I’m sure you’ve had a conversation in the past with a friend or family member who shared intimate details of a struggle that they were having in their relationship. I once heard from a client that she had recently entered a new romantic relationship and loaned her partner a significant amount of money. As a therapist, I stopped and said RED FLAG!
Like a referee at a game, I call it out, and the color of the flag indicates the severity of the situation. Yes, that's right. There are more than just RED FLAGS!
In relationships, whether romantic, professional, family or friendship, it’s important that you become more aware of the different colored flags. They can be a helpful tool in identifying areas of your life where you may need to pause and reflect on dynamics and how they affect you. Flags are great for helping you to slow down, recognize when something is not aligning with what you want, and have a conversation about it.
Let’s break down red flags, yellow flags, green flags, and white flags in relationships.
Red flags are behaviors that present potential dangers, unhealthy patterns that affect wellbeing- mental or physical. These are behaviors or patterns that your intuition says are not okay.
I am a big proponent of trusting your gut. Your gut is directly connected to your central nervous system, so if something isn’t feeling right, you will usually sense it. Your body will literally detect that you don’t feel safe or that there is a potential for danger. Take a moment and just think of a time when you felt this. How did you handle it? Did you ignore it? If so, what was the outcome? I always tell my clients, “Go with your gut.” You’ll know a red flag when you feel it.
We tend to focus more on the “red flags” in relationships, but I personally believe that the yellow flags are just as important to identify. Yellow flags are less severe, but still can still cause significant harm, mentally and emotionally.
One yellow flag is someone who wants to spend too much time together and rarely wants to be apart. A healthy relationship allows space and time for self care and the other important relationships in your lives.
In relationships, there is such a thing as too much too fast. This can look like sharing intimate and personal details or intense topics early on and expecting the same of you. This can show up as love bombing, or excessive affection, gifts, or attention early on.
When it comes to yellow flags, if you are feeling any level of pressure, it’s a signal to slow down.
Green flags are the go ahead indicators that you are entering or maintaining a healthy and secure relationship.
One green flag that is paramount is open communication, a verbal contract between you and your partner that openness and honesty is vital and sacred. That means that you both find the time and create a safe space to share whatever issues are pressing. Ego is replaced with empathy. There is mutual respect for feelings and boundaries. There is self awareness and accountability for behavior, and a priority to improve negative patterns. This is a clear indicator that they want to grow, and someone who values personal growth tends to support growth. We all want to grow and be better, and there’s nothing more loving than a partner who has your back throughout the journey.
No one is perfect, but a person’s values can be perfect for fostering a healthy relationship.
There are times when we have to wave the white flag and surrender. If the relationship is one sided and your partner lacks engagement or consistency in the process of improving the relationship, if there is a significant betrayal in any form or fashion, then these white flags may indicate it’s time to throw in the towel.
However, sometimes relationships and their intensity can simply be overwhelming. There may be periods of time when you feel like you’re having a hard time showing up for yourself, let alone the other person. A white flag may be agreeing that some more space is needed for each of you. This can also be useful if there is an intense discussion or conflict. It is okay to wave the white flag and state that it’s time to take a break and revisit a difficult conversation later.
A white flag is also an indication that at this time, communication skills are not effective and stressors are more prevalent. A white flag may symbolize that it is time to ask for outside support such as a couple’s counselor, meditator, or a relationship coach. Waving this white flag is totally okay. It just means that you and your partner may need more support to help resolve things that are problematic in the relationship.
I hope that this list has been helpful in identifying the flags in your relationships so you can navigate each of them more effectively!