The Relationship Red Flags Science Says You Need To Watch Out For

When it comes to relationships, it can sometimes be impossible to predict where things will go. If you've ever started a relationship thinking that your new partner is the one only to find that as the months go on, things get more and more difficult. Arguments seem to come from nowhere, and the person who once made you feel amazing is now leaving you feeling worthless. If this sounds familiar, you aren't alone. 

Relationships turn sour for plenty of reasons. For some couples, it might just be a case of a bad match. For others, the relationship itself might become actively toxic and dangerous. While it may seem impossible to predict a bad relationship, if you know what to look out for, you might be able to spot the signs before things get out of control. 

We spoke to a few relationship experts to find out more about what the science has to say about the most common relationship red flags.

You feel unsafe in your home with your partner

One really clear sign that your relationship might be bad for you is your gut feeling. While it might be tempting to rationalize away your feelings of unease, it's always good to listen to what your instincts are telling you. For instance, if you feel actively unsafe in your own home around your partner, it's important to pay attention to this feeling.

"Feeling unsafe in your own home is one of the most serious red flags in any relationship," warns Jessica Alderson, Co-Founder & Relationship Expert at So Syncd. "If you feel threatened by your partner, or if they have a history of violence or aggressive behavior, it's important to take the necessary steps to protect yourself."

Even if you don't feel physically threatened, you may feel emotionally uneasy in your home. As Alex Wills, MD, author of the new book "Give a F***, Actually" says, "Do not discount emotional or psychological safety either, which is also a need and a right."

Your partner makes threats in order to control you

If your partner has a habit of making threats and bribes to control your behavior, this is a serious red flag. These threats might not always be easy to spot. For instance, if you say you have plans to go out, they might make off-hand comments about not spending time with you to try to stop you from going. This type of underhanded threat is a key example of coercive control. As a study in Violence and Victims showed, threats are common in abusive relationships.

"If your partner uses threats of physical violence, verbal abuse, or financial coercion to control you, this is a serious red flag," says Alderson. "This kind of behavior is never acceptable and often comes from a deep-seated sense of entitlement and power. As you become close to them, their need to control you will likely increase, which is why it's so important to look out for even seemingly small signs of controlling behavior in the early stages of dating."

Your partner is overly clingy with you

In the early stages of a relationship, clinginess may be kind of endearing. It can be nice to feel like your partner is just a bit obsessed with you. However, as the relationship goes on, a partner who is overly clingy isn't always a good sign. After all, clinginess can quickly turn into possessiveness and jealousy. A 2023 study found that being "clingy" is one of the six main red flags that turn people off of relationships. And according to the experts, it can also be a sign that the relationship will ultimately be an unbalanced one.

"Although it's nice to feel wanted and loved, having a partner who is overly clingy and possessive can be a red flag," says Alderson. "If your partner is constantly calling you or always wanting to know where you are and who you're with, it can be a sign of an unhealthy relationship dynamic."

Your partner tends to get irrationally jealous about you

Jealousy can become pretty toxic in a relationship. If your partner is constantly feeling jealous without any real reason, it could be a sign that they will never fully trust you. As a 2013 study noted, numerous researchers believe that jealousy is a sign that one partner is "emotionally dependent" on the other. It is also likened to "greater dissatisfaction with the relationship in general." 

According to Alderson, a little jealousy is normal, but it may be a red flag when it gets out of control. "An element of jealousy isn't uncommon in relationships, but when it becomes excessive, it can lead to possessiveness and unhealthy behavior," she tells us. "If your partner constantly questions you about who you're talking to, who you're with, or what time you're coming home, it's a cause for concern." She adds that this type of behavior often leads to even worse behavior, like "monitoring your phone calls and social media accounts or accusing you of cheating."

Your partner never seems to prioritize you or give you time

If your partner doesn't seem to want to spend time with you, this can be a sign that they either aren't that interested or that they may have a personality trait or condition that makes it hard for them to be a good partner. "If no practical or obvious explanation, this could be a sign of narcissism, antisocial or Asperger's," says Wills.

Ultimately, if your partner isn't prioritizing you, it's usually a sign that they will continue to put you last as the relationship goes on. Over time, this behavior will likely lead to an unbalanced relationship dynamic. "If your partner doesn't prioritize you in the early stages of a relationship, it could be an indication that they don't value your presence," warns Alderson, adding, "This red flag can sometimes be resolved through open and honest communication. But if you've communicated your needs to your partner multiple times and they still don't make any effort to meet them, [it] might be time to reevaluate the relationship because it's difficult for people to change core behaviors like this."

You feel afraid to communicate your feelings to your partner

Open and honest communication is essential for any healthy relationship. No relationship is perfect, so being able to talk through your issues with your partner is vital. If your partner makes it hard for you to open up, this can be a red flag that it will be difficult to resolve issues further down the road.

 "If you don't feel comfortable voicing your opinions or feelings around your partner, it could be a sign that something is off," says Alderson. "For example, your partner may not be providing a safe environment for you to express yourself. In the long run, if you don't have a safe space to communicate your needs, you'll end up feeling neglected and unheard in the relationship."

Wills adds that sometimes, being afraid to communicate might not be a red flag about your partner — it might be a red flag about you. "This may be a 'you problem,'" he says. "Codependency is marked by people afraid or unwilling to express their feelings or desires in order to please or placate their partner."

Your partner doesn't celebrate your wins

This is one red flag that can be tricky to spot. If you notice that your partner has a tendency to minimize or ignore your "wins," it can be a sign that they struggle to empathize or that they feel threatened by your success. Needless to say, over time, this probably won't lead to a happy relationship. 

According to Alderson, it can also mean that deep down, your partner doesn't view you as part of your team. "Your partner should be happy to share in your successes, not view them as a competition or something that threatens their ego," she says. "They should also be willing to support you when times get tough and help lift you up when necessary. Failing to celebrate a partner's wins can cause resentment to build up over time."

Wills adds that a partner who consistently fails to celebrate your wins might have narcissism, sociopathy, or Asperger's. "Interestingly, with Asperger's, it is usually not that they don't love or care for you; it has more to do with them having narrow interests, a lack of cognitive empathy, or poor social communication," he says.

You can't rely on your partner

Being able to trust your partner is vital in any healthy relationship — even if it's just trusting them to arrive on time or do their half of the chores. If you feel like you can't rely on your partner, you may find that resentment builds up and tensions rise as time goes on. 

"Trust is everything in relationships, and if you can't rely on your partner, you won't be able to feel secure in the relationship," notes Alderson. "This could be something as small as your partner always being late or something more serious like them not being honest about their whereabouts." In order to build a lasting, strong relationship, she says, it's important that you can depend on your partner to keep their word. "Healthy relationships are built on a foundation of mutual support, and that requires trusting that each other will be there when needed."

Your partner is love-bombing you

Love bombing is one of those buzzy relationship terms that seem to be everywhere these days. However, love bombing isn't just another trend — it's a dangerous sign that someone is controlling. Love bombing is a pattern where someone showers you with affection early in the relationship before removing that affection and continuing to expect effort from you in the relationship. The result is often that you are left trying to regain the lost affection — and sometimes, you'll be willing to do more than you should. One 2017 study explained that love bombing is often a clear sign of narcissism.

"Love bombing is classic narcissistic or histrionic behavior," suggests Wills. "One of the most powerful tools of emotional abuse and manipulation is the control of affection. Love bombing's evil twin brothers are demeaning and abandoning — very powerful tools of emotional control.

Alderson adds that love bombing is a form of manipulation people use to control others. "While love bombing might not seem concerning at first, and it's not uncommon for people to feel flattered by the attention, the love bomber will expect certain things in return in the future.

Your partner can't seem to compromise with you

Compromise is key in any relationship. No couple wants exactly the same thing all of the time. Compromises come in all shapes and sizes, from deciding where to eat for dinner to deciding whether to have children. If your partner is unable to listen to your needs and make compromises with you, you'll probably find yourself going along with their desires or, ultimately, breaking up. A 2017 study even found that relationships in which men were to compromise after childbirth were more likely to last.

"If your partner isn't able to compromise, it can be a warning sign that there is worse to come," says Alderson. "Compromise is essential in any healthy relationship, and it shows that your partner cares about your needs. If your partner is unwilling to budge on their beliefs, it can make for a very one-sided relationship." She adds that as your relationship becomes more complicated over time, your partner's unwillingness to compromise will only get worse. "If your partner can't compromise on small things now, it won't get any easier later on," she says.

You feel you are being alienated from friends and family by your partner

In some toxic relationships, your partner may try to isolate you from the influence of your family and friends. The less you listen to other people's opinions, the more you can be controlled, as Psych Central points out. 

"Isolation is a key tool of emotional abuse and manipulation regardless of the diagnosis or reason behind it," warns Wills. "It may end badly if it continues."

Alderson agrees that isolation is a tool for control. "Your partner might not want you to talk to anyone else about your relationship or their behavior," she says. "It can become a downward spiral in the sense that as you become more isolated, you have fewer people to talk to about your relationship issues." Without your old social network, your partner might begin to convince you that their toxic behavior is normal. "If your partner is attempting to isolate you from family and friends, it's essential to stop it in its tracks as soon as possible," she says.

Your partner displays signs of having narcissistic personality disorder

Narcissism is a personality disorder that leads someone to become overly self-obsessed. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, it is defined as "a pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy." Naturally, being in a relationship with someone who is blinded by self-obsession isn't easy. In fact, it can often lead to toxic behaviors in the relationship.

"People who are truly diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder often do not believe the problem is with them nor do they sincerely want help to change," says Wills."They will more often use psychological information to their advantage because the end game is to have control and get what they want."

If someone isn't diagnosed with the disorder but simply has some narcissistic tendencies, things can still become tough. "Narcissistic behavior isn't something you can change overnight — it often takes years of therapy and a huge amount of effort — so if your partner displays any signs of being a narcissist, the situation is unlikely to improve in the short term," says Alderson. Even though narcissistic behavior is dangerous, it isn't always that noticeable in the early stages of a relationship. "Some signs can include your partner needing constant praise, taking credit for everything, and expecting you to be available 24/7," Alderson says. "It can be a warning sign that there is worse to come because it signifies a lack of empathy."

Your entire relationship revolves around alcohol

One final red flag to look out for is a dependency on alcohol. Many relationships begin with an evening at a bar or dinner and drinks. However, if your entire relationship seems to revolve around the consumption of alcohol, this may be a sign that you and your partner aren't connecting on a real level. In fact, as a 2017 study found, heavy use of alcohol in a relationship leads to decreased relationship satisfaction and more fights between couples. 

"If your relationship revolves around alcohol, it can be a cause for concern," warns Alderson. "Alcohol can be used as a way to escape reality or mask problems in a relationship. Unfortunately, this means that underlying issues aren't addressed, and instead of improving, the problems can become worse over time." She also suggests that it's important to spend time with your partner when you are both sober. "It's also a red flag because if you need alcohol to feel connected to your partner, it can indicate that you may not be compatible on a deeper level," she says.

Wills suggests doing a "test-run of the relationship without alcohol for a month or more." This way, you'll be able to see if your relationship really is built upon a foundation of alcoholic dependency or whether you and your partner have something stronger. "If it fizzles out, you may have dodged a bullet of a mutually reinforcing co-substance abuse disorder," sums up Wills.