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Covert Red Flags: The Real Things You Should Be Looking Out For in Relationships

Your relationship with your spouse should be the closest human relationship you ever have. As we are dating, we are assessing whether or not that person could potentially fit into our inner circle. This causes us to be on high alert for red flags. Most red flags are obvious--lack of communication, anger issues, irresponsibility, controlling behavior, abuse, etc. A quick Google search will bring up list upon list of red flags we should look out for. Being rude to waitstaff, not making your relationship public, not caring about XYZ, stone walling, gaslighting, and more can all be found on most lists.

But what about the covert red flags? Those things that are less obvious. My first marriage taught me to look out for the overt red flags like the ones found in every advice column. My second marriage taught me to look out for covert red flags, ones that I never even realized were red flags until I could look back. The entire time we dated, I kept looking for the overt red flags, and there were none. It wasn't until we were married and subsequently separated that I realized there were covert red flags the entire time.

1. Different Definitions
How we define the terms love, marriage and forever are so important. Some believe in unconditional love that is only possible through God. Others define love as the feelings that spring up when you're with that person. If your potential mate has different definitions of what a relationship is, it's a red flag. It's unlikely that someone will ever change their definitions, and trying to get them to see your perspective on definitions is usually a lesson in futility. I realized recently that husband #2 was always going to leave because we had such different definitions of love, marriage and forever.

2. Not Having a Relationship With the Lord
Being a Christian and having a personal relationship with the Lord are two different things. Going to church, praying and talking about God are all wonderful things that every man should do. But doing those things doesn't mean he has a real relationship with the Lord. To use the biblical fruit metaphor that "we shall know them by their fruits," many people are proficient at making others think they have a blooming tree of beautiful fruit, when in reality, they've painted that fruit, not actually cultivated it. Only time and prayer can reveal a person's true relationship with the Lord. Ask lots of questions, and have those deep philosophical talks.

3. Not Understanding Grace
If a man doesn't truly understand grace, he will never be able to extend it to his partner. Only a man who has received grace from the Lord can truly understand it. Without grace, he's going to stop giving you his time when he gets mad at you. Without grace, he will start complaining about you. Without grace, he will no longer make you feel safe when you screw up, because, well, you screwed up. Without grace, your sexiness will wax and wane with his moods. Without grace, he won't want to help you fulfill your dreams when you fail to help him follow his. Without grace, love simply cannot be love.

4. How He Talks About Past Partners
Watch how he talks about past relationships. We tend to think that "He won't ever do that to me," as if we are so incredibly special, and our love is so deep, that our love can’t possibly fail. When husband #2 would talk about his exes, I remember thinking, "Wow, I hope he never feels that way about me." The issue is, that at some point, he may feel that way about me. He treated those women wonderfully and lovingly at one point, too. Something changed, and then he treated them hatefully and atrociously. On a date one time, a man was telling me about how he kicked his ex-wife out of the house for being a lazy sloven--he had just had enough. He said it with such pride, and he felt justified in what he did and telling her that their marriage wasn't going to work out. This was a woman whom he had sworn his love to, a woman he was covenanted to protect, love and honor. If he could throw her out, he would throw me out one day, too. How he treated her on her worst day will be how he treats me on my worst day.

5. Treating Others How He is Treated
The Bible tells us in Matthew 7:12 that we are to "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It's the Golden Rule, after all. But many people think that they are justified in treating others poorly because that's how they were treated. "I was mean to her because she was mean to me" is an elementary playground excuse--not how a mature, Christian adult behaves in a relationship. With husband #1, there were many things that I did wrong because I was hurt and angry. I was indeed mean to him because he was mean to me. However, I recognize that my behavior still wasn't right. That's the key--recognizing that just because I had a just reason to do it, didn't make my actions correct. I was wrong for my actions regardless, and I apologized, and I try to do better every time. An "eye for an eye" isn't just a mentality--it's the hallmark of the spirit of rejection. The spirit of rejection will destroy your relationship, as it is already destroying the person afflicted by it. Date someone who not only can  recognize the spirit of rejection, but who knows their worth and that they are a treasure from above.

6. Parental Strife
I have always had a rocky relationship with my mom, so I'm not saying that contentious relationships with parents in and of itself is a red flag. What I am saying is to look carefully at the nature of the relationship and the strife. If your potential mate makes no effort to keep in contact, then there's a good chance that he will one day make no effort toward you. If he has given up hope for reconciliation, then at some point, he may very well feel there's no hope to heal your relationship either. If he can't forgive his mother for the mistakes she made, then he won't be able to forgive you for your mistakes. If he is constantly complaining about the woman who gave him life, then he will definitely do the same about you.

7. Not Validating Your Feelings
If he hurts your feelings, he doesn't get to tell you that your feelings aren't hurt. If he says something to the effect of, "What I did shouldn't have hurt your feelings," then he is refusing to take responsibility for his actions. If he can't take a step back and see how what he did or said hurt you, then it's a major red flag. Emotionally mature people should be able to see how their behavior can have unintentional consequences. For example: Jack asks me to toss him the remote. I toss it to him, and he misses it. It lands on his toe, hurting him. My intention was never to hurt him, but I did nevertheless. As a mature person, I need to own that my actions had unintended consequences, and I hurt Jack. I can apologize, and he can forgive me, realizing that I didn't mean to hurt him. Then we can move on. The problem comes when I refuse to take responsibility and say, "Well, you should have caught it, then." The same principle applies to when we inflict emotional pain on others.

8. Sharing Your Problems With Others
There are impartial people you can pay, and you get to tell them all your problems. They can look at your situation objectively and give you advice and next steps. They can also help you take inventory of your own issues and help you become a better person. Use these people--not friends. If he vents to his friends or family about you, then he is violating your trust and confidence. He is exposing your weaknesses, and he is laying you bare to them for their judgement and bitterness. His family and friends should never know the inner workings of your relationship. He should edify you and build you up to his friends and family. He should guard his mouth and speak highly of you to others--always. He is in effect cheating on you when he complains about you to others.

9. Saying You Make Them Happy
Obviously, you should be happy in your relationship, but your significant other should not be the source of your happiness. God is the source of our happiness. If we can't have happiness inside of ourselves with God, then we will never be happy with someone else. If we look to others to provide our happiness, what happens when they no longer make us happy? That's when we "fall out of love." That's when we start looking for someone else to make us happy. That's when we start looking for another source, when the only source is up above.

10. Unwilling to Hurt Other People's Feelings to Spare Yours
If your significant other isn't willing to hurt other people's feelings in order to spare yours, then he is not putting you first, and it's a strong indication he won't ever put you first. Every relationship--friends, family, children, co-workers--always involves a delicate balance. A man needs to be willing to potentially hurt everyone else's feelings in order to save yours. For example, when husband #2's friend said some not-so-nice things about me, he did not stand up for me. He did not defend me. He allowed this person to berate me and put me down. He said nothing. He was unwilling to hurt his friend's feelings to protect his wife. A man should always defend and protect his wife, regardless of whose feelings may get hurt.

I realize that I have put the onus on men in this post--that's because I'm a woman. I wholeheartedly believe that every single one of these covert red flags can and should go for both men and women in a relationship. It's important that both people in a healthy relationship are emotionally healthy, and these 10 covert red flags can help someone identify if the person they are dating is emotionally healthy or not.


  1. This really resonated with me! The not validating your feelings one is, I feel, HUGE! THank you so much for sharing!

    1. Thank you so much! I'm so glad it spoke to you!


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