Embarking on a new relationship is an exciting time. Infatuation is at an all-time high and even though it’s early days it’s not hard to start imagining where this new adventure may lead. It is therefore easy to ignore the red flags that could be there indicating things won’t always be as idyllic as they are now.
These signs outlined by professional psychologists are the things to look out for in the early days, which may indicate your new partner is better put back on the shelf than brought in to your home.
Don’t let infatuation, self-doubt, wishful thinking or fear that you aren’t good enough cause you to stay with someone who would make you unhappy or could even harm you. Read the red flags, and pay attention. It might just save you a great deal of heartache.
They never apologize
Saying sorry is such a simple thing, and it has been proven to help those who have been wronged to feel better, so why do some people refuse to say it?
It may not seem like a big deal at the time, and you may think you don’t need to hear an apology to get over things, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong.
According to psychologist Guy Winch people who refuse to apologise are hiding fundamental fears that they want to cover up.
“By refusing to apologise, non-apologists are trying to manage their emotions,” he says. “They are often comfortable with anger, irritability, and emotional distance, but experiencing emotional closeness and vulnerability may seem extremely threatening.”
Winch explains that refusing to apologise often reveals deep and fundamental insecurity. The person is not apologising because they are simply unable to resolve interpersonal conflict and they may be unable to separate their actions from their personality.
This is all indicative of a person who needs to do some serious work on themselves before they are ready to be in a supportive and loving relationship, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate a flawed person.
Far worse is the person who seems on the surface to be ready to apologise, but who instead justifies their bad behaviour. Their goal isn’t to apologise, but rather to convince you that even if they have done something wrong, their behaviour is warranted and no apology is needed.
Engaging in this “justification” technique early on for minor infractions should set off all your alarms as abusers often use this strategy to convince their victims that any abuse is justified because of something the victim might have said or done to bring the abuse upon themselves.
Lastly, master manipulators will deflect from their apology entirely. If they did something wrong, but you have spent the last hour discussing “your tone in the argument” then they may be deflecting to avoid taking ownership of the things they did.
Your friends and family don’t like them
Believe it or not your friends and family may know you even better than you know yourself. Your friends and family have been around you for ages and their personalities have affected yours. If they don’t get along with someone, or feel so strongly that they are prepared to warn you about them, listen.
Don’t pull the trigger on just one friend’s odd feelings though. Use their willingness to talk as the catalyst for gauging how everyone around you feels, and you will soon get a complete picture. If the majority are saying they don’t like your partner, the chances are it’s time you split.
They claim ALL their exes are crazy or abusive
Everybody has had at least one relationship they don’t want to go back to under any circumstances. Some really unlucky people may have two or three. For these people, it’s perfectly natural to bare some resentment, but if it seems that they are constantly bad-mouthing their exes, or they label all of their exes as crazy or abusive and put all the blame for past breakups on others then you may want to pay attention.
People who claim all their exes are bad people, and who have loads of stories of “abuse” and “crazy” behaviour may just be making themselves into the victim to avoid dealing with their own issues or to elicit sympathy from those around them, and new love interests.
It is possible that all that a man’s past girlfriends are crazy, but it’s far more likely he experienced anger from these women because he has communication issues, is untrustworthy, was cheating, and she caught him or is actually abusive himself.
Calling all their exes “abusive” or “crazy” and moving on, means they also never took the time to examine their own actions in the relationship, understand the breakup, improve themselves or learn from the mistakes of the past. These people are doomed to reenact the same scenario time and again, and when you break up with them, they are sure to tell everyone how crazy or abusive you are too.
When you speak to someone about their past relationships look for signs that they understand the part they played in the breakup and how they have tried to improve themselves because those are the people you really want to be with.
They won’t tell their friends about you
In any new relationship, it’s okay to be cautious, but if you have been dating a few months and find that your partner has still not told anyone about you, this is not a healthy situation.
More than likely they haven’t told anyone because they themselves have reservations about just how long term this relationship is likely to be, which while not being a good sign for your relationship, does not automatically mean you are with a bad person.
There are rarer cases, however, where married, or otherwise unavailable people have successfully strung along their other partners for months, and even years and the only warning sign was an unwillingness to share their partner with those around them.
In either case, this is a warning that things may not be going the way you want them to.
They snoop on your emails and phone
Dating and empowerment expert and host of the Man Whisperer podcast, Laurel House says that in most cases going through your partner’s phone is not OK.
“The desire to do so is a sign of deeper issues involving confidence that person may be having in the relationship… Looking at your partner’s phone shows distrust and insecurity, and it builds on itself, possibly even becoming an obsession,” she says.
“If you’re looking for something inappropriate, you’ll find it. You can twist and mistake words and purposes. You can make assumptions and make up stories,” she warns.
Steve Bartlett*, who has been seeing a therapist to deal with the fallout from his divorce agrees with Laurel and admits that there were a lot of signs he ignored in the early days.
“I was away on a business trip when my then-girlfriend called me to shout at me for messaging girls on Facebook,” he says.
What had happened was a female friend who was based overseas had sent Steve a direct message on the site to ask if he wanted to meet up when she was in South Africa. He had already explained in a message back that he would be away on the trip to her at the time and declined, but his girlfriend had checked his social media on a shared computer while he was away and was now livid.
“There was literally nothing there, but she broke up with me over the phone, and I spent the rest of the business trip distraught. I thought I was fortunate when I patched it up on my return,” he says.
Unless a partner has already cheated there is no reason to rifle through their emails and phone messages and someone doing that to you shows they have numerous issues they have yet to work out.
They keep score about things you’ve said a long time ago.
Everyone makes mistakes in a relationship. Birthdays get forgotten, things are said in the moment and justifiable disagreements are had, sorted and put in the past. For some people, this isn’t enough, however, and they obsessively keep track of every little mistake their partner has ever made so they can bring it up at the next fight.
Arguing like this means that there is never a clean slate. Couples that keep score will inevitably break up, as instead of being forgiven, small issues are piled on top of other small issues until they become big issues.
Building a relationship that lasts requires two people to recognise that the other is not perfect, and to work in realm where the other is allowed to be a human and make mistakes without holding long term grudges.
Doctor Megan Bailey explains, “We shouldn’t be thinking of our close relationships as playing fields where parties can rack up points and penalties; we should want to do things that help our partner out of love and respect. Keeping score, and remembering every small argument from ages ago causes you to sweat the small stuff that shouldn’t be worried about. It also sets up a situation where you feel you are competing against an opponent to see who can tally up the most contributions to the relationship.”
They try to isolate you from friends and family
An abusive person will often first try to separate you from your support structure by driving a wedge between you and your friends or family. You are far more vulnerable and likely to do what the controlling person says if they are the only friends or family you have left.
A particularly insidious way abusers do this, is to use use a small argument you are having with your family member or friend to encourage you to part ways. This way it looks like they look like they are caring, but are, in fact, just trying to weaken your ties to the outside. “You shouldn’t have to put up with this. I know I wouldn’t.”
Steve says one of the earliest signs his ex was controlling was when he told her he had slept with one of his female friends in the past.
“We had only been dating a few weeks when the question of whether I had slept with any of my friends came up. I admitted that I had slept with Nicola* years before at University, and she immediately grew angry with me. Despite Nicola being married with children, and our very evident disinterest in each other that way, my ex sulked for the rest of our weekend away and told me I had to cut Nicola off because I had been dishonest about the kind of relationship I had with her. I actually did it, but I should have known then already.”
The final straw in Steve’s relationship was when his then-wife said they could only continue their marriage if he was prepared to cut his mother out of his life entirely.
“She did this cause my mother disagreed with her behaviour towards me and had tried to chat with her and find out ‘what was really happening’,” says Steve, who admits that since he chose his mom, his ex has gone out of her way to slander his mother, insult her and run her down to all who will listen, despite them actually having gotten along for most of the relationship.
Even after the relationship is over, the truly controlling person may even try to befriend your friends and family with lies and manipulation just to make sure you never forget them.
They don’t respect other people
Respect is a central tenant of society and anyone who is incapable of showing a decent level of appreciation for others should immediately ring warning bells.
Look carefully at how someone treats those people they feel they don’t need because that will give you a real idea of how they are on the inside. If someone you know is rude and inconsiderate to service workers, waiters or garage attendants then they are probably a lot more selfish than they want you to believe.
Another sign is if they are permanently late for engagements or don’t seem concerned with being on time for anything.
While it’s not always true, psychologist Neel Burton explains that someone being continuously late, especially if it’s for engagements with you, your family and your friends, is definitely an early red flag.
“Being late, especially egregiously or repeatedly late, sends out the message, “I am more important than you”,” he explains.
Being repeatedly late can also be a sign of a passive-aggressive personality Burton adds.
“Angry people who behave with almost exaggerated calm and courtesy might nevertheless express their anger through passive means, that is, through (conscious or unconscious) resistance to meeting the reasonable expectations of others.”
Whether the answers are caused by passive rage at having to meet your expectations or simple selfishness, chronic lateness is certainly a warning sign.
They try to change you
Someone who builds you up, encourages your hobbies and job and helps you to achieve your goals makes a dream partner, but not all change a partner may enact is good. Watch out for those partners who want to mould you into their own vision of who you are, rather than the one you hope to be.
These people may want to change the way you dress, your haircut or the direction of your career. Worse they may start telling you they don’t like your childhood friend, or where you live. It will start out simply; for example, they may throw out your comfy jersey while you are at work, but if you accept this, their plan to Frankenstein the partner of their dreams will pick up pace.
These partners are manipulative and will use every trick in the book to get you to where they want you to be. Expect to be compared to others, “you know John would never be caught dead in an apartment like this” or “Your friend Zweli dresses really well, why don’t you ask him for some tips?”
Worse is when they give you ultimatums on stuff other than destructive habits. “If you don’t buy a pet with me we’ll have to break up”.
On the flip side they may be extra kind to you when you do things that fit in with that dream image of you they have in their brains. Did you apply for a job in a field they like? “Good dog, here’s your treat”.
Your partner should be with you because they respect the person you are and hope to be. People don’t change their core personalities and forcing you into roles and situations you aren’t comfortable with will only result in your longterm unhappiness. They will never be completely happy with who you are, no matter what you try, so rather take this as a sign to hit the road.
They don’t have long term friends
Even the most unbalanced people have acquaintances and even friends, but if your new partner doesn’t spend time with people they have known, and known well, for a healthy percentage of their lives things may be very wrong.
While some people have lost touch with their friends, because they were in a controlling and abusive relationship in the past, there are very few other reasons why someone might have become disconnected from everyone they once knew.
If the only long term friendships they can maintain are with people who have emigrated and therefore don’t have to see them often, or they just happen to have a lot of “breakup” stories with everyone they knew from back in the day, then chances are they are at the very least uncompromising and difficult to get along with.
Psychologist Dr Ramani Durvasula says that this red flag could actually hint at even darker personality traits. She says that friendships are easy to maintain in the short term, but over the long term malignant characteristics become obvious and this is what tends to result in the worst people having no long term friends.
She says that one should be extra wary of those who don’t have consistent friendships but instead seem to move between groups of friends that give them whatever they need at a specific time.
“Narcissists hate it when people start to recognise who they are and would rather move on than be exposed… Often they will have a lot of stories for just why they chose to end things with their friend rather than take any blame themselves,” Durvasula says.
You feel afraid, or like you are walking on eggshells around them
It has taken tens of thousands of years of evolution to get humans to where they are today, however, in the modern world, we tend to disregard our “feelings” and “emotions” for more logical analysis. In many cases this is right, but not all.
Police increasingly warn people to follow their gut when making some decisions. That dark alley “feels” dangerous? Don’t walk down it. Something there has triggered your animal instinct.
These old instincts come into play in relationships too. Many people who were with violent partners describe a feeling of walking on eggshells with their partner – the sense that, while their partner was otherwise appearing calm and normal, the things they themselves would say or do, might trigger rage, or other heightened emotions.
As a relationship progresses, you should feel more comfortable with your partner and share more of yourself. If you don’t or if you worry that sharing stories of your past, or your experiences, interests, and thoughts will end in you feeling judged or criticised then you are likely with the wrong person.
*Real Names changed to protect their privacy