The relationship red flags you need to know

Whether you’re newly single or you’ve been in a long-term relationship for a while, being aware of relationship red flags can protect you and help you steer clear of potentially abusive relationships.

It’s not uncommon for arguments and disagreements to happen between two people who love each other. But, certain behaviours can signal that something isn’t right.

Similarly, if you’re dating in midlife after being in a relationship for several years, it’s good to set expectations and boundaries if you decide to dip your toes back into the dating scene.

By listening to your intuition, speaking up when you feel something isn’t right and honouring your feelings, you can avoid partners with potential pitfalls and successfully navigate relationship problems.

What are relationship red flags?

Someone’s behaviour may not seem like a red flag straight away, but, in time, these pink flags (minor negative occurrences) can become red. They can create ongoing problems and negative patterns within a relationship.

“Red flags are early warning signs of manipulative and toxic behaviours in a relationship,” says Pascale Lane, a therapeutic family and relationship coach.

“Unfortunately, when you start a new relationship, it can be easy to get caught up in the lust and hormones. We often miss the signs that would otherwise alert us to behaviour that we would normally consider unacceptable. However, such behaviours shouldn’t be ignored and can, if not addressed early on in the relationship, lead to more significant forms of abusive behaviour, hence why we call them red flags.”

Obvious red flags include possessiveness and/or controlling behaviour, along with general inconsistencies in demeanour and actions. There are other red flags that might not have crossed your mind before, such as gaslighting, love-bombing and even low self-esteem.

4 relationship red flags to look out for

Low self-esteem

Having low self-esteem is common among many people. Within a relationship, it can create issues of insecurity and dependence on partners for validation and approval.

“Low self-esteem can be a red flag for relationships because what we know is that ‘reassurance never reassures,” says Dr Marianne Trent, Clinical Psychologist and Host of The Aspiring Psychologist Podcast.

“We need to be able to validate and soothe ourselves. When it feels like we always need this validation to be from an external source and often from the same person, this can be exhausting and lead to the other partner feeling frustrated. This results in relationship ruptures and creates a self-perpetuating vicious cycle.”


Love-bombing is something of a buzzword in the dating world. It describes a behaviour that is, at its core, controlling. Love-bombing manipulates the other person into thinking that their partner loves them.

It often happens during the beginning of new relationships or at relationship cruxes. For example, it may happen if you and your partner are at a point where you’re thinking of ending the relationship

“On the surface, love-bombing may feel positive and affectionate,” says Dr Trent. “It might involve encouraging you not to do something you want to do because they want to spend time spoiling you. This might also look like excessive checking that you’re okay and asking where you are. For the partner being loved-bombed, this can quickly feel stifling and lead to conflict within relationships.”


Jealousy is a very natural human behaviour, but within a relationship, it can very often lead to conflict – especially if jealousy manifests into general possessiveness.

“Being jealous can be a sign of a trauma either from childhood or from an earlier time in the current or a past relationship,” says Dr Trent. “Insecurity and low self-esteem can also be part of jealousy.

“It might also be a sign that either or both partners are not having their needs for being respected and trusted met.”


Gaslighting can impact both long-term and new relationships. It’s where a person may undermine another’s belief in themselves and their actions.

“Gaslighting might crop up with someone who is trying to make you think that an action was ‘your fault’ or that you ‘made them do something,” says Dr Trent. “A truly loving, respected and committed relationship should be one based on free will, choice and an ability to self-advocate while also living true to our own values,”

If we are constantly walking on eggshells for fear that we may upset someone or we believe we are overly responsible for minor negative events or occurrences within a relationship, then this can be a sign that there is gaslighting and control happening.

How to decide whether to end a relationship

Red flags aren’t always an indicator that you should leave your partner. But, if they’re creating ongoing issues, you should consider whether continuing the relationship is best for both of you.

“Deciding whether to continue with a relationship and working out if you need to seek specialist support in the form of relationship counselling, is going to be an individual choice for couples,” says Dr Trent. “However, you do not deserve to suffer. A relationship is supposed to enrich your life and allow you to be yourself and cherished for being individually you.”

If these factors aren’t true for you within your current relationship talk to someone you trust, like a family member or a close friend.

“This could be your GP, a close friend or a mental health professional,” says Dr Trent. “You can also call domestic abuse helplines and local support services for advice and support.”

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