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What to Do When You Spot a Red Flag In Your Romance

A red flag doesn't always spell doom for the relationship.

Hindsight, they say, is 20/20, and this is certainly the case when it comes to romantic relationships. How often do we look back on a failed relationship and realize we dodged a bullet, when just days before the breakup we were swearing he was the one? Our retrospective vision is often dotted with little red flags, flattened in the wake of our full-steam-ahead romance. A red flag, our internal alarm, signals that something is not right; it pricks at our peace of mind and causes a blip in the romantic rhythm. This flag is red because we are meant to take notice, but does it always mean that it’s time to hightail it to the nearest exit? Not necessarily.


Art Credit: Taylor McCutchan

In most cases our instincts provide a well-founded reason for concern, but that doesn’t always mean our boyfriend is trouble and our relationship is doomed. We have to address the red flag with the attention it deserves and allow ourselves the clarity we need to move forward wisely. Here are three tips to help acknowledge the issue.


This is probably the most difficult aspect of dealing with a red flag maturely. When in the throes of love, our impulse is to write off red flags or ignore them completely. Trust your instincts; if something strikes you as odd, worries you, or frightens you—listen. Dr. John Van Epp, author of How to Avoid Falling In Love with a Jerk, spoke with Verily and explained that "some red flags are easy to detect, like anger or the use of harsh language. Most times you can address these flags immediately." More often the red flag is triggered unconsciously and requires some digging to find the source. Still, it's worth your attention and due diligence.

Ask Questions.

This due diligence requires some investigation, beginning with you and sometimes involving the man in question. Start by identifying the behavior or comment that set off the alarm, and ask yourself why this bothered you. This step requires some self-awareness and introspection. Dr.Van Epp explains that "there are times when that which bothers you about a partner ends up being more about you than him. So begin with some genuine humility and honesty." But don't stop there. Once you have your answer, take it to a trusted mentor or wise friend. When you go for advice, don’t just drop it casually to see if your friend picks up on it, but be specific. Van Epp advises to "be sure to give your friends permission to tell you something about either yourself or your partner that may be hard for you to hear. And then take it gracefully." For instance: “Jake did something that set off a red flag for me . . . (explain the situation and how it made you feel). Should I be concerned about this?” The most important thing to remember here is that no matter what your friends think, your instincts are most important. If your friends think it’s not a big deal, but you’re still worried—go with your gut. On the other hand, Van Epp points out that if you find yourself dismissing your partner’s blemish too quickly when your friends express concern, then you may need to take their counsel more to heart.

After you have clearly identified your concerns, let your significant other know about the situation. Be sure to approach your boyfriend kindly. The intention is not to conduct an interrogation; this will put him on the defensive and most likely not end in a constructive conclusion. Try to keep these three things in mind: (1) Be specific. “Jake, yesterday when we were having the conversation about  . . . you said . . . ” (2) Be clear about your concern. “It struck me as strange because . . . ” or "It gave me the impression you don’t respect your mother . . . ” or “It made me feel like you don’t value my opinion about . . .” (3) Ask for an explanation. “I want to be sure I understand your meaning, so can you explain your thoughts about x again?”


Let's be clear that this does not mean you should spy on your significant other. It means that you have your rose-colored glasses off and your eyes open, able to notice if the previously flagged behavior becomes a pattern. Van Epp says it takes at least ninety days to identify true behavior patterns, so continue to be observant. If the worrisome behavior repeats itself, then this red flag is an indication of behavioral patterns likely to continue through the rest of your relationship. As the song says, "Listen to your heart," and be prepared to make a difficult decision. Your future peace and happiness are worth it.

Photo by Taylor McCutchan