“Ignoring the signs is a good way to end up in the wrong destination.” ~ Unknown
There’s much been said and written about red flags. Those pesky warning signs that are usually evident, early on, if we choose to listen to our gut.
Our gut or intuition, however you identify it, is our inner warning system. It’s true that sometimes it can be mistaken for anxiety and vice versa, depending on our belief system and previous traumas—but the truth is we ignore it far more than we should, to our own detriment.
Many of us understand red flags, and there are universal ones and ones that would be more individual to our own personal circumstances. Things like love bombing, actions not matching words, anger outbursts, gaslighting, and physical and emotional abuse are among the more obvious ones, although sadly some of us still do get caught up in these red-flag relationships, or don’t realise until too late and damage has been done.
When these types of relationships end or it finally becomes clear what is going on, we will often reflect, and to our own distress, we will see things with a clarity of a sledgehammer hitting us, that part of us, a deep knowing within us, was trying to warn us all along.
I believe there are also orange flags; the reality is that they are as dangerous as red flags but sometimes not as obvious.
Meeting someone and being swept up in the excitement and those first signs of “love” can be a beautiful thing. It can also be dangerous, traumatising, and leave us fighting for our emotional survival. Fighting for what’s left of our dignity, self-respect, and self-worth. Oftentimes, our need for partnering, our conditioning that our happiness comes in a romantic relationship, overrules our gut and need to listen to our inner voice. And I suspect that’s because we would rather not hear what she has to say.
In my personal experience, studies, and work with others, I have identified what I refer to as orange flags:
It’s true there are needs to be met by each partner in a relationship; however, those needs are not the basis of a relationship. We are all capable of meeting our own needs and establishing connections to support our needs. If someone is repeatedly telling you they “need you,” that’s an orange flag. They should want you. Desire you. Care for you. But neediness is not healthy and is based in toxicity. It may be flattering and it may make you feel wanted, but someone “needing” you for their happiness and fulfilment is unhealthy. They are looking to fill a void in themselves that you will never be able to fill.
When issues arise in a relationship or things needs to be discussed and one partner is unresponsive, evasive, or simply tuning out your attempts at communication and addressing things, this is stonewalling. If it’s happening repeatedly, it’s going to cause bitterness and resentment because you’re feeling ignored and your feelings are being invalidated.
3. Inability to change and grow
Of course nobody should be trying to change another person; however, a self-aware person knows that change and growth are important. Someone who believes they have nothing to change or have no need to grow is a person who is unwilling to self-reflect or understand that as humans we can always evolve to a better version. And we should always be growing. One of the biggest causes of relationship breakdowns is the growth of one partner, which leaves the other behind.
4. Inability to set boundaries
When someone continually steps over your boundaries, this is a big orange flag. So often we make excuses for another’s behaviour because perhaps they had bad past relationships, or we listen to some of these social media “relationship gurus” who say there should be nothing private in a relationship. We are still individuals and as such, we should still pursue our own interests and have a degree of privacy. Not secrecy, but privacy—there is a difference. If there’s no trust, that needs to be worked on and the root cause identified. A healthy relationship needs trust and boundaries.
5. Jealousy and control
It’s normal for a little jealousy to creep into a healthy relationship; after all, we are human. But jealousy can quickly escalate to a toxic level. Controlling behaviour where unwarranted accusations are thrown around, or where there are issues with being able to go out with your friends, or have any sort of life outside of the relationship, is a quick entry into the danger zone. Wanting to look through your phone or access your social media is something that some think is not only normal but also an expectation. Unless there has been broken trust and you are working on that, this behaviour is not normal and should not be necessary. We need to stop advocating controlling behaviour and jealousy as normal and a part of love. It’s simply not a healthy love and can lead to dangerous outcomes. Independence and autonomy should still be a part of a good relationship.
What I’m referring to here is the ignorance to see a better way. An ignorance to become informed. An ignorance to learn about the things that can affect relationships. There’s a wealth of information about attachment theory, inner child work, limited beliefs, and trauma, and how these things affect who we are and how we behave in relationships. When someone refuses to consider the research or seek support/therapy to work on themselves, it puts all the responsibility on the other person to do the work. This is a recipe for failure. Unless both people are willing to do the inner work on themselves and then come together as a couple and do that work, they will continue to repeat the same behaviour and cycles. Yes, I know there are people who don’t believe in this stuff, and if that’s the case, they will forever stay stuck in their ignorance.
Sometimes fast moving relationships are meant to be and work out well. More often than not, they result in issues. The first stage of a relationship, known as the honeymoon stage, is filled with chemicals and feel-good endorphins and we are in a stage of limerence. We often have our little rose-coloured glasses on, and because it feels so good, we are happy to rush things or move quicker than we really should. The danger here is we don’t really know someone in the short term and are making decisions based on all those artificial feel-good feelings. Take your time; if it’s meant to be, it’s going to work out if you take longer. Spend time alone to reflect on the relationship and ensure you are looking from a balanced perspective. Sit in silence and solitude and listen to your gut—what is she saying to you? If they feel the same way about you and respect you, they will be happy to give you the time you need.
8. Sex too soon
Don’t get me wrong, I am not judging, and it depends on what you are personally looking for, and again, sometimes it works out beautifully. However, for women when we have sex and exchange that energy, we most often become emotionally connected. With the right person, at the right time, this can be exceptional, but the issue is the chemicals, emotions, and energy from sex can and does bond us to the wrong people. It clouds our judgement and drowns out that little inner voice. If you’re only looking for casual, of course this does not apply to you. But if you are looking for a relationship and the person you are seeing is pushing you or expecting sex early on, perhaps think about what it is you really want. You need to be able to look at the person and the relationship with clarity and sometimes this is impossible once you have sex.
9. Mismatched core values
Do your core values match? Is there an open discussion about values? And not only are the values spoken, but are they also clearly seen through their actions? Have them speak their values first so you know it’s genuine and not a tactic to mimic you. Write down your core values so you can stay true to yourself.
10. Lack of vulnerability and courage
Vulnerability is courage, and it’s also authentic and honest. I know some people do not believe we should be vulnerable, but if we cannot be vulnerable and see our partner as vulnerable, how is there any authenticity or raw honesty? An inability to be open, vulnerable, and honest is someone who needs to do their inner work. Being in a relationship with someone who cannot express their emotions is an orange flag unless they are willing to work on that.
We live in a time where most people still consider a romantic relationship the destination to wholeness. Completeness. Fulfilment. Happiness. Self-worth. A necessity to live a meaningful life. And when we hold these beliefs, we are more prone to miss the red and orange flags. There are, of course, master manipulators out there, but I believe more often than not, we are simply not listening to our gut. When we understand that we are whole, complete, and can be fulfilled and happy without a partner, this is when our inner voice will be at its loudest, and we will be less likely to accept the orange flags.
We also have a tendency through our rose-tinted glasses to gloss over the bad stuff because sometimes the good stuff is really good. And most times, months or even years down the track, we see those flags like the highlighted beacons that they were. The ones we chose to tuck behind the block-out shades. They were blowing in gale-force winds desperately trying to gain our attention, but the shiny object in front of us, that society says we should have to be worthy, in that moment, removed those flags from our physical view. But the flags didn’t disappear; those flags never disappear.
Discernment. We need more discernment. Reflection. We need to do far more reflection. Awareness. We need to know what the flags are and how they may show up. Trust. We need to trust our inner voice. How our body is feeling. Time. We need to give ourselves time to get to know someone. Honesty. We need to be honest with ourselves about their behaviour and actions. We need to remember we can meet our own needs and be fulfilled without a romantic partner, so therefore, we will be more likely to weed out those red and orange flags and attract more green flags.
This isn’t about having a checklist but rather understanding yourself and feeling into your gut. We can’t avoid every painful or hurtful relationship, but we can learn from them and reflect on those lessons. And those lessons are the red and orange flags.
Our growth is recognising the incredible green flags that are out there and becoming a green flag ourselves.
“Never discredit your gut instinct. You are not paranoid. Your body can pick up on bad vibrations. If something deep inside of you says something is not right about a person or situation, trust it.” ~ Unknown