When counseling my clients at my LA office I use a system of Red, Orange and Yellow Flags to help them recognize varying degrees of warning signs in dating or relationships. This also is a decision-making system to recognize what you will live with and what traits become deal breakers.
A Red Flag means RUN! These very dangerous characteristics are highly unlikely to ever change. Relationships are challenging enough without being doomed from the start. Orange means improvement will most likely require significant work with a therapist skilled in that particular area. You must decide if you think it can change even if the person willingly seeks this help. Yellow means “Whoa, what is that about”? You need to further understand this unhealthy behavior before deciding if it is a deal breaker.
The ORANGE and YELLOW flags below are meant as guidelines and not to be taken as hard and fast indicators. RED Flags stand on their own and should be avoided as best as possible.
RED Flag Warning Signs
- Violence, Bullying, Anger Issues and Intimidation
Physical abuse, verbal abuse, bullying, intimidation or threats of violence endanger your physical and mental health and should never be tolerated. They are definite deal breakers. These behaviors spring from deep seated anger which may take years of professional counseling to fully uncover and may never be resolved. An angry heart has little room for love. You deserve a full measure of love — now, not at some possible point in the future.
- Alcohol or Drug Abuse
Substance abuse, whether from legal or illegal sources, stems from addiction. The core of every 12 step program says that addicts cannot be cured – they will struggle with their addiction “day by day” for the rest of their life. This requires a high level of motivation over a long time – a difficult bar to achieve. Relationships are difficult enough without adding this ongoing struggle.
ORANGE Flag Warning Signs
- Cheating In Relationships
Cheating involves breaking the emotional bonds of the relationship, the most serious of these negative behaviors. This break makes it almost impossible to feel healthy, nourished and emotionally safe with that person. For some people once is enough even if it occurred in a past relationship. However, you may find it possible to forgive a single unfaithful act under certain circumstances. For instance, your connection with your mate could have been lost during a long period of absence and he/she had a drunken liaison. Only you can make this decision. Statistically speaking, if someone cheats once they are more likely to cheat again. So consider upgrading this to a Red flag it it occurs again.
- Actions Not Matching One’s Words
It is nearly impossible to trust someone when their words seem to be irrelevant to their actions. This behavior can come from blatant dishonesty, or an extreme disregard for keeping their unconscious promises. Both of these are warning signs of an emotionally unhealthy person. Blatant dishonesty is a deal breaker. But a disregard for promises can result from never being held accountable for one’s actions. It is possible but very difficult to teach this responsibility. You have to decide whether you can live with this while your mate earns your trust.
- Inconsistent Work History
Serial dismissals can result from many different issues, including a consistent lack of work effort. Or perhaps the person simply doesn’t want to work. Both of these are serious warning signs. On the other hand, the person may lack competency in their chosen field and require retraining. Or it could just be the economy. You need to know the cause of the poor work history.
- Controlling Nature
A controlling person has a small comfort zone and must push their wants on others to get their way in order to feel more comfortable. Or they may be just plain selfish. This is difficult to change without professional help, as are the other behaviors in this orange category. A controlling nature is not the same as someone who can manage details well. The need for control is about ignoring or over running someone else’s preferences constantly. It involves the fear of losing power or not being able to deal with things outside of one’s control.
- Inability or Lack of Desire for Intimacy (emotional and physical)
Not seeming to want emotional closeness and/or physical intimacy are possible deal breakers because you can end up feeling alone and emotionally empty. It’s important to understand what their actions are about and if they are willing to seek professional counseling. Intimacy issues are often deeply rooted and many people do not get past these challenges even with professional guidance. On the other hand, this could be your perfect match if you both are not wanting a physical or emotionally intimate relationship.
YELLOW Flag Warning Signs
- Poor Communication
Relationships are tricky, involved and take a lot of effort to make them successful. Communication is how we express our wants and needs. Talking through disconnected and misunderstood moments is the most important element in creating connection with our mate. Connection is the glue that holds the relationship together. When communication is unproductive it is very important to seek professional counseling, hopefully sooner than later, to learn the skills to resolve the issue and reconnect. These vital skills are not really taught in school so both partners may lack this ability.
- Poor Money Management
This can come from a variety of reasons: Lack of knowledge, using money to cope with an underlying depression, or just being irresponsible with money. First figure out what is causing the poor financial management. Then discuss it with your mate to see if they recognize and accept that they have a problem. Are they willing to get help with this issue? If not, your relationship will be fraught with arguments over finances on an ongoing basis. How will you be able to feel financially sound, even if your money is separate from one another? Some couples solve this problem by letting the more responsible partner handle all of the finances. But this using this approach alone however successful, does not deal with the other person’s inability or unwillingness to manage money and may remain an ongoing issue.
- Lifestyle Issues
I recommend compiling a Must Have List of qualities you want in your future mate. This list may contain elements of a certain lifestyle that you want to share. For instance, you may have a love of skiing or travel. Or perhaps you wish to bond over a pursuit of some social or political agenda. The absence of similar desires in a potential mate is a warning sign, but may be overshadowed by some of their other traits. You must decide if your lifestyles will match the desired time together.
Last Thoughts On Deal Breakers
No relationship is perfect. You need to understand the behaviors you are seeing in the other person to determine how serious they are and if they are potential deal breakers. It’s good to have a Must Have List of qualities you want in your future mate. However, it is equally important to recognize the early warning signs and/or red flags of unhealthy behaviors before you get too involved with someone.