When you’re dating someone new, all the excitement and butterflies can mean that you might miss troubling behaviour that would have you telling a friend in the same situation to break up, now. Whether that behaviour indicates potential abuse in the future or simply incompatibility, it's best to be able to recognise red flags so you can take action. Here, Brynna Pawlows, LMSW and psychotherapist, warns us about the most common red flags to watch out for when dating someone new.
Is Your Partner Making Demands?
Demands “can be as subtle as telling, rather than asking, a partner to do something (i.e. send a picture, respond to a text, stop wearing something),” Pawlows explains. Making a lot of demands can be a warning sign for abusive behaviour, particularly if these demands are being used to control or restrict your actions.
Pawlows adds that some partners might agree to check in with each other more frequently than others. "A typical red-flag behaviour may be an expectation to text and check-in every few hours. However, if it's discussed as a mutually beneficial and accepted need, and is not coerced from either party, then it becomes ok," she explains. If your partner’s behaviour feels controlling and jealous, pay attention to that.
Is Your Partner Guilt-Tripping You?
“Guilt-tripping can look like being made to feel bad for having to cancel plans for a legitimate reason (‘You know I was really looking forward to that dinner and now I have nothing to do. You should have planned for this disruption’),” Pawlows says. This can also show up as your partner guilting you for making plans to spend time with friends without them. Guilt-tripping can be a warning sign of psychological or emotional abuse, especially if it results in you becoming isolated from your friends and family.
Does Your Partner Criticise Your Hobbies And Interests?
You and your partner don’t have to share every hobby, but your partner shouldn’t criticise you for having different interests. Saying something like “Have fun at that Game of Thrones viewing party, I’m going to stay home and listen to a podcast instead!” isn't a problem. Yelling at you for your love of Jon Snow is.
“A partner doesn’t have to love everything that you do, but they should respect it,” Pawlows says. “If you are constantly feeling that someone is yucking your yum, it could indicate deeper issues in the future. If you love musicals, your partner doesn’t have to come to a Broadway show with you. They also shouldn’t go on and on about how they are stupid or restrict you engaging in your already-existing interests.”
Do You Have Different Values And Goals?
If you notice you have different approaches to big relationship decisions such as marriage and children, or totally different values when it comes to issues like reproductive rights, that could also be warning sign. It's not a sign of abuse, but a sign that this relationship probably isn’t going to last. “If a partner is firm about a big life decision (not wanting marriage, not wanting babies, etc.) and you want something different, no amount of love will change a made-up mind,” Pawlows says. “And if one partner does succumb to the other’s wishes, resentment tends to build.”
Do You Feel Like You Need To Change Your Partner?
Be wary of “thinking in terms of ‘jumping a step,’” Pawlows says. This means thoughts such as “once they do this, things will be better” or “once I help them with ABC thing, they’ll change and things will work out.”
“I urge them to ask themselves: Why is that your responsibility? Why do you think you have to wait on someone to be who you need them to be?” Pawlows says. “It’s often a repeated behaviour pattern learned from childhood. If we grew up making excuses for the people we love, typically our parents, then we end up doing the same for potential partners. The difference is that we don’t choose our parents, but we can choose our partners.”
Does Something Just Feel Wrong?
Even if your situation doesn't fit any of these descriptions perfectly, if something just feels off, you should listen to your gut. “In general, anything that feels ‘icky’ early on in a relationship can be a red flag — especially anything that takes from an individual’s right to self-determination,” Pawlows says. “New relationships should be full of happiness and that dreamy honeymoon stage feeling!”