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Red Flags and Traps in a Relationship!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Singles who are struggling to find someone they can have a healthy long term relationship or marriage with will reason that it is because they just don’t know how to choose the right person. Is it really because they don’t know how to pick the right person or is it because they stay too long in a relationship that is not right for them? I believe they have the ability to choose someone they are attracted to, but lack the intrinsic understanding to make the decision on when to leave if it does not work out or becomes unhealthy emotionally or otherwise.

How do you know when to stay in or leave a relationship no matter how long you have been dating? It all depends on your ability, knowledge, and/or skill to read the signs, signals and patterns of one that is not working for you. You can develop the skill by knowing what the red flags and traps are and then becoming your own detective in learning how to recognize them when they appear.

Traps are those situations where you say to yourself “I don’t feel like I have a choice” or “it isn’t as bad as it seems.” You stay in the relationship because of the feeling you cannot get out or leave. You continue to try to convince yourself things will get better or change; essentially you have trapped yourself. You always have the choice and option of leaving, but you feel compelled to stay.

Red flags are signals and warnings to get out of a relationship. They are concrete, mostly tangible and often ignored. This is especially true early in a relationship when there is a strong hesitancy to wait it out and see what will develop. It is extremely important to be just as, if not more, cognizant early enough to avoid possible emotional and/or physical harm. This is when you run away from the situation. No, don’t walk, or stop and ponder—just run!

I have chosen to categorize these signs and signals into three areas to help identify them easily: 1) lifestyle signs 2) danger signs and 3) traps. Please note that this list is by no means all inclusive; many, many more exist and can be found doing internet research. Here are some highlighted examples of each:

Lifestyle Signs:

  • They still live with their parents and it isn’t because of a caretaking or temporary emergency situation.
  • You find yourself beginning to pay for everything you do with them, regularly loaning them money, or being asked to constantly buy things for them.
  • They don’t want you to see where they live, meet their family, or call them at home.
  • He is a mama’s boy and she is a daddy’s girl to the point of causing dysfunction.
  • They have a past with serial (more than 3) failed marriages.

Danger Signs:

  • They react to situations with anger, rage, and/or violence.
  • Their words do not match their actions and behaviors.
  • They blame everyone else and take no responsibility for their actions.
  • They control or manipulate you and everything in their life.
  • They are verbally, mentally, emotionally, and/or physically abusive.
  • They are either emotionally distant/aloof or suffocating.
  • They are emotionally unavailable or otherwise unable to commit.
  • They have addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex or other vices that they rationalize or claim is not a problem.


  • They want you to make their sad life better—you are the best thing that ever happened to them.
  • This isn’t what you really want, but you don’t want to be alone.
  • They appear to be or are totally different than the dates/spouses you have been with in the past.

The above are some examples of what I call universal truths regarding red flags and traps. This means they are ones that can and will apply to everyone regardless of the circumstances or situation. In addition, there are others equally critical to know; your own personal list of red flags and traps. Be aware of these by writing down on paper what you are looking for in a partner and what you don’t want as well. The latter part of the list is the negative traits that include deal breakers. This is your red flags and traps you should add to the list above. Remember from the personal list what may be a red flag or trap for you, may not be for someone else, and vice versa.

Now that you have the knowledge, it is time to develop the ability and skill to recognize the red flags and traps. First, you have to be “present” when on a date. Tune in! Be right there listening and hearing what your date is saying and how they are saying things. Pick up on those actions and behaviors that you have a reaction to such as: you cringe, can’t believe what you’re hearing or something just doesn’t seem or feel right. This is your gut and instincts telling you to pay attention. You have to put on your radar and hone your intuition skills in order to determine if they are harmful to you in any way. Do this on the first, second, and subsequent dates. If at any time you feel or think this is not healthy, good or safe for you then bow out. It does not have to be a “danger” thing to leave the relationship regardless of how much time has been spent, especially if a pattern of behavior has developed. A good example of this is if your date tries to control everything you do together every time you’re with them. There is a pattern occurring which will continue despite any attempt by you to change it. You have to be on your toes to identify this if it happens in a covert or hidden way. Obvious red flag behaviors are easier to pick up on; hidden ones take more attending and may be more common.

Anyone can develop the skills and hone the ability to detect red flags and traps! It just takes time and practice. Remember when you were a kid and I Spy was a favorite book to read or game to play? Well, now you are putting that skill to use and it could save your emotional well-being and maybe your life!

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Joann Ward has over 30 years of experience in the dating service industry. Along with her son, CEO Steve Ward they became internationally known as the Hosts and Executive Producers of VH1 Tough Love

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