7 Relationship Red Flags To Watch OutFor

7 Relationship Red Flags To Watch OutFor

Discover what red flags in a relationship are, why it is important to recognize them, and how to proceed when you do find some.

Red flags – in interpersonal relationships, to be specific – are behaviors or characteristics from another person that suggest you may not want to spend time with them (Csajbok et al., 2023). This may be because they will be unpleasant, uninteresting, or even dangerous; while the negative outcomes that could result from interacting with that person will vary, what is clear is that these red flags are omens of worse behaviors to come (Kearney & O’Brien, 2021).

The defining essence of a red flag is that it indicates future harm or unpleasantness should you keep spending time with the person (Csajbok et al., 2023). In this way, red flags can also be understood as characteristics or behaviors that helpfully signal to us, “stay away” – this way, we can avoid investing further in relationships that are not good for us. Red flags stop that investment before it gets harder to disengage from the relationship (Jonason et al., 2015).

All interactions between people feature some degree of both reward and risk. Red flags are important because they clearly signal potential risks in the situation (Csajbok et al., 2023). We are constantly evaluating our environments for signs of reward and risk (Britton et al., 2011); potentially rewarding things motivate us to come closer, while potentially risky things give us pause. Red flags cause us to hesitate – they activate our threat appraisal systems. 

“I wish the pain of betrayal was as easy to ignore as the red flags that forewarned of it.”
― Steve Maraboli

Examples of Red Flags

Researchers have tried to categorize red flags, or what they sometimes call “dealbreakers”. One such study produced a number of categories from which we can draw helpful examples, at least for the domain of romantic relationships (Jonason et al., 2015):

1. Unattractiveness. It is hard to sustain interest in a person we find physically unattractive.

2. Unhealthy Lifestyle. It might be extremely challenging to be in a relationship with a person who is not very interested in experiencing the world in the ways that you like.

3. Undesirable Personality Traits. For example, someone who repeatedly interrupts you is probably either disinterested or unable to pay attention. Either way, if you continue to interact with the other person, you may not feel heard.

4. Differing Religious Beliefs. Some people say that they could never date somebody who believes in God, and others insist that they can only date somebody who is religious. This might be related to fears that somebody with different religious beliefs will not share important core values with us (Furnham, 2009).

5. Limited Social Status. While it may not sound fair or very charitable, people who have few social connections are often seen as undesirable.

6. Divergent Mating Psychologies. You have probably heard a friend relate how much they enjoyed a date… until they realized the other person was interested in more (or less!) commitment than they were.

7. Differing Relationship Goals. On a similar note, people may match up in many different ways, but if they do not share a similar philosophy toward having children, or how to balance professional versus personal priorities, they may recognize this incompatibility as a key red flag.

Red Flags in Relationships

Relationship red flags can signal more than “this isn’t the person for me.” Red flags also highlight the possibility that somebody is actually a threat to us (Kearney & O’Brien, 2021). Two researchers even developed a measure of relationship red flags, with the goal of relating those behaviors to people’s risk of experiencing dating violence (Kearney & O’Brien, 2021). They found five categories of red flag behavior and showed that people who recognized these behaviors as red flags were less accepting of dating violence:

Monitoring: When a family member or romantic partner wants to know exactly where you are and what you are doing at all times, they are monitoring you far beyond what is typical in relationships.

Controlling: Another red flag is attempting to control behaviors of yours that should be yours to decide. Whether or not you see friends and family members, when you go to the grocery store, and how long you talk to people on the phone are decisions you get to make, not your partner.

Demeaning: Any comments that are truly insulting or dismissive suggest a lack of respect and care for you, which will probably show up in other ways over time, too.

Threatening and Aggressive: Where there is aggression of one kind (for example, warning you there will be consequences if you do something), there is likely to be aggression of another kind eventually.

Jealous and Possessive: Finally, it is a clear red flag when one person does not want the other to live a fulfilling and independent life of their own.

In Sum

There are generally two categories of red flags you might encounter: those that clearly demonstrate a person is unsafe or unhealthy to be around, and those that demonstrate that they are not a good fit for you, the perceiver of the red flags. Hopefully this article has made it clear what general red flags are and given you an occasion to think about what red flags of incompatibility are for you specifically. There is nothing wrong with knowing what you do and do not want from relationships! Let your intuition guide you when you sense something is off – you can identify the red flags with a little reflection.


● Britton, J. C., Lissek, S., Grillon, C., Norcross, M. A., & Pine, D. S. (2011). Development of anxiety: The role of threat appraisal and fear learning. Depression and Anxiety, 28(1), 5-17.

● Csajbók, Z., White, K. P., & Jonason, P. K. (2023). Six “red flags” in relationships: From being dangerous to gross and being apathetic to unmotivated. Personality and Individual Differences, 204, 112048.

● Furnham, A. (2009). Sex differences in mate selection preferences. Personality and Individual Differences, 47(4), 262-267.

● Jonason, P. K., Lyons, M., & Blanchard, A. (2015). Birds of a “bad” feather flock together: The Dark Triad and mate choice. Personality and Individual Differences, 78, 34-38.

● Kearney, M. S., & O’Brien, K. M. (2021). Is it love or is it control? Assessing warning signs of dating violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 36(11-12), 5446-5470