“Red flags are moments of hesitation that determine our destination.” ― Mandy Hale
It’s easy to spot red flags in hindsight. People who’ve been in a toxic relationship nearly always say the warning signs were there from the start.
But if they felt uneasy about some of their partner’s behaviours, they let them go. They were in love, after all. And they had no idea those behaviours were a sign of where the relationship was heading.
It’s only when you’re on the other side of a toxic relationship, that you allow yourself to acknowledge those early signs.
And there’s a comfort in that. It means you were not completely blind to what was going on. You were trying to make a relationship work. Which makes you normal. Don’t be too tough on yourself…
I’ve had a number of clients come out of relationships saying they knew from the start “something was off” or they felt a flicker of unease about their new partner. But people can feel uneasy at the start of a great relationship too. And most of us are looking for the good in new partners — not for all the ways they’re going to screw us over.
Toxic behaviours are hard to spot because (1) they come in many different (and often highly attractive) packages, (2) the people who deploy them are very good at it and (3) we’re going in with an open heart — not a suspicious one.
So don’t beat up on yourself for not acting on those early red flags even if, in hindsight, they seem to be neon lit, 10x larger and waving in your face.
Here are the most subtle of them.
7 Red flags You Probably Noticed — But Dismissed
“The red flags are usually there, you just have to keep your eyes open wider than your heart.” ― April Mae Monterrosa
1. Tiny flashes of anger. A man once told me he noticed this in his partner at their very first dinner. They were having a great time when she got a text that got her angry really quickly and she couldn’t shake it. “Going from happy to mad so fast was a bit weird,” he said. “But I didn’t know her life so I let it go. Later on, it happened more — lots more. But it was there from the start.”
2. Reactions too extreme for the situation. This stage follows the tiny flashes of anger. You’ll notice your partner’s reactions seem out of whack for what’s needed for the situation — or they seem to be forced. Too angry, too upset, too agitated, even too high — or no emotion at all. It’s a sign they struggle to regulate their emotions and to genuinely express what they are feeling. Lots of people have difficulty with emotional regulation but, if you’re on the sharp end of it, it can be confusing — and eventually hurtful.
3. Obsessive interest in you. This one’s nearly impossible to spot because you’re flattered by their interest— and, to be fair, a new partner should be extremely keen to get to know you. But toxic people go a step further; they’ll dig deep and they’ll be looking for vulnerabilities. They are gathering personal information like squirrels stow nuts — so that it can be used for their own purposes later.
4. Nasty comments about random strangers. The way people talk about others is always a clue to who they (truly) are. No-one is above dropping the odd critical remark but it’s especially telling when someone takes aim at an innocent stranger. I recall a man saying when took his new partner to the movies she made nasty comments in passing about the appearance of other women. “It stuck with me because I just thought it was really mean,” he said. It was.
5. Subtle secret keeping. Toxic people are excellent secret-keepers. They need to be — they often have a lot to hide. They’ll be open when it suits them but extremely private with their phone, relationship history and, sometimes, other activities. They will gloss over things they don’t want to talk about and may be reluctant to introduce you to friends or family. Secret-keeping is hard to spot because we all need relationship boundaries, especially with a new partner. But most people should have nothing to hide.
6. Want you to change your plans. One young woman I worked with cut short her plans for the overseas “trip of a lifetime” to return home and be with a man she’d met just before leaving. He messaged her constantly while she was away and she thought he was The One. His abuse of her began the day she got home. Toxic partners will pressure you to change your plans — even minor ones — in favour of them (unless they have other things to do). When you do, it gives them a quick hit of validation which, sadly for everyone, doesn’t last.
7. Instability (in a range of packages). Instability is often hidden because when you first meet someone you don’t run through their entire history — and we all tend to only reveal what suits us. But toxic people struggle to settle into anything. If you dig below the surface you’ll find a tendency to jump friendship groups or change jobs or move towns or a string of broken relationships. It’s generally because they’ve been “found out” or because they were never fully invested in what they left behind.
Remember, these flags are only easy to spot in hindsight. If you’ve been in a relationship with a toxic person you should know it was not your fault. It was because you went in with an open, trusting heart — as you should.
Written by Karen NImmo
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