How to Identify Relationship Green Flags and Red Flags

by | Nov 1, 2021 | Counseling, Couples Counseling, Teen therapy

How to Identify Relationship Green Flags and Red Flags

Written by: Tiffany Oh, Psychotherapy Practice Management Intern

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As we slowly start to transition back to “real life” from being socially, physically, and mentally isolated for more than a year, I started to realize the importance of relationships. Any kind of relationship can fall under this umbrella term whether it’s with friends, families or your romantic partner(s). A relationship can be a connection between another person(s), whether it’s platonic or romantic. Within each relationship, there can be green and red flags that are key to recognize. 

Here are some green flags that I find crucial to identify in a relationship:

  1. Setting and respecting your boundaries. Boundaries with others (and yourself) are essential to any relationship. Finding someone who has clear, set boundaries and also respects yours is important. This is because boundaries give others an outline of how you would like to be treated and prevent you from experiencing difficult feelings such as overwhelm or guilt. Others should have boundaries and be exploring them as well. This shows that they can honor their own feelings and care for themselves even while caring for others too. 
  2. Engaging in active listening. Active listening can help build trust and support by truly understanding what is going on in a conversation. Verbal (asking questions, paraphrasing) and non-verbal (eye contact, posture towards you, body language) techniques when someone is talking can lead to them feeling validated and heard. It can be frustrating to talk about something when it feels like the other person isn’t listening. As an active listener, look out for some key points when someone is speaking. 
  3. Willing to learn. There is always room for improvement in relationships. Being curious and leaving room for growth is also very affirming. An example of this could be learning more about love languages. You might have a different love language than others, but understanding how theirs works acknowledges them and aids in them feeling seen and loved. Being willing to learn is all about being open to more experiences and understanding how other people work. 
  4. Interdependency. Interdependency can be shown when people maintain their personal integrity while also being reliant on others. It’s easy to lose yourself in any relationship when clear boundaries aren’t set in place (i.e. prioritizing others’ feelings before yours). It is also extremely hard to find a balance that works because everyone is different. One thing that works for you may not work for another person and vice versa– and that’s okay! Something that may be helpful is to have little mental check-ins to connect with yourself (ask yourself, “How do I feel after doing this?”). This can help provide some clarity as to how you’re feeling and what to do after you do so. 
  5. Words and behaviors align. Showing that their words and behaviors align can improve aspects regarding trust and respect in any relationship. It lets people know that your words can be trusted, and this action itself can provide insight into so many other traits such as responsibility and reliability. An example of this could be someone saying, “I won’t be late again.” Assuming there weren’t other problems in this relationship, you would feel more trust towards someone if they honored their words and continued to not be late. 

Some red flags to acknowledge: 

  1. Lacking communication. Communication is key to a good relationship. Not just communicating but also doing it effectively is something to keep in mind. Someone can communicate how they’re feeling and what’s going on, but it wouldn’t matter in the long run (of the relationship) if they aren’t able to communicate in a manner that others are able to understand. Talking things out in a calm and effective manner is an important aspect of a relationship because it leaves little room for misunderstandings and miscommunication. 
  2. Feeling controlled or manipulated. No one should feel controlled or manipulated in a relationship. This shows an unbalance of power, which isn’t a healthy dynamic for any relationship to be founded upon. Control and manipulation don’t always come in the form of physical abuse or outwardly aggressive behaviors, but they can be seen as guilt-tripping and emotional abuse as well. Guilt-tripping and emotional abuse can be managed by setting boundaries that allow others to know where you stand in regards to privacy and respect. Some examples of guilt-tripping and emotional abuse can be seen as leading you to feel guilty after saying no, gaslighting, and also giving the silent treatment. 
  3. Efforts not being reciprocated. It’s hard being in a relationship where you feel like it’s one-sided. That shouldn’t be the case for any relationship. If you see that you’re the one initiating most of the conversations or any future plans, it might be a good idea to take a step back and look at everything objectively. Behaviors not being reciprocated can lead to feeling insecure and lonely, these can’t be defining factors of a healthy relationship. Something that you can do to help with this is to be honest about how you’re feeling; sometimes people just need a wake-up call to understand how their behaviors are affecting someone else. If nothing changes after that, then it may be for the best to end that relationship. 
  4. Apologies without changed behavior. This is one of the easier red flags to picture because changed behavior is visible. Apologies can be useful for solving misunderstandings temporarily, but how would you really know if they meant what they said? Whether it’s through someone’s words or actions, these are easier ways to see if they are staying true to their word. 
  5. Gut feelings. Intuition can be your greatest aid at times. If something feels wrong, there is a very good chance that your gut feeling is right. It’s important to stay true to yourself and trust that feeling. It’s hard to acknowledge what’s going on especially if it’s an unhelpful feeling, but that feeling is there for a reason. Most of the time, it’s a mechanism your body has put into place to protect yourself whether it’s physically or internally (feelings). Listen to your gut feeling! 

If you find yourself experiencing any of these red flags, it might be time to evaluate your relationships. It can be helpful to voice your opinion and talk to your partner(s) about these green and red flags (what you like, dislike, can work on together). This can lead to a healthier relationship where open communication is prioritized, and all parties feel valued and heard. Green flags are also important to notice, but do not let any green flags be an excuse for disrespectful and abusive behaviors.  


Here are a few resources if you’re noticing concerning red flags and need help:


Domestic Abuse Hotlines: 

Call 1.800.799.SAFE (7233)

Text “START” to 88788

To discuss how therapy could help you during this season of your life, please contact me or schedule your free 15 minute consultation.

Want to read more? Here are a few of my related blog posts you may be interested in checking out!

“How to be Single and Date During Covid-19″

– “How to Feel Less Lonely”

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