12 red flags to look out for in the early stages of a relationship

We all want to love and be loved. 

After all, that’s part of what it means to be human.

And not many things about life are better than the early stages of a relationship. Getting to know a new person you feel connected to is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have, whether it’s the first time or the hundredth.

I’ve been lucky enough to feel that spark a few times in my life, including with the person I’m now married to, and it’s a magical feeling.

Unfortunately, the flood of dopamine and oxytocin that accompanies those first feelings of attachment to someone new is also well-known for affecting our judgment

That means the powerful rush of emotion that accompanies the start of a new relationship can blind us to warning signs that the person we are becoming attached to may not be as good for us as we think they are.

There are some red flags that can warn you a person may not be right for you, and it’s important to know what they are to avoid investing too much into a relationship that is never going to work out. 

Let’s review some early warning signs of a relationship that may not be a good idea.

1) Love bombing

Look, I’ve been there. The early days of a relationship can be a truly magical time.

When you can’t stop thinking about a person, when you can’t wait to see them again, when you get those butterflies in your stomach every time you think of them.

It’s tempting to express those strong feelings by showering the person with acts of love to show them how much you care, or to constantly praise and flatter them.

And that’s normal – up to a certain point. But when this display of love becomes over-the-top, it may be a sign of a process called love bombing.

Love bombing can take many different forms, but it often involves excessive praise, over-the-top gifts, and diving into the new relationship headfirst. 

Even worse, love bombing can even be a form of abuse common among people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and other personality disorders.

2) Speaking badly about exes

Maybe I’ve been lucky in love – in fact, I know I have – but I don’t have too many horror stories about exes.

Not everyone is so lucky. There are some damaged people out there, and almost everyone I know has at least one story about a former lover who mistreated them in one way or another.

But if every story a person tells about their former partner is negative, it’s a bad sign. 

Feelings get hurt when relationships end, but a mature person should be able to accept their own responsibility in the end of any relationship and appreciate that not everyone is meant to be together.

In fact, if every relationship a person ever had before meeting you was bad, it suggests that the heart of the problem was them, not their exes.

3) Jealousy and trust issues

13 behaviors only highly observant people notice in a relationship 2 12 red flags to look out for in the early stages of a relationshipHurt people hurt people. People who have been betrayed in the past by someone they loved often have a hard time trusting anyone again.

That’s understandable. But it doesn’t give anyone the right to take out past trauma on you.

If a person you are just starting to build a relationship with doesn’t trust you, it’s unlikely your relationship will be happy. Strong relationships that last are built on a foundation of trust and mutual respect.

Plus, when a person doesn’t trust you, it can lead to…

4) Controlling behavior

Where are you going? Who will you see there? Who are you texting? Why do you want to spend so much time with your family?

It’s normal to take an interest in each other’s lives at the start of relationship, but what is not normal is trying to control how another person behaves

Be careful. Because if you find yourself falling for someone who wants to control what you wear, who you spend time with, what hobbies you have, or anything else about your life, it’s a major red flag.

Some studies have demonstrated that there may even be a correlation between controlling behavior and other, more dangerous forms of abuse.

These behaviors generally get worse with time, not better. Often, it’s better to leave the relationship before you get more attached and get your heart broken by someone who wants to control you.

But even if your partner isn’t controlling, there are other signs that this relationship may not work out. Be on your guard for:

5) Poor communication

Happy relationships are built on good communication. And bad communication is a sure sign of a bad relationship. 

In fact, in a poll of relationship experts by website yourtango.com, communication problems were named as the top reason married couples end up getting divorced.

Poor communication can show up very early in a relationship. It can be a serious red flag if someone doesn’t respond to your texts, calls, and other messages frequently, or doesn’t want to talk to you face-to-face.

Some people are naturally more introverted and less talkative than others. But if communication is inconsistent, going from regular contact to long periods of silence, it’s a bad sign, especially at the start of a relationship.

Plus, poor communication can be a sign of:

6) Emotional unavailability

Dating is all about emotional connection. So dating a person unable or unwilling to share their emotional life with you is a major red flag.

The good news is, a person doesn’t have to be writing you beautiful love poems every hour of the day. 

But they do need to be emotionally available and willing to share their own emotions as well as listen to yours to create a relationship that will last.

7) Different relationship goals and aspirations

How did I know my spouse was the right person for me?

There was no one big event that told me. Instead, it was the fact that we had similar goals not only for our relationship but for what our lives together would look like.

13 behaviors only highly observant people notice in a relationship 1 12 red flags to look out for in the early stages of a relationship

We both love to travel. Neither of us wanted kids. Neither of us were particularly motivated by money, beyond a comfortable standard of life.

The early stages of a relationship may not seem like the place to talk about big-picture things like this.

But you can save yourself a lot of heartache by making sure that you and the person you are building a relationship with are on the same page regarding your relationship and your life. 

Ask yourself and your partner: 

  • Are you both looking for something casual? 
  • Or do you both want something that may be longer-term? 
  • Where you see yourselves in two years, or five years, or 10?
  • What does your dream life look like? Where would you like to live? What would you like to do with your time?

Being open about expectations and boundaries is crucial, even in an early relationship.

8) Lying

Lying is a serious issue in any relationship, especially in one just getting started.

Healthy relationships are built on trust, and if you catch the person you are starting to date in a lie, it’s a sign that they are not worthy of your trust.

All of us lie about small things from time to time, but trust is one of the fundamental things you should demand from a romantic partner. 

And there’s more. 

People who are willing to lie about one thing are often more than ready to lie about others, up to and including cheating.

9) Codependency

So far, I’ve warned you about people who won’t communicate with you properly or be emotionally available. But it’s possible to have too much of a good thing, too, especially in an early relationship.

If a person you have just started seeing is ready to abandon other commitments, such as to their friends and family, that’s a red flag too. 

If your new partner quickly begins to rely on you to fill all their emotional and psychological needs, you may want to consider breaking things off.

10) Lack of empathy

Being able to put yourself in another person’s shoes is a key to functioning relationships and life in general. 

That means a lack of empathy in a partner is a definite red flag that they may not be able to appreciate or even understand your emotional needs.

A lack of empathy can show itself in many ways. One of the classic examples early on in a relationship is how a person treats servers and other people they may see as ‘beneath’ them. 

Another example would be how they treat strangers in public places like grocery stores.

11) Uncontrolled rage

Violent behavior is absolutely unacceptable in a relationship. And if a person has a problem controlling their anger and feels the need to express it physically, that’s a major red flag.

Psychological aggression is a predictor of physical aggression. It’s a small step from violent behavior like punching a wall or flipping a table to physically abusing another person. 

That means if someone can’t control their emotions, particularly anger, it’s almost always best to walk away.

8 things emotionally immature men do that drive women crazy 2 12 red flags to look out for in the early stages of a relationship

12) Abuse

This should go without saying. Nobody deserves to be abused, especially not by someone they are in a relationship with.

However, it’s important to remember that abuse can take many forms. Abuse is not always physical but can also be mental, psychological, sexual, or economic.

Watch out for a partner who is:

  •       constantly criticizing you
  •       yelling at and humiliating you
  •       trying to control your finances
  •       blaming you for their behavior
  •       pressuring you for sex or sexual acts you don’t want to perform
  •       threatening you with violence against you, themselves, or anyone else

 Abuse can happen to anyone of any gender, and any sign of an abusive personality at the beginning of a relationship is perhaps the biggest red flag of all.

Watch out for red flags

There’s nothing quite like the first rush of falling for someone. But it’s important not to let the powerful emotions you’re feeling blind you to the truth.

Keep an eye out for these red flags in an early relationship, and you may save yourself a lot of emotional pain down the line.

Ryan Frawley

Ryan Frawley

“Ryan Frawley is a France-based writer with a passion for psychology, philosophy, science, and anything that attempts to answer life’s biggest questions. Reach out at ryan@ryanfrawley.com”

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