Relationship warning signs are the last thing we often want to think about when we finally meet someone we like. We get so much from relationships and spend a lot of time trying to find “the one.” There are
- singles’ nights
- friends who are always setting up other friends.
Industries are built around matching people up.
So once you find someone you like enough to spend the bulk of your time with, it can be scary and threatening to look at that person with a bit of objectivity and seeing those relationship warning signs. Sometimes friends can help, but we all know how dicey it is to let someone know that there might be an issue with a friend’s partner.
So here are a few relationship warnings signs to be on the lookout for:
1. Altering Your Needs:
Compromise is the hallmark of every good relationship. That doesn’t mean that you never get what you want or that your partner doesn’t either. It means that there’s give and take. There’s a balance as you create this new entity of two individuals who are also a committed couple. You don’t want to lose yourself and be so overly dependent on that relationship, but you also don’t want to be so heavily boundaried that neither of you rubs off on the other.
There’s a balance to be found and part of the “fun” of relationships is constantly rediscovering where that balance is. You want to make sure you’re not doing a lot of altering your needs for the relationship. This can be tricky to spot from the inside. It’s helpful to have a set of things that are non-negotiables to ward off any relationship warning signs.
Your non-negotiables are are things that no matter what relationship you’re in, you’ve got some stuff you’re not willing to compromise on. Take monogamy for example: cheat on me and it’s over. That’s a non-negotiable for a lot of people. Other non-negotiables might be a monthly Sunday dinner with family or friends. This dinner is not something you would regularly cancel or totally stop going to because your partner doesn’t like it.
I knew a man whose (ex) girlfriend refused to go to hospitals. They wouldn’t even go visit friends. A year into the relationship this guy’s mother was hospitalized with a heart issue and his girlfriend refused to visit. The guy quickly realized that this was not a relationship he could count on.
Now I’m not judging the other person—I don’t know their hospital story, perhaps there’s some trauma. I’m not saying that any of these non-negotiables are fair, good, or the thing you should put your foot down on. What’ I’m asking you to consider is what you need and what you don’t want to alter for someone else unless there is a damn good reason.
If you really value game night with friends and your partner doesn’t want you to go anymore because they don’t like Ticket to Ride, it’s fine if they choose to not join you.
It’s not fine if they expect you to stop going.
2. Seeing Relational Problems as Individual Ones:
We’ve all got our stuff. Once you’re in a relationship it becomes very important to sort out what’s your stuff, what’s their stuff, and what’s “our” stuff.
I see many people coming in for counseling because their partner wants something to change about them. But they hadn’t first considered discussing what’s going on from a relational point of view.
Yes, if you have an anxiety disorder, this isn’t something that gets solved by looking only relationally. Strategies together can be helpful, and how you can support each other can be helpful, but the person with the anxiety disorder needs to do their own work.
A good example for where relationship issues frequently manifests is sex. Many people I’ve worked with are taking full responsibility for ensuring a fun and rewarding sex life, but without considering that it literally takes two. Sure, there are individual and relational parts to this issue. But if you’re not considering both then something is likely being missed.
A good sign of not looking relationally is when a person feels really beaten down and the other member of the couple is constantly telling their partner that only they need to change.
This can become controlling very quickly and plays on the person’s innate shame. It also really begs the question, “If you need this person to change so much for you to be happy, why are you with them in the first place?”
Please don’t ever date the potential who someone can be—date who they are. If they are not doing it for you, do everyone a favor and move on. And if you’re getting the message that your partner needs you to become someone else. Move on.
3. Cutting Off Your Friends:
We aren’t going to like all of our partner’s friends. It’s just not going to happen. And vice versa. Don’t expect your partner to like everyone you like. Hopefully, you both like the bulk of those other people, but if there are one or two who just aren’t your cup of tea, that’s fine.
Big problems arise, though, when your partner starts making demands against your hanging out with your friends.
It’s fine to get good, loving feedback: “You know, every time you come back from hanging out with Paul you’re in a really bad mood. What’s going on? How is this friendship serving you?” That’s much different from, “You’re always in a bad mood when you get back from seeing Paul. You need to stop hanging out with him. Forever.”
Ok, so let’s say that Paul is a serial cheater and that he’s a bad influence on you—ok—but then it’s a different conversation.
It’s the difference in saying, “I’m insecure when you spend time with Paul because you cheated on me in the past when he introduced you to someone. How can I trust you again if you continue to hang out with him?” and saying “I forbid you to see Paul.”
Paul isn’t the problem. Your past actions are.
So now the ball is in your court to earn back trust. Being given a demand won’t help this case. This also takes on a different weight if it’s just one friend that your partner is uncomfortable with or if you find yourself slowly cutting off the bulk of your friends to please your boy or girlfriend. That type of isolating behavior is really dangerous—for you and the relationship. It’s one thing to say that you’re spending too much time with your big family and maybe we only need to make a monthly Sunday dinner instead of a weekly one, but it’s another thing to be asked to cut off other people because it makes your partner uncomfortable.
Are you seeing how all of these interrelate, by the way?
As I write this I think of so many caveats to each of these relationship warning signs—and it’s why there’s no easy set of rules to follow for a “good” relationship. Hopefully, you have friends who you’re honest with and who are honest with you. You shouldn’t blindly listen to any one person, but if your friends really have your best interest at heart, it makes sense to hear what they have to say.
There’s also your gut. Are you feeling smothered? Do you want to find some space in your relationship in a healthy way? Now, I don’t know your history, so I don’t know if what feels right or familiar is actually a bad pattern and shouldn’t be listened to. I know that for me the most habitual path is not necessarily the one I need to take.
So listen to the people you trust and yourself.
Thinking you’d like to talk more specifically about your situation. Email me to set up a free phone consultation.
Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert. He is a Brooklyn therapist (as well as also seeing clients online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been working with men and their families for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be.