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How to Spot Red Flags & Yellow Flags While Dating

“Nothing is certain in this life except for death and taxes… and arguments.” At least, I think that’s how the quote goes. Fact of the matter is that even on an island of our own, we would still find a way to argue with ourselves. Confrontations are a natural part of life and we encounter them from cradle to crypt. Despite how common it is for interpersonal disputes to arise, majority of us do not engage with them.

There are several reasons one might avoid conflict. Confrontation can raise unpleasant emotions we don't want to deal with in both ourselves and others. While it might seem easier to sweep problems under the rug in order to keep peace or because you don't do well in arguments, I encourage everyone to lean into conflict. This is especially important in cases where avoiding the issue only makes it worse. It may be hard having to confront someone on behavior you find problematic, but it's also hard being on the receiving end of someone's problematic behavior. Pick your hard.

Engaging in confrontation offers the parties involved an opportunity to learn about each other. You don't want to find yourself 3 years and two kids later in a relationship with someone only to realize that the behaviors you ignored for years were deal breakers for you. To be fair, I've come to notice that even people who engage in conflict can find themselves in the same scenarios as those who avoid it. I believe that a lot of this has to do with people struggling to discern whether someone's behavior is an issue that can be resolved with confrontation or a definite red flag. So, with this article I'm hoping to clear the air a bit on when behavior is resolvable or a red flag.

What is a Red Flag?

In order to compare the two behaviors, it helps to define what a red flag is. This article here offers a definition stating that a red flag is "any behavior that is indicative that your partner is trying or may try to gain power and control in the relationship." I'd also like to add that red flag behavior doesn't always appear proactive. Someone could be disengaged from the relationship and relinquish any influence they have, and this too is a red flag. When someone has completely given up on a relationship it's uncommon to find a lasting resolution and it's best to move on.

In sum, red flags are behaviors warning us that someone's hurtful actions will continue or become worse. There is often no resolution in sight for red flag behaviors and it is best to continue with extreme caution (typically not worth your time or safety) or end things as soon as they appear. On the contrary, problematic behavior to which a solution can be made and without causing exhaustion on your end, are not red flags. They are the lesser-known but frequently experienced yellow flags. They might be annoying, silly, or inconsiderate in nature, but they're not exactly a reason for throwing your relationship away.

Do you Share Common Goals?

When deciding if certain behaviors are red flags or yellow flags, it helps to know what you want from a relationship. When someone’s actions are directly opposed to the goal you hope to achieve with your relationship, they act as warning signs. If you’re someone who wants kids and your partner has confided in you that they believe children ruin relationships, then this is a red flag that things may not work out for you. If you and your partner are having trouble agreeing on when it’s a good time to begin a family, then this is more of a yellow flag. A solution appears obtainable.

You and your partner should always be on the same page about life-altering decisions. When you’re not, a solution should seem obtainable. If reaching a mutually beneficial solution appears out of reach, then it’s important that you take note of these incidences and move accordingly. It helps to have these kinds of conversations before you’re too invested in a relationship. Contrary to the messages we receive in our childhood, love does not conquer all. The reasons why we ignore red flags vary, but a common theme I’ve noticed in people who don’t walk away from a relationship alluding to being unfulfilling, is this fear of letting go. It’s like we’re curious to see just how far the disappointment will go.

Blatant Red Flags

Domestic Violence

There are certain behaviors that are unacceptable regardless of the type of relationship you have. One being domestic violence. You should never tolerate any form of physical violence. No one should ever feel it necessary to physically reprimand you in order to get you to change your behavior. If someone’s way of dealing with behavior they disapprove of is by harming you in any way, you need to end things immediately with that person. Do not become confrontational in this scenario. Let the professionals and police handle it. The national domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Jekyll-Hyde Syndrome/Mental Disorders Needing Professional Guidance

Another obvious red flag that we tend to overlook, is Jekyll-Hyde syndrome in our partners. In the story, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jekyll, a friendly doctor fails in his battle of suppressing his evil alter ego, Mr. Hyde. If your partner puts on an amicable face in public settings, but behind closed doors becomes someone unrecognizable, then run. Perhaps their amicable personality really drew you in, but once you two became partners, he changed for the worse. This case is often difficult to pull away from because as far as you’re concerned, your partner is behaving out of character.

And you, wanting to be the good, supportive, partner that you think you should be, will stick it out with someone who has serious issues. If the behavior of your partner drastically changes for the worse when you two are alone, take note and let go. You can forgive them, wish them well, the whole nine yards. Just make sure you let them go. There are next to no solutions that do not result in absolute exhaustion on your end from trying to make things work with a partner who has any of the cluster B personality disorders. Let the professionals handle it.

The two scenarios above are not at all an exhaustive list of blatant red flags, however, they are some of the more serious ones. The topic of blatant red flags deserves an article of its own. Bringing things back to the larger discussion, we see that a common theme among red flags is this idea of there being no solution that doesn’t require you enduring prolonged suffering.

Yellow Flags

While yellow flags appear minor in comparison to red flags, they’re serious enough that if not handled properly could result in your relationship failing. Perhaps when arguing your partner always aims “below the belt.” Maybe you’re plant-based and he has to have meat with every meal. He might be argumentative and always find a way to turn a discussion into a debate. These are traits that almost always lead to some kind of conflict.

However, they don’t have to spell out disaster for your relationship if you’re both willing to engage the problem. It helps to attack the issue as a team rather than attacking your partner. This article by psychology today does an excellent job of presenting tips on how to tackle conflict as a couple. When you confront yellow flag behaviors in a healthy manner, they have a very high chance of being resolved.

Red flags in Yellow Clothing

There are red flags, and there are yellow flags and then there are red flags in yellow garb (orange flags?). These are problematic behaviors that appear surmountable, but more often than not, are red flags in hiding. Habitual inconsiderateness in a partner is something I would consider a red flag in hiding. When someone is inconsiderate of others, their capacity for empathy is not fully matured, and that’s putting it nicely. Most people know good and well what they’re doing. Someone inconsiderate is not ready to take on the responsibility of a relationship.

Relationships require that you take another human being into account and if your partner is constantly putting their needs before yours (if they ever even consider your needs at all) you need to get out of there. You will be their practice partner for whom they take out all of their selfish tendencies onto. You will constantly confront them on their behavior, and once you finally get the sense to leave, they’ll be a better person to someone else.

So, unless you’re into being someone’s stepping stone, see that red flag in hiding and get out. It is not your responsibility to teach basic human decency. You will exhaust yourself with this person. It is said that we show people how we want to be treated. By leaving that individual you are showing that you are someone who will not tolerate such dysfunction.

Other red flag behaviors often confused as yellow flags include but are not limited to Peter-Pan Syndrome(PPS) and habitual passive aggression. PPS is not actually recognized as a personality disorder but I think we’ve all met people who just refuse to grow up. A partner with PPS might appear spontaneous, full of life, and exciting, but PPS is marked by a consistent failure to handle responsibility. Those suffering from PPS are notorious for avoiding conflict and your relationship will never achieve stability. Confronting these individuals often proves in vain, and there are seemingly no solutions that don’t result in your exhaustion.

And while we’re all a little passive-aggressive, it should never be someone’s go-to way of dealing with the majority of their conflicts. If your partner almost always goes the route of being petty, get out. You can confront them all you like, but they’ll just tell you that everything is fine. Passive-aggressive people think that they are clever and will make attempts at gas-lighting. You will know that something is off in the relationship, but they will never validate your correct suspicions. Do not make the mistake of thinking that this is an issue that can be resolved without over exhausting yourself. You will more than likely have a fall out with this person, before you see the day that they mature.

Engaging in conflict is never easy, but it reveals so much about your partner, yourself, and your relationship. While some relationships are worth saving, others are not. This article focused on showing you the signs of underestimated red flags, but seeing the problem is not enough. Most people know when something is not right in their relationship. What most people lack is the ability to let go. If you see these signs in the early stages of a relationship, do not further invest yourself in this other person. Resist the curious urge to see just how far someone can disappoint you.

Lilith is a blogger with an emphasis in writing and reflecting upon social agendas that effect black women. When not at her computer writing she is more than likely still at her computer, programming. On the rare occasion that Lilith isn't at her laptop you can attempt to find her exploring the Chicago food scene or attending workshops in creative writing

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