says - consistently. And according to John Gottman's, criticism and contempt are relationship killers. You feel that no matter what you do, it’s just not good enough. Yes, thanks for doing the dishes, but you washed these wrong. Thanks for going to store, but you forgot a few things. Didn't you bring the list? Oh my.
4.) They avoid conflict and resolutions. This will result in arguments and very little effective communication and conversations. Stonewalling (the silent treatment – the worst!), ignoring you, or pretending problems don't exist are part of this equation. If a person is unable or unwilling to look at their communication or conflict style and make changes, you will be forever stuck in circular conversations without resolutions. Because their resolution is to avoid resolution. They continue to run instead of standing still and learning how to effectively communicate.
5.) They are stubborn. Someone who is stubborn in their thinking and not flexible equals little room for compromise. How does a relationship exist without compromise? They want things their way all the time. This leaves the other person frustrated and feeling stuck - thinking, 'where is their voice? Why is it always one sided? These types of people are hard to be in a relationship with. Being stubborn drives people crazy. They are only interested in their own self interests and don't consider another perspective. How do you grow as a couple and build a stronger relationship when one is stubborn and uncompromising? You cannot.
6.) They Are a Debbie or Donnie Downer. Sure, it’s normal to have a day off and not be in a good mood, but if your partner is always in a bad mood and sees the cup of 'life' as always half full or empty, it’s time to take a second look at your relationship. When all these see are obstacles and challenges - and not opportunities, this will wear on the relationship. It really does. You feel like you always have to be the cheerleader, the one that is building up your partner. This is exhausting! When all he/she sees in the world and the relationship are problems and issues, this will inevitably negatively impact the relationship and long term is very difficult to be in.
7.) He/she doesn't allow you to be your own person. Over time, we all change and grow. That's life. And why wouldn't we want to change, explore new options, jobs, friends? This means we are curious about life. But what about making changes in yourself but not having the support of your partner? What if you want to take up a new hobby or change careers but are not supported by your partner? You should feel that you can explore different interests or opportunities in life without being shut down or unsupported. A person like this, doesn’t see life, individuality, and relationships the same way.
8.) You feel like you do all the 'heavy lifting.' Doing all the heavy lifting means you feel like you are carrying the weight of the relationship - doing things to improve the relationship, working on the issues, thinking ahead, thinking not just of self, but of the relationship.
You are the one making the decisions, instigating conversations, trying to improve the relationship. Eventually over time, you will feel drained instead of energized and in a good mood. It’s exhausting (again!) And this is not how a healthy relationship should be. Hands down.
Can you identify with any of these negative relationship patterns? If so, it's time to give yourself some 'time', take a step back (big step), and evaluate if this relationship for what it is and more importantly what it isn't. You owe it to yourself!