How to recognise a red flag in a new relationship

It’s so easy when you’re caught up in the first giddy flush of a new romantic relationship to turn a blind eye to some potentially alarming behaviours, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve felt this strongly about someone.

As many of us have been burnt or hurt by past relationships, including broken down marriages or betrayals of one kind or another, it can be a “long time between drinks” before we allow our hearts to open up to someone new. As with all things in life, falling in love, lust or just plain like has its emotional risks. If we’ve been badly hurt before, few of us will want to revisit that sadness, pain, grief or anguish.

While we can all accept the little things that might not float our boat – your new love may not know how to cook, they may be a little set in their ways or their musical tastes don’t match your own – there are far more serious relationship red flags.

The fact is they’re generally always there at the start of a new relationship, but many of us choose to ignore them in the hope that they will go away, we think we can perhaps change the other person, or we will tolerate anything in the name of love (denial, maybe?).

So what are some red flags you really ought to pay close attention to and address from day one? Elizabeth Shaw, a clinical and counselling psychologist and clinical director at Relationships Australia (NSW), says there are some signs you shouldn’t ignore.

The first one, she says, is coming on too strongly, too early. “If you’re hearing big declarations early on or you’re being given grand gifts and gestures when it doesn’t fit the stage of the relationship, this may set you up for a fall later on.”

Another involves a level of ambivalence at the start of the relationship. Are both of you clear on what you want and has this been a conversation you’ve both had? One person may be reluctant to voice these wants or needs for fear of rejection or even ridicule.

Elizabeth Shaw says if there is a long time between phone, email or text contact, as well as receiving mixed messages about your relationship status, this can be a signal that “you are probably not looking at a relationship you can count on [in the long-term],” she says.

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Makes sure you have the conversation on what you both want from the relationship

You ought to be alarmed if you detect any signs of controlling behaviour. This could manifest itself if your new partner starts to act as if “they own you” or show signs of jealousy. If you’re also told that you need to act in a certain way, with statements such as “if you really loved me, you would…” then Shaw says, “this behaviour should be firmly addressed”.

An extension of this is if you’re tested emotionally in how you act to show “how far you will go to demonstrate your commitment”. Shaw says this is a no-no.

Start running fast – in the opposite direction – if you notice a pattern where your new partner consistently overreacts to events or comments. Any outbursts of anger or aggression, says Shaw, threats or intimidation of any kind “are large red flags”.

“If you are given suggestions that you should see your friends or family less now that you’re with a new partner, that should also sound off alarm bells,” she says.

Another area to watch out for is if you’re given “terms and conditions” as a part of the relationship. If you have to change your behaviour, drop friends or hobbies you didn’t want to, or agree to unwanted sex because you believe “you might lose the relationship if you don’t”, Shaw says this is serious. “You have already compromised yourself too much.”

Finally, and this one can be hard to admit, it may signify how emotionally vulnerable you really are.

“If you know you’re in a relationship out of fear of being alone,” she says, “or where you’re trying to right a wrong from a past relationship, such as needing a boost to your self-esteem after an earlier break-up, or if you’re still hankering for someone else, then this will not be a relationship that is fair to either one of you.”

Shaw says it’s critical you “work yourself out” before starting a new relationship as past hurts have a way of rearing their ugly heads later on – and everyone could get hurt. And who wants that?

If you feel you need to discuss any relationship red flags you can contact Relationships Australia NSW at relationshipsnsw.org.au or nationally at relationships.org.au.

Have you ignored warning signs in a new relationship? Share your story below.

(Feature image: Paramount Pictures © 1987)

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