Sometimes, relationships can be tough. Life can be hard, and some people may try to use or hurt others.
Here are 14 unmistakable signs that suggest it might be best to part ways, highlighting relationship warning signs identified by professional couples therapists.
1. Recognizing Contempt
Therapists consider contempt a relationship red flag because it often signals a critical issue within the relationship. When contempt becomes a staying emotion between partners, it indicates deep-seated disrespect, dislike, or hostility.
In such cases, when one person shows genuine contempt towards the other, it typically suggests that the relationship has reached a severe breakdown. Therapists may encourage seeking a peaceful resolution or parting ways at this point.
2. Winning at Therapy
Approaching therapy with the mindset of convincing the therapist that you’re right and your partner is wrong is a concerning sign in a relationship. It’s like treating the therapist as a referee or a judge rather than a communication facilitator.
This behavior suggests that there may be difficulties in how the couple communicates and resolves conflicts. Effective therapy requires both partners to engage openly and work together. When one person tries to win the therapist’s approval, it can hinder therapy progress and address the real relationship issues.
3. The Sign of Controlling Behavior
When one partner strongly opposes individual sessions during couples therapy, it’s a concerning sign for the therapist. Therapists typically meet both partners together and separately during the assessment process.
If a partner reacts with intense criticism, suspicion, or disbelief about this approach, it often suggests deeper issues. This objection can indicate controlling or manipulative behavior in the relationship, hindering open communication. Therefore, this therapist pays close attention to these reactions, which may show underlying problems that must be addressed.
4. Retaliatory Cheating
For this therapist, witnessing a couple engaged in “retaliatory” cheating, where both partners are involved and openly discussing it, raises significant concerns. This behavior indicates a high level of conflict and emotional immaturity within the relationship.
While the couple from the example may have temporarily made peace, doubts linger about the long-term sustainability of this resolution, given their emotional maturity and the hurt they did to one another.
5. A Question Unveils Unpreparedness
When this person reacted strongly to a premarital counselor’s simple question about why they wanted to get married, it signaled a red flag in their relationship. This question is a standard part of premarital counseling, but the couple found it rude and invasive.
This reaction suggests they may not have been prepared for the necessary introspection and communication required for a successful marriage. They called off the wedding a few months later, highlighting that it might not have been built on a solid foundation.
6. Infidelity’s Long Shadow
Continuing an affair while in a relationship. In this therapist’s observation, relationships rarely recover when one partner maintains contact with the person they’re having an affair with or is dishonest about it.
It removes trust and hinders the possibility of rebuilding a healthy relationship. Both partners must be committed to addressing the underlying issues for therapy to be effective.
7. When Family Ties Strain Relationships
An indicator of relationship trouble is when one partner is excessively tied to their parents or in-laws. While cultural differences exist, behaviors like involving parents in conflicts or speaking negatively about one’s partner to family members can strain relationships.
In many cases, such couples remain unhappily married for an extended period, which can be disheartening.
8. Self-Prioritization Over Partnership
A problem emerges when an individual consistently places their own wants above their partner’s needs. In such relationships, the lack of genuine concern for the other’s needs can be a serious obstacle to positive change.
These dynamics often signal potential difficulties, as one party’s indifference to their partner’s well-being can hinder the relationship’s growth and success.
9. The Destructive Force of Invalidation
Another reason it’s time to move on is invalidation, which takes various forms, like gaslighting or dismissing someone’s viewpoint. Often, it rises when one or both individuals seek emotional validation for their feelings or concerns, but it’s interpreted as a personal attack on their beliefs.
This behavior can be damaging as it obstructs healthy communication and creates a sense of not being heard or understood. It’s particularly problematic when individuals habitually disagree with everything others say, leading to invalidation and communication breakdowns.
10. Not Discovering Lost Sparks
When a couple has completely lost sight of the positive aspects of their relationship, there isn’t too much hope for them. In therapy, the goal is to rekindle what initially attracted them to each other and to remind them of the good in their partnership.
When individuals have been unhappy for an extended period and can’t recall what it was like to be in love or even like each other, it suggests a deep level of distress and hopelessness in the relationship. This lack of connection to positive memories and feelings can be a substantial hurdle in therapy.
11. The Pitfall of “What-About”
Engaging in “what-aboutism,” where one or both partners deflect responsibility by highlighting the other’s similar behavior. It’s indicative of a lack of self-awareness and ineffective communication skills.
Effective communication is crucial for repairing a damaged relationship, as it’s the foundation for initiating conflict resolution and rebuilding trust. When this behavior persists, it hinders progress in addressing underlying issues and suggests a challenging road ahead for the relationship.
12. High-Conflict Relationships
Encountering “high-conflict relationships” where frequent and bitter conflicts start short after the relationship begins and persist. In such cases, research suggests that relationship therapy may not be effective.
The conflicts may persist indefinitely or eventually cease, but therapy might not substantially change the dynamic.
13. Misaligned Intentions
A significant relationship red flag is when one partner is committed to saving the relationship while the other is emotionally distant or already checked out. This dynamic is often disheartening, reflecting a lack of alignment in the couple’s intentions.
In many cases, infidelity is involved, and it’s unsettling when the unfaithful partner is either known to the spouse or disclosed after therapy sessions. These situations can be challenging because couples counseling is often sought as a last resort, making it harder to effectively address deep-rooted issues.
14. Refusing to Compromise
Refusing or being unable to compromise is a major red flag. It’s analytically supported that compromise is crucial in predicting relationship satisfaction and long-term success in marriages and relationships.
When individuals demonstrate an unwillingness or incapacity to find a middle ground, it often indicates deeper issues in communication and cooperation, which can hinder progress in therapy. Therapists pay close attention to this behavior as it can indicate challenges that must be addressed for the relationship to thrive.
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