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4 ‘red flags’ that might mean your relationship is in trouble

Most people have a rolodex of red flags that can turn them off on a first date. When you’re well into a serious partnership, though, red flags can be harder to identify.

After a certain level of commitment is involved and you’ve been with your partner through many ups and downs, it can be challenging to know what is a rough patch and what is a sign that your relationship is in trouble.

But there are some behaviors that might signal your partner is unhappy or that you two should have a serious talk about the state of your relationship.

These 4 red flags might signal trouble in your relationship

1. You feel like you’re raising your partner 

Raising your partner refers to when you feel like someone hasn’t fully matured and you are the person to help them get to where they “need” to be, regardless of what they want.

It can be about small things, like when to get to the airport, or big ones like how to budget for a house.

It’s not a good dynamic, says Lisa Bobby, psychologist and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling & Coaching in Denver, Colorado.

“I think that in itself can be a bit of a red flag in a relationship,” she says. “Not because a partner needs to be raised, but because they are with someone who thinks that they do.”

Some signs you might be raising your partner include: 

  • You think their way of being is “not good enough,” Bobby says. You might get frustrated with how they make decisions or have opinions on how they could be more effective. 
  • You think they can’t accomplish anything without you. This goes a step further than getting frustrated and means you actually believe they couldn’t function without you. 
  • You don’t feel safe unless they do things your way. “If you need your partner to be doing certain things in certain ways in order for you to feel safe and happy, that is a sign of overdependence,” Bobby says. 

2. You use these two terms

John and Julie Gottman are renowned clinical psychologists and researchers. The two have interviewed more than 3,000 couples and followed some of them for as long as 20 years.

They have also studied more than 40,000 couples who are about to begin couples therapy.

One reason romantic unions slip into dismay, they write, is because people aren’t asking for what they need. 

Instead, we drop hints about what we need in hopes that our partners will pick up on the clues and satisfy desires we’ve never actually vocalized.  When they fail to pass this already-doomed test, we criticize them and say: “You never” or “You always.” 

“These red flag phrases alert us that a couple is in shaky territory,” they write. “The negative perspective might be starting to set in.” 

Asking for what we require to be happy can feel tougher than it sounds. If you have trouble vocalizing, try these three things: 

  • Reflect: Think about what you want
  • Reframe: Instead of accusing your partner of not doing something, present an opportunity for them to do something.
  • Describe yourself: Ask for what you need by saying how you feel 

Let’s say you reflect and decide more date nights would make you happy. You can reframe this as an opportunity and ask your partner for more dates by describing how you feel. 

Instead of saying “You never take me on dates anymore,” say “I miss you. Can we plan to have more one-on-one date nights this month?”

3. Your partner has stopped advocating for their needs

For some partnerships red flags look like indifference

Lia Love Avellino, a psychotherapist and the CEO of Spoke, an emotional wellness space in Brooklyn, says many of her clients who have a hard time initiating a break up don’t know how. 

“A lot of the people bringing in concern about breaking up are people pleasers,” she says.

If you need your partner to be doing certain things in certain ways in order for you to feel safe and happy, that is a sign of overdependence.

“They are going along to get along and they are telling themselves they don’t want to hurt their partner, but really they don’t want to deal with the discomfort of being the person who calls it quits.” 

Telling your partner what you need either emotionally or physically can create conflict, but it also means you care, Avellino says.

If your significant other seems to have no interest in communicating what they are feeling to you, they might be disengaging from the relationship

4. Your partner is unwilling to own their anger

Instead of having direct conversations, your partner might start acting out of character.

For example, if they enjoyed cooking for you every night, they might stop.

“Their action is meant to dismiss the other person, but really they are feeling bad about their own needs not being met,” Avellino says. 

If you notice your partner doing this, you might need to be forward for them.

For example, you can say, “Hey, I noticed you’re not cooking anymore I want to check in with you.” 

This might cause friction, but that’s not a bad thing.

“Sometimes we think if we avoid the conversation and that by not naming it we are keeping the peace,” Avellino says. But “If you are naming it and there is a fight, you didn’t create the problem, you revealed the crack.”

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