18 subtle red flags you have as a partner you might not know about

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We may be quick to notice the flaws in our partner.

After all, we live with them day in and day out. So is it any wonder that their failings can quickly start to get on our nerves?

But seeing your own blind spots isn’t quite as easy!

Especially when some of them are subtly flying under your radar.

1) Undermining your partner

I am a recovering perfectionist. I began to notice that in relationships I had a nasty habit of watching over a partner’s shoulder when they were doing something.

I would then offer “suggestions” and “feedback” if it wasn’t being done how I would do it.

It took a long time for me to gain awareness of how toxic this was.

Every time I didn’t trust and respect a partner to get on with something — I was undermining them.

The same goes for:

  • Critiquing
  • Passing judgment
  • Micromanaging
  • “Teasing” them or bad-mouthing them in front of people

2) Having unrealistic expectations

…Of your partner and the relationship as a whole.

If we’re honest, who doesn’t want the fairytale?

When society pushes unrealistic romance on you, it’s natural that you crave it. But in doing so, you can set yourself up for disappointment.

Because fireworks fade and real life can be boring sometimes. I’m not trying to put a downer on things, but it’s true.

We can be too demanding of our partner. We hope they will complete us and make us happy. But sadly, that’s an inside job.

3) Nagging

We probably all know that nagging is a bad idea, but we may not always recognize nagging behaviors as they arise.

It happens when one person is dissatisfied with something. They then opt to use complaining and cajoling to try to prompt their partner to take action.

The justification is that you wouldn’t have to nag if your partner made more effort and paid more attention to what you say.

But not only is nagging a drag, it’s counter-productive and doesn’t work.

It drives more of a wedge between you and increases frustration levels on both sides.

When we start to parent our partner, it makes for a fraught relationship.

4) Always getting your own way

Surely if we’re honest, we all like to get our own way.

Whether it’s going to the restaurant we want to eat at or watching the movie we’re in the mood to see.

But if you always seem to get your own way, in big ways and small:

You are putting your own needs and wants first. And your partner’s desires have to take a back seat.

You may say that they genuinely don’t mind. Is that true? Or are they just trying to keep you happy?

5) Trying too hard to please

On the other side of the spectrum, you may be the people pleaser in the relationship always willing to put yourself out.

But this is still a red flag as it points to a lack of boundaries, and perhaps even low confidence or self-esteem.

The problem is that it can masquerade as kindness.

But if you:

  • Find it hard to say no to your partner
  • Neglect yourself just to make them happy
  • Feel like you give and all they do is take

…Then it suggests there is a power imbalance that needs addressing.

6) Fighting dirty

Arguments are never particularly pretty, right?

It’s true. But there should always be ground rules.

That means:

  • No name calling
  • Making an effort to hear each other out
  • No unfair sweeping generalizations
  • Taking accountability for your own feelings
  • Trying not to play the blame game

Yes, disagreements will arise. But we should always aim to fight fair when they do.

7) Stifling freedom

Your partner wants to go out for drinks with their friends this Friday.

You’re disappointed. You were hoping for a cozy night in with them.

So you try to guilt-trip them into changing their plans. Or you act a little off with them, all the while refusing to admit that you’re annoyed.

Even when we don’t outright tell our partner what they can and can’t do — we may obscurely make our preferences known.

But healthy relationships need autonomy and independence as much as they need togetherness.

8) Struggling to apologize

Does the word “sorry” get all too easily stuck in your throat?

Maybe you have a bit of a stubborn streak that you can’t see.

Let’s face it, admitting fault isn’t always easy. Bu knowing when (and how) to apologize is a healing tonic in a relationship.

Otherwise, resentment can build up.

It’s important to say sorry as it:

  • Begins to heal wounds
  • Mends trust
  • Reaffirms important relationship rules like respect
  • Gives your partner dignity

9) Keeping little secrets

I have a rule I follow when it comes to honesty in a relationship:

If I can’t tell them, then I probably shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

If it’s not something I am proud to share with my partner, it probably means it’s a moral grey area.

Of course, many people keep secrets from their other half not because they have done anything wrong, but because their partner flies off the handle.

You know they won’t like the fact you spent $100 on a fancy dinner last week, so you keep schtum about it.

But this is just as bad. You may not be masking your bad behavior, but you are masking theirs.

And as we’ll see next, ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away.

10) Brushing things under the rug

We all want a harmonious relationship. Of course, it’s so much nicer when it’s all hearts and smiles.

But that’s not realistic.

Real relationships will involve conflict at some point.

You may see it as a positive sign that you “never fall out”. But this can hide a more insidious truth:

You are not dealing with your relationship issues as they arise.

Instead, you prefer to keep the peace and brush them under the rug.

But unspoken conflict has a habit of coming out eventually, and usually in more destructive ways.

11) Expecting your partner to change

Do you know why the honeymoon phase is so great?

Sure, there’s all those endorphins and hormones working their magic. But there’s also something else.

We can imagine our partner is more perfect than they really are.

We project our own desires and expectations onto the blank canvass in front of us.

But as time goes on and we get to know someone, it’s harder to do that. 

At this stage, we may wish they were someone else. Someone closer to the ideal we had in our minds.

There is resistance to letting them be who they really are.

12) Being holier than thou

Believe it or not, even if you’re a Saint in your relationship, that can be a red flag in itself.

If it’s done in a superior way anyway.

Reminding your partner of how selfless and generous you are turns them into the bad guy.

You may be falling into victimhood or martyrdom.

Maybe you are perfect. But it’s far more likely that you are simply failing to notice your own imperfections.

13) Making zero effort

You’re a few years in and so you’ve hit cruise control.

This often happens so slowly and gradually, that we don’t notice it.

But without care and attention, relationships have a habit of turning sour.

I’m not talking about still needing to dress to impress. I’m not even necessarily talking about ensuring you stick to date night every single week.

But deluding yourself that your relationship will tick over nicely without needing any maintenance can be a deadly mistake.

We still have to make time and effort for our partner. Otherwise, they’ll feel neglected.

14) Failing to show your appreciation

I’ve had so many guys tell me they don’t understand the big deal about flowers. Why do so many women love receiving them?

Sure, it can seem like a very old-fashioned notion. But the truth is that it’s not really about the flowers.

It’s about feeling appreciated.

We don’t need to get each other gifts to do this. Small gestures count.

It’s things like:

  • Offering to help
  • Saying thank you and meaning it!
  • Writing a letter of gratitude
  • Giving compliments

15) Getting moody instead of saying how you feel

This is another one I’ve had to do a lot of work on.

Whenever we:

  • Sulk
  • Give the silent treatment
  • Refuse to say what the problem is

…We are being passive-aggressive.

Instead of engaging in honest and clear conversations, you may retreat into yourself.

Often it is a defense mechanism. But it can create some serious communication problems for your relationship.

16) Being a bit dismissive

When we are busy, we can be unintentionally dismissive of our partner.

We act like we don’t have the time to give them our full attention.

Maybe we’re busy folding laundry, watching our favorite show, or replying to a text on our phone.

And then there is one of the most dismissive behaviors of all…failing to listen.

17) Not really listening

My partner came home from work the other day and I automatically asked him “how was your day?”.

It’s become a habitual question we use to check in with one another. But like any habit, it’s often done without the care it deserves.

I realized after a minute or so, that I wasn’t actually listening to what he was saying.

Sure, I was going through the motions with all the right head nodding and “ah ha’s”.

But really, I was off in my head thinking about other things.

18) Holding grudges

Some things are harder to move past than others.

But holding onto resentment from past events or arguments spells trouble.

You keep the focus on the negative. 

Constantly bringing up past wrongs against you is only keeping you stuck.

Final thoughts: Working on yourself is working on your relationship

The greater self-awareness we can create, the better our relationships are.

Leading by example is the best way to instantly improve your relationship dynamics.

So if we’re looking to critique, it pays to start by looking closer to home!

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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