Identifying Red Flags: Avoiding Dysfunctional Relationships

Many people will find themselves in an unhealthy and/or dysfunctional relationship at some point in their lives. The longer one stays in this type of destructive relationship, the more difficult it is to break free from the vicious cycle of either staying in or re-entering into the same type of situation. There is no sugar-coating the fact that the problem with being in a dysfunctional relationship is that it will ultimately tear down self-esteem and diminish self-worth. Once this occurs, it is very difficult to recover – yet, the good news is that it is not impossible. How does one break free from destructive love in favor of healthy love?

The answer is quite simple, know your worth and embrace self-love. Although the answer may be simple, the implementation is not always as easy; particularly if the relationship has been abusive either physically or emotionally. It makes it even more difficult to end the cycle if the relationship has been going on for an extended period of time. In either of these instances, it can sometimes be quite difficult to decipher between whether the relationship is true love or dysfunctional love. This gives a new meaning to blurred lines! The key to making the distinction between true love and dysfunctional love is that true love does not hurt physically or emotionally. Even with the greatest capacity of self-love, it is still important to be able to spot the red flags of potentially dysfunctional relationships early on in order to avoid falling into the cyclical abyss of dysfunctional love. This holds true for both women and men.

Let me be very clear, I am not a relationship expert by any stretch of the imagination. What I do know for sure is that when it comes to personal relationships chemistry, physical attraction, or even co-dependence may overshadow logic. Of course, logic and love are not always congruent, if ever. Therefore, spotting red flags sooner than later will help to circumvent the pitfalls of falling into an unhealthy relationship. “Falling” in love implies that one has no control over the situation. Yet, red flags are pretty obvious indicators to detect certain behaviors or tendencies that a prospective mate may have which are tell-tale signs that a relationship is or will ultimately become dysfunctional or even toxic. By not being a relationship expert, I certainly have not perfected the craft of identifying all red flags, or even catching them in advance of entering into a relationship. It all goes back to the internal struggle between love and logic. In essence, sometimes the heart just wants what the heart wants; or at least I think it’s the heart. Even though I have not perfected the skill of identifying all red flags, here are some examples of what I know for sure to watch out for to avoid certain despair of a dysfunctional relationship:

RED FLAG #1: THE NEVER-ENDING ON AGAIN OFF AGAIN “RELATIONSHIP”

To make a long story short, I once dated a guy (or maybe two) in an “on-again off-again” situation for way over what would be considered a normal courting period. Actually, I cannot call it dating or a relationship; maybe the term “situation” describes it best. This type of situation is always very ambiguous and the status (whether it is on again or off again) is very seldom clear to either party. First of all, the red flag in this situation is that any long-term relationship that is still in an on-again, off- again state for a long period of time is a true sign of a deep rooted fear of commitment. Undefined situations such as this may seem convenient in some respects but they are a breeding ground for deception and misery in the long-run. Unless deceit and betrayal sounds alluring; then these unstable undefined relationships should be avoided at all costs. On the flip side, maybe the thought of having time to play the field during the ambiguous off-again times sounds appealing because the switch can always be flipped by either side. These days, for me anyway, I see these as messy arrangements that scream red flag! It is best to spot these shady red flags sooner than later and keep it moving.

RED FLAG #2: THE POTENTIAL ABUSER

Anyone who goes from 0 to 60 from initial meeting to talking marriage is a definite red flag! Combine this with control issues and the situation can get rather fiery. Take for example one guy I met who asked if he could call me Tina. Since my name is not Tina, I was gearing up to tell him a thing or two. Then he said, “You know – Tina, like in Ike & Tina Turner”. He went on to explain how Ike was a protector who only had Tina’s best interest at heart. Listen, I saw the movie “What’s Love Got to Do with It” and, no disrespect to the fabulous Tina Turner, but this screamed red flag. There had been other tell-tale red flags such as when a mutual acquaintance unexpectedly leaned across the dinner table and whispered to me, “Whatever you do, don’t ever make him mad”. Need I say more? Of course, my heart wanted to overpower the logical side of my brain because like I said before, the heart wants what the heart wants. The situation escalated when he began to time my commute to and from work then told me what time he expected me to arrive home each day. This spilled over into him telling me what type of clothes to wear, what color fingernail polish to wear and that he expected me to answer the phone whenever he called (i.e., no more calls going to voicemail). Look, I am quite the independent woman, so I never acquiesced to his demands. Luckily, I came to my senses early and allowed logic to triumph. By spotting this red flag early, I was able to walk away virtually unscathed.

RED FLAG #3: THE POTENTIAL PHILANDERER

Once when I was at the store getting my cell phone fixed, like clockwork, the dysfunctional relationship gods sat this tall, dark sip of chocolate right across from me. We started small talk about the issues each of us was having with our phones. Finally, his phone was fixed and it was time for him to leave. We said our goodbyes and he left. About 15-minutes afterwards, he returned to the store and started walking straight toward me. Once he got to where I was sitting, he handed me his business card. He then said he just had to come back because, of course, he thought I was “so adorable”. I had a hunch that he was married when he handed me his business card as opposed to his cell phone number. After all, we had been discussing our cell phones. Granted, not everyone who hands out their business card to a person of interest is married, but this one had red flag all over it. Once I finally got up the nerve to contact him, I asked him whether there was any particular reason he gave me his business card as opposed to his cell number. Luckily he was pretty honest and admitted that he was married. Of course this was after giving me the spiel about how his marriage was in trouble and that I appeared to be “Mrs. Wonderful”, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, I thanked him for his honesty but told him that I respect the sanctity of marriage and could never in good conscious be in contact with a married man. I did not ask him to call me if/when he divorced because that would be Red Flag #4, The Rebounder. Anyway, another potential dysfunctional relationship averted.

In a nutshell, embracing self love and knowing your worth is the key to entering into a healthy relationship. It is important to be honest about what you want and what you don’t want in a relationship. The goal is to try to spot dysfunction before even entering into the abyss of an unhealthy relationship. Being in a dysfunctional relationship, such as the ones described above, will make you feel you have little or nothing to offer. Once you embrace self-love and begin to know your worth, it will become clear that anyone who tries to diminish your self esteem or devalue your worth is not someone who is worthy of your time or energy. Only a person in a position of weakness will try to demean someone whom they profess to love. Someone recently told me that being in a dysfunctional relationship is comparable to developing muscle-memory from working out. Once the muscle is conditioned in a certain way, over time, it will retain that pattern even without conscious effort. Relationships are the same way. A person can become so conditioned to being in a dysfunctional relationship that it begins to feel normal. At least we now have the tools to spot them before they even start. A quote that I recently read somewhere sums it up beautifully. It says, “Don’t worry about people from your past. There’s a reason they didn’t make it to your future” ~Anonymous. Identifying red flags is definitely a useful tool in determining who you should bring with you into your future and those that need to be left in your past.