Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Red Flags to Be Aware of As You Develop New Relationships

As we develop new relationships with people, it is necessary to understand that there are levels to those relationships and if we do not follow the natural and established progression of those relationships, we can find ourselves in trouble no matter whether it is just a friendship or whether we are courting a more intimate relationship.

What do I mean by levels?  The levels in a relationship are steps that we take to get to know another person.  As we progress from stranger to close friend or intimate partner, we have to give the relationship time to develop so that we can evaluate whether the person is a good fit for our lives, what kind of character they posses and if they can be trusted.  We have to take these levels in order, not getting one before the other so that trust and bonding can happen or if we are moving into a relationship with someone who is untrustworthy, abusive or even dangerous, we know that in time to be able to extricate ourselves.  In so many relationships these days, sexual encounters come way too early in the relationship and intimate bonding takes place before each individual has had time to evaluate the other person.  This kind of bonding then makes it much more difficult to evaluate the "Red Flags" that may come along.

Each level of a relationship has its characteristics.  When we first meet someone, we make small talk and over the course of different conversations we begin to evaluate whether the person is of interest to us.  Sometimes there is a connection, sometimes there isn't.  If the person peaks our interest, we will see them again in a different context...perhaps over coffee, dinner or maybe just by phone.  In these conversations, we can determine whether the person is easy or difficult to communicate with, whether there are mutual interests and what kind of life the person has had or is planning on having.  In these first few levels of relationship we are evaluating on many different levels.  If we determine the other person is interesting to us, we will probably move into the next level of relationship which is denoted by spending more time together in different ways, exploring mutual interests and taking conversations deeper.  We may talk about family, goals for the future and what our dreams and visions are for our lives.  In this level we are evaluating whether the person is safe, what we like about them and they are doing the same with us.

Once trust is established, then there is a time period where we evaluate where the relationship is going and if it is an opposite sex relationship, if we are interested in pursuing a deeper kind of relationship.  From there, the relationship becomes more defined, roles are established, boundaries are defined and there is a structure that starts to take place between the two people.  Moving forward, a foundation is being laid for a more connected and intimate relationship down the road.  Looking at the complexity of these levels of relationship, it is somewhat easy to see why introducing a sexual encounter early on may disrupt the natural flow of things.

However, the focus of this article is what takes place in the early stages of relationship building and what to look for in order to determine whether the person is safe and trustworthy to become involved with.  When individuals are not safe and/or not trustworthy there are certain characteristics that tend to pop out over time and we need to understand that in order to evaluate them, we must take time in establishing relationships with a person of the opposite sex.  Some of these are just common sense, but some may not be so obvious....let's take a look:

  1. Criminal History - if there is any violence, sexual abuse, substance abuse or histories of any type of crime, a person should consider that a red flag.  Patterns of behavior mean something, no matter how much justification is offered.  If you don't want to deal with the behavior, understand that if there hasn't been any outside help to change the behavior, it will probably appear in any relationship the individual has.
  2. Employment Record - look for long periods of unemployment, job instability or job dissatisfaction.  This may indicate a lack of motivation, an inability to get along with authority or even co-workers and even a mental health/substance use problem in the person's live.
  3. Military Service Record - was there an honorable discharge?  That one speaks for itself.
  4. Health and Medical History - is there history of STDs or even HIV?  Have they been through rehab?  Substance abuse is very detrimental to a relationship and a history of sexually transmitted diseases or even testing for them can show a propensity for commitment issues, lack of respect for themselves or others.
  5. Mental Health History - a history of depression, mental illness or even low self esteem can be a red flag that needs to be observed.  Although many people go through their lives with depression and low self esteem, these things can create issues in a relationship because of negativity and lack of boundaries or social skills.
  6. Family History and Relationships with Family Members - How do they resolve differences and disputes?  Is the relationship with family healthy?  Is there any mental illness, substance abuse, child abuse or domestic violence?  These things change the way individuals deal with stress, change or problems and need to be seriously evaluated before considering progress to a committed relationship.  How is mom treated?  How does the person treat their father?
  7. Previous Relationships - was there (are there) violence/control issues?  Did the previous relationship break up amicably or is/was there bitterness and anger?  It may be advisable to speak to the ex to see if their story matches what is being told.  Often two people who break up will not have the same reasons, but if the person you are with is minimizing or being evasive, it is worth the time to check out their story.
  8. History or signs of substance abuse or addictions - these things in a relationship can lead to physical violence, financial instability, child abuse, sexual abuse as well as emotional and verbal abuse.  When a person's mind is altered in any way, you will not be dealing with the same person you know in a sober condition.
  9. Credit History - Does this person own property, a home, cars, retirement accounts.  If not, why not?  A good credit history is a good indicator of stability and responsibility.
  10. Treatment of Pets, Animals and Children - any history with them, is patience and understanding shown, have there been any signs of violence?  Violence against animals is a clear indicator of significant issues and individuals with a history of this should be avoided.
  11. Pornography - pornography is an indicator of how the individual may be able to connect with another person intimately.  Objectification is a fancy word for lack of empathy and connection and it is something that becomes important when someone is addicted to pornography.  When a man objectifies a woman, he sees her as one the pictures in the magazine.  She has no feelings to be considered, and she is there for his gratification only.  The women in the magazines don't talk back, they don't ask for respect and a relationship with them doesn't have to be worked at.  This is the problem with pornography, whether it is in print or on the internet.  It blinds its victim to emotional connection, honor and respect of the other person in the relationship and as we know, that causes a host of problems in relationships.
  12. Honor and Respect - How does the individual see others?  Are people treated with honor and respect or are they yelled at from behind the wheel of the car, pushed aside in order to get to the front of the line or talked about behind their backs?  
  13. Ladies - does the man you are involved with ask you for money?  Do you feel as though you should pay for things because he can't afford them or doesn't have the money to do what he needs to do........child support, bills, fines etc.  Don't do it!  It is a sign of irresponsibility and that should mean something to you.
  14. Boundaries - a lack of boundaries means a lack of respect.
  15. Control and/or manipulation - if the person you are with does not accept responsibility for their actions, if they manipulate you or control you; if they won't let you see your friends or family; if they lie and say they didn't....these are major warning signs and you should run, not walk in the other direction.
  16. Legalism - in faith based relationships it is important to recognize legalism.  Individuals who use scripture to control/manipulate/dominate another person are operating outside of those scriptures.  God is not controlling nor is He dominating.  He has given us free will.
  17. Growth - if you cannot be who you are, if you cannot grow inside the relationship then the relationship is not a good fit for you.
Although you may not see the need, it is important to develop a "Screening Committee" of 3 or 4 people you respect and trust who can give you feedback with regard to the individual that you are developing a relationship with.  This is especially important if you have a history of getting involved with abusive individuals.  Be ready to listen to their concerns and don't minimize them.  They are probably the same ones you've had.  

No matter what people say, character matters!  People are who they really are when no one is watching and that says a lot about character and integrity.  Pay attention to these things and it will save you many hours of pain and perhaps financial devastation in your future relationships.  


Anonymous said...

What if you saw the red flags and ignored them? I used to not be able to leave him and wanted so badly to have him as a boyfriend, even when there were worrying signs. I thought that once we were married, at least I would know it was God's will to be married, and we would HAVE to work at it. But working on it hasn't really worked - one step forwards, two steps back. I really can't tell if we are REALLY making progress although he thinks he is quite a different person now because he is older and more settled. The red flags are still there but we are married - now what?

Gr8mochas said...

Dear Anonymous,
As with any decision we make, we are the recipient of the consequences of those decisions, good or bad. Depending on which of the red flags you are talking about will determine what you should do now.

Communication problems are very different from financial irresponsibility which is extremely different from domestic violence. As I mentioned in one of my previous articles, a relationship is a place where both parties can grow and thrive. That atmosphere is propagated by making good on our vows to "love, honor and cherish". If we do those things, then relationships will thrive.

If you are making progress in your relationship you both should be happier, you should be growing both together and individually. If that isn't happening, relationships either stagnate or go backwards.

Hope that helps.....

Anonymous said...

So the red flags that were at the start were his relationship with his mother (hostile) but he pleaded with me to understand that she was very controlling. Since then, I have realised she is, but I also see that he is very contemptful of her, which brings me to the other red flag - lack of respect for others who he doesn't agree with. And not respecting boundaries (not hearing "No"s), insisting on having his own way, sulking when hurt, avoiding resolving conflicts. He has improved in other areas, like learning new job skills and holding down better jobs. And he has great work ethic and no addictions.

I know I made the bed, and I have to lie in it. But I do want to do things right from now own. Surely red flags should not just be a matter for new relationships?

Gr8mochas said...

No, you're right, red flags aren't just for new relationships, it's just that in that stage you are more free to do something about them. In this situation, it becomes a negotiation. Clearly the resulting behavior from growing up with a controlling mom whom he resents has impact on his current relationship so the negotiation begins with what works and what doesn't work for you both.

Counseling is an obvious suggestion because most people can't overcome deep seated issues by themselves, mostly because they are unable to see the impact they have on those around them. If you find that he is unwilling to address some of the things that are problematic for you, then you will need to decide what you can live with and what you can't. That is where boundaries come in. Boundaries do no good unless they are enforced and enforcement means consequences. People who don't recognize boundaries usually don't because they have seldom had those boundaries enforced with consequences that meant business. That is the hard part...he sets boundaries by sulking, insisting and avoiding. You know that if you cross his boundaries that is what you are going to have to communicate to him that there are boundaries with consequences on your side as well.

If setting boundaries doesn't work, then you have to move on to stronger measures if you truly desire change. Just let him know what the consequences will be prior to him crossing the isn't good to tell him afterwards.

Hope that helps.