Sometimes, when blinded by love, we can easily overlook the more negative aspects of our partners. However, many negative traits which show as an initial red (or ‘pink’) flag might actually be revealing bigger underlying issues.
With this in mind, we collaborated with four relationship experts to discuss the red and ‘pink’ flags associated with romantic, friendly, and workplace relationships. Read on to find out more…
Table of Contents:
- Romantic relationships
- Red flags
- ‘Pink’ flags
- Toxic behaviour
- Most common reasons for arguments in romantic relationships
- How to keep the spark alive in long-term romantic relationships
- Friendly relationships
- Workplace relationships
Lack of respect and empathy
Be it a lack of respect and empathy for you (including your time, your things, your values) or for themselves, their surroundings, or other people and beings in general, lack of respect and empathy can be a major red flag. This indicates a red flag because empathy and respect are the fundamentals of a healthy relationship and not just a romantic relationship.
Examples might include: your partner talks down to you often and ignores you when you speak-up about it; they allow others to talk about you badly when they could have an opportunity to stand-by you and interview; they just use your stuff without asking, break or misplace anything and don’t offer to replace it; treating you, your things, and the things you value, like garbage.
Manipulative people tend to have a tremendously negative impact on those surrounding them. Such behaviour is capable of making a relationship toxic and abusive, it’s capable of unimaginable damage (emotionally, physically, and financially).
Examples might include: they lie constantly and even when called out deny it rather than try and resolve it.
An unusual need for control and power
The need for control and power below moderate levels adjusting to situations and experiences is normal in human behaviour. However, an unusual need or even craving for control and power is when things can turn toxic, abusive, and manipulative. It indicates unsolved traumas and inner issues that are very problematic for the person dealing with them but also the people and beings around that person. Co-dependency can come into this is there is any element of control of the other person by any emotional or mental means, even if unintended.
Examples might include: they sabotage other important things in your life leading to being over controlling; they control who you should or shouldn’t be friends with; ensuring their partner has limited money, or cutting them off from friends and family; telling you outright what you “should”, “can” or “can’t” do with your money, what work you do, who you see (this goes beyond jealousy but jealousy could be a part of it), what you wear, how you look, what you choose to do with your time.
Being emotionally abusive
Love bomb cycles are a classic narcissist pattern… They say and do all the right things particularly in the beginning of a relationship to make you think they are absolutely everything you ever dreamed of, but over time this toxic cyclic pattern starts to show up. They go from totally love bombing you, then something will set them off and they become extremely nasty, even abusive, saying things that really hurt and make you question how good a person you are (they always blame you), then soon after they switch back to love bombing you, so you forget how nasty and hurtful they were.
Examples might include: saying nasty things and then acting as if they haven’t said them or compensating by being particularly over the top lovely; verbal abuse, including name calling, put downs, and anything said that is specifically said with intention to hurt you.
Violence of any kind – even just once – is not ok.
Examples might include: smashing things up in anger; punching walls.
If a relationship is all ‘us’ and ‘we’ there may be no room for individual needs and expressions or to be your individual self.
Examples might include: if they are happy to let you pay for everything (and expect it); always expect you to come to them or do the things they want to do; rarely if ever doing things you want or giving to you then you are never going to get what you need from this relationship; if they aren’t sharing the load and balancing out the giving and receiving in both directions.
If a partner is all about them and never considers you when deciding things within a relationship it can be a red flag.
Examples might include: self-importance; belief they’re special or unique; requires excessive admiration; sense of entitlement; superficial & exploitative relationships; lack of empathy.
This person has huge issues and baggage that you are only going to trigger and could destroy you both to stay in a relationship with them.
Examples might include: jealousy to the point of checking your phone behind your back; constantly asking or accusing you of having an affair; forbidding you to see someone they feel threatened by as in their mind; being “in competition with”; and becoming so irrational either in anger or grief when you choose to go out that it feels easier just not to go.
If your partner isn’t willing to be fully open and honest about the basics, particularly early on when trust is needing to be built, and they get defensive when you ask, I’d be very wary.
Examples might include: if they are avoiding telling you where they are going; what they’ve been up to; are taking calls purposely out of your ear shot; hiding their phone and/or laptops so you can’t see anything; going places at weird times and not inviting you to go.
Ness shared that ‘pink’ flags are “flags that can sometimes seem like a red flag until you actually get to know the person and reasons behind them. It’s where something can feel like a big relationship concern and worry but after communication is actually ok”.
Rach added that “every relationship has some struggles, and most of those are mismatches which is primarily what ‘pink’ flags are. Some of these are manageable and you can find a way to navigate it without any major sacrifice to yourself, others not so much in which case they could be a reason to move on from the relationship”.
Mismatched love languages
Just understanding each other’s love languages is huge, as not doing so quickly leads to each party not feeling loved and cared for. Sometimes it can take a while to learn each other’s love language and it isn’t until we do can we both fully relax and get intimate with each other. When a couple know this about each other, they can make a point to give the way their partner needs to feel loved, and at times they may have to ask their partner for more of what they need to feel loved. It takes a bit more compassion and understanding, and more communication but it’s doable. The same is true for a complete sexual mismatch or mismatches in sexual desire.
Lack of communication
Where discussions end in arguments or one partner (or both) feeling they’re not understood this can close down or make one or both partners wary of future communications. Ultimately partners can stop talking to each other about big things and just fill in how they think each other are feeling.
A relationship that is unable to communicate; unable to listen to each other (particularly during an upset or blow up), be able to ask for what they need or express what they are struggling with, for fear of upsetting/angering the other person, which means the relationship is lacking the level of maturity needed to be healthy, can only continue to spiral down as the individuals in it feel less heard, loved, respected, valued, and more hurt, angry, sad and then some.
Mismatched expectations and interests
It may feel like when finding someone we have to find someone who matches us completely, but the fact is some people do fall in love with each other who have no real shared interests. It’s the deeper inter goals and views being in line that are more important than whether or not you both like sports for example. Mismatched expectations, for example around money or how much time the couple spend together, can be a big thing.
- Differences in religious beliefs
- Different beliefs in ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ behaviour in general
- Difference in ideas on politics, family, and privacy
Friends with their ex
Whilst it may be a worry at times, there’s a reason your partner is dating you and not their ex. Sometimes relationships just don’t work and staying as friends is just that.
Rach continued that “sometimes ‘pink’ flags are noticing some toxic behaviours and issues in the relationship that are either forming or starting to get worse and choosing to then do something about them and yourselves to get back into a healthy space. This is a good thing and not uncommon for relationships to sail into and out of more toxic waters over time. You can always navigate yourselves out of them if you are committed and willing to work on both yourselves and your relationship”.
Callisto shared that “toxic behaviour in a romantic relationship is generally portrayed through lack of communication, resentment, manipulation, and imbalance of control and power within the relationship”. However, Ness added that “everyone’s romantic relationship dynamic will be different so what looks like toxic behaviour to others from the outside might actually be a functional and healthy relationship between the couple in question. Relationships that don’t offer a feeling of safety and where you can’t be vulnerable with one another, may be dysfunctional relationships and even toxic”.
Louisa added that toxic behaviour can also include “gaslighting, refusing to engage or communicate about issues, comparing your partner to other people unfavourably, or undermining them with children – so changing rules around discipline or making out the other parent is boring or incapable”. Tactics used by someone who is gaslighting you include: lying to you, discrediting you; distracting you; minimizing your thoughts & feelings; shifting blame; denying wrongdoing; and rewriting history.
Rach also commented that “If the behaviour is keeping you stuck in a pattern of hurting each other, limiting each other, or sacrificing so much you are hurting yourself, it’s not healthy and is therefore toxic. This means checking in with yourself and each other to see if things are getting better or getting worse as time goes on or with each pattern and behaviour the relationship triggers. If your relationship is healthy, it lifts you both up, feels supportive, safe (physically, emotionally, and mentally), it’s encouraging, and you are completely free to be yourself and accepted fully. If the relationship is limiting at least one of you from being yourself and doing everything that makes your life feel full, you need to really look at this”.
Money has been shown to be a big influencer on happiness and when there are disruptions or disagreements about it can make various areas within a romantic relationship feel rocky. We all have differences on how money should be used and how much is needed. Openly discussing how things will work – for example, if one person earns less will they put less into a joint “bills” fund – can help to avoid arguments or a breakdown in communication.
It can be really easy to see positives in other people’s relationships and lives and dream of them. It’s ok to have some feelings of jealously and envy during these situations but when they turn into unhealthy responses and coping, it can affect our romantic relationships. Talking to your partner about any relationship worries that may’ve led to unhealthy jealous or envy can help. Often, we can over think that others have something better than we do, but in fact we don’t know the full story and many too are feeling similar about how other relationships may be doing better than theirs.
Too much or too little affection
Everyone’s libido varies during different stages of their lives, and this can mean that it’s sometimes mismatched to our intimate partners. Many couples worry that their sex drive is too much or too little for their partner and this can often lead to them feeling that they aren’t compatible with them. It can be hard to communicate such a delicate topic and due to this, this can lead to arguments. Changing outlook on what sex is can help and understanding that it’s not just penetration or orgasm focused can be important. It’s work on both sides but it’s worth it to find a nice place in between that both can feel loved, satisfied and not missing out.
Intimate interactions don’t always have to result in orgasm, and it can be just as important to spend time together holding each other whilst naked or exploring other forms of stimulation. If differences in the amount of sex desired is still a concern, seeking help from a sex and relationship therapist or coach may be an option.
A refusal to talk about or address an issue can often cause arguments as the other partner is left feeling frustrated.
Differences in priorities or preferences on small everyday things
Sometimes one person is spending too much time at work, on their business, out with other friends, doing their hobbies, playing their games, watching their shows… While they are important too, it’s about having a balance. It’s healthy for each individual to have their own life and interests but not when it’s taking a large part of ALL available couple time. Making sure the time together is high quality, is how you can get away with less time when it’s literally not available due to other commitments being (hopefully temporarily) time consuming. The small pieces of quality time can get a couple through some of the darkest of times so make them count.
When milestones don’t happen or don’t happen when expected couples can argue. Often individuals will have an idea of when they want certain big life changing moments to happen, from moving in together, marriage, or having kids. However, not everyone wants the same milestones, and some may want them at different times in their lives, and this can be upsetting for some in a relationship. It can lead to many couples feel frustrated and trigger arguments. Taking time to talk about your long-term goals with your partner is important, and doing it regularly is key as our milestones and expectations can change over time. Seeing if you’re both comfortable to comprise can be helpful too.
Wider family issues
Family conflicts and disagreements can step into a romantic relationship. When you are romantically involved with someone often at some point either or both of your families will become part of your relationship dynamic. Ultimately wherever possible remember that we don’t choose our family, but we can choose who we are allowing into our lives and by how much. Different parenting styles, arguments over when and how to discipline each child, what boundaries to put in place or who is more of a “softie” and “letting them get away with everything”. Arguments over what they eat, when they go to bed, what school or courses they should do! Who should be doing more and stepping up or who is too controlling?
Wider family can cause issues with expectations on how often they might see family but also what influence family members may have on their lives. Whilst some family involvement can feel compulsory, making sure you both keep your joint views and goals is important. Learning to comprise and stand by each other can help, but also understanding that whilst family is important, we all sometimes have to learn to say no.
Difference in sleep routine can cause some couples issues due to trying to navigate relationship bonding for when you are both awake. Sometimes due to work or caring for children can really disrupt sleep patterns for couples. Taking time away from these mismatch routines and sharing moments together is important whether that means you both need to take time off, have a weekend away of book a babysitter. If this isn’t possible, taking moments to both go and relax together in bed or on the sofa can help, and this will also help release oxytocin and dopamine as you both unwind together, meaning you both should feel closer and happier together afterwards.
Alcohol and drugs
Alcohol can also cause arguments in relationships especially where one person is a heavy drinker, and the other isn’t. The same for one being a drug user when the other isn’t.
When the household chores feel unbalanced to one person (real or perceived) you can bet it is going to be an issue. Take into account how much time each person is working or if they are and share the load accordingly.
Communicate about fantasies, not just intimate and romantic ones, but everyday ones where you can see yourself with your partner. Understand that things are forever changing within a relationship and whilst you may have established boundaries and rules, checking in from time to time to see whether or not they suit your current dynamic is important to avoid miscommunication and arguments.
Having a named “our day”
Ensuring that you spend regular time together and talk about your hopes, dreams, and fears and not just who is putting out the bins is really important too! Let it be a day which you spend entirely together, yours and yours only. Introducing a daily hug with eye contact beforehand can help re-establish safety and strengthen bonding within the relationship.
Regular date nights
Try and commit to having some regular couple time where you don’t talk about the kids, or work if you can manage it, unless you both love to hear and chat about it. This is the time to do activities you love together, and talk about how you feel, what excites you, your dreams, your struggles, so your partner can be let in on your inner world and can support, encourage, or just listen and hold you. These can be the quality bonding times that see you through life’s storms, phases, and curveballs.
Respect each other’s personal space and separate times
Whilst being a couple can be amazing, making sure you both have time for your individual selves is important to avoid co-dependency.
Be present, and work to boost your partner’s self-esteem
Standing by your partner when conflicts from outside of your relationship is important and show you are present. We also underestimate the value of each partner feeling good about themselves. If either partner has low self-esteem or is struggling with mental health issues this can often have a big effect on a relationship if the problems are not acknowledged or addressed.
Work on a strong connection of love and desire
Keeping a strong connection of love and desire is important. Some people love having sexy outfits, role play and kinks, great, keep bringing those in, but sometimes it’s a simple “I love and appreciate you so much, thank you for everything you do for me every day and for loving me the way you do” that can be enough of a boost to move into more sexy territory and beyond.
Take time to bond
Remember that “spark isn’t just sex… Sexy sparks burn brighter and are easier to keep going when there is a solid feeling of love and connection, so anything you can do to keep bonding, connecting, and loving on each other is going to help you last the distance on all levels. Take 10 seconds to connect somehow during the day or when things are feeling tiring and hard, particularly when one of you can see the other is struggling.
Rach added that “when you approach your relationship like a marathon instead of a sprint, you’ll put regular time, energy, love and appreciation into it and your partner does too, you’ll never have to worry about it”.
Any kind of abuse, verbal or physical is always a red flag, no matter what kind of relationship. You’ll see these behaviours particularly when they are triggered, in all other times they may be “in check” and able to hide them so when they are stressed or emotionally triggered is when you get to see just how toxic, even dangerous, a person is.
Examples might include: not being available when you need them; says they’ll show up but doesn’t and doesn’t call or communicate to say they’ll be late or a no show.; says they can help you but then doesn’t.
Examples might include: never (or very rarely) makes the effort to connect or catch up; only calls when they want something; will dump their emotional stuff on you but for some reason isn’t available when you need support; borrows money and never pays it back or says they did but you are sure they haven’t.; the give and take balance scale is way in their favour, with everything.
Jealousy, including possessiveness and controlling
These people are emotionally unstable, and you’ll always feel like you’re walking on eggshells with them, while simultaneously feeling trapped in the relationship.
Examples might include: they don’t want you to spend time with other people or doing things that don’t involve them; they’ll use manipulation and guilt to stop you; going into a meltdown or getting angry when you aren’t available; they may even lose it at you because they feel like you’re abandoning or rejecting them (their unhealed emotional baggage).
Lack of boundaries
Examples might include: they plan things they know you’ll be uncomfortable doing; borrow your things without asking; show up unannounced and stay well beyond a reasonable hour or amount of time; message and call you at all hours when you have communicated when you are not available.
Put you in uncomfortable situations
Examples might include: being the dumping ground for your friends’ emotional baggage, and there not being much else in the friendship; stewing on misunderstandings for days.
Two-faced and share secrets
Examples might include: they are nice and loving and say amazing things about you to your face, but you find out from other people that they are bad mouthing you and sharing lies behind your back; they may also be bad mouthing other supposed friends when they talk to you (a potential red flag right there); they’ll have you second guessing who to trust.
Lack of availability
Examples might include: things come up in life (such as caring for children) which gets in the way of seeing friends.
Avoid certain places
Examples might include: can’t manage certain venues; be worried about bumping into people who make them feel uncomfortable.
Mismatch values or beliefs
While they may be friends in every other way, two mature people can navigate this mismatch and areas like these become a topic they can agree to disagree on and not discuss it.
Examples might include: differences in faith or politics related beliefs and perspectives
Competing friendship circles
As we get older, we run in different circles (not everyone but this is not uncommon), and some circles are just not compatible. We are multifaceted beings who love a variety of things and people, and it’s healthy to have that variety. It can be a problem when one friend is uncomfortable or unhappy with one of those circles. It may mean they don’t’ hang out in those circles together or that part of their life is just their own, and that’s ok.
Moving location, moving jobs or even being more housebound such as lockdown or working from home, can change the dynamic of the relationship and the frequency of connection, which can lead to the end of that time as friends, the pink flag is in recognising when this is happening and allow the friendship to move on in the way it needs to.
Ness started by saying that “toxic behaviour within friendships can vary, but often the biggest thing to look out for is when you can’t be yourself”.
Rach added that toxic behaviour in friendly relationships is “much the same as in a romantic relationship – it’s toxic if it feels more damaging over time than uplifting and supportive. It’s toxic when you can’t share exciting news with your friend without them feeling hurt by it for some reason and not able to be happy for you. If there is always a reason to make you feel bad for something, it’s not healthy”.
Power addicted people
Often playing politics and do anything to anyone to get ahead, for them it’s all about how much power they can have and how fast they can get it, no matter who they screw over and damage in the process. These people are highly toxic to any workplace.
Examples might include: order others to do the work that they don’t want to do; order them to do menial work or work that no one wants to do, to remind them who is in power.
This is often done by a person who likes to control everything, who doesn’t trust someone else to do everything to their standard or in the way they prefer it to be done. It can also result in people who pass off work as their own.
Examples might include: literal or virtual standing over someone while they work, telling them every little thing they are doing wrong and what to change, not allowing the person to learn or master their skills, putting them under extra stress of being under the microscope.
- Controls personal life
Any kind of bullying or nastiness will drag a workplace down fast. Particularly by people in managerial or team leader positions as they set the tone for others.
Examples might include: overtly in the names they call them; ignoring them when they attempt to give input in a team meeting; ignoring any request for promotion or work that they would love to do; rejecting them just because they can or don’t like them; not giving them any opportunities based on merit; making mistakes and blaming them on others; taking zero responsibility.
Lack of privacy
Any workplace with an overly active gossip, polarised, sexualised, politicised, judgmental, or competitive culture is a fertile ground for toxic behaviour. Where it’s encouraged to talk about, walk over, scrutinise, ostracise others instead of having open communication, acceptance, collaboration, and support as the foundation.
Examples might include: when you disclose person things but then everyone suddenly knows.
- Lack of breaks
- Payment issues, including for overtime
Inappropriate sexual behaviour
The workplace is generally where people expect to be focused on their job, they expect the people around them to do the same and while some friendship level connection is ok, people aren’t there to hook up and meet someone for pleasure.
Examples might include: constantly make sexual comments; inject sexual innuendo into conversations, meetings, and other work-related environments; make a habit of touching co-workers making them feel uncomfortable.
Extreme hate-centred beliefs
It becomes a big red flag where the person is sharing their thoughts, ridiculing, or attacking a colleague with zero regard to how appropriate, offensive, and hurtful their words and actions could be.
Examples might include: beliefs that make up any level of hate towards another person due to their race, skin colour, gender, religion or spiritual beliefs, job, perceived class/level of importance.
Workplace relationships compared to romantic and friendship relationships generally differ in the level of intimate conversation, vulnerability, and openness.
Unable to get days off for holiday
It may be that you haven’t booked in advance, and no one can cover your shift or others have already booked time off for this time of year.
Feeling like an imposter
Sometimes it can be easy to get imposter syndrome, when in fact you’re perfect for your job position and are likely really good at it without realising.
Worried staff are talking behind your back
It may be that you simply just haven’t built up connections with them through communication, and when you start talking with other staff find out that there wasn’t anything to worry about.
Rach shared that “toxic behaviours are basically anything that makes the workplace feel unsafe, unreasonably difficult to fit in or achieve work objectives, and/or highly stressful because of the people more than the work itself”.
Ness mentioned that “toxic workplace behaviour can be tricky to navigate as you can feel pressured not to speak-up in fear of losing your job. If you’re incredibly unhappy in your work environment but are worried about standing-up for yourself, it’s likely that you’re in a toxic career”.
*Expert insight shared in April 2022
With thanks to our expert sources for their insight for this article: