Photo by Petr Ovralov on Unsplash

Don’t Ignore the Same Red Flags I Did

I ended up divorced. Will you?

Red Flags are a touchy subject. What’s a definite red flag for some might not be for others, and when we’re in love — or infatuated — we risk not seeing any at all.

Hindsight, however, is 20/20, and that’s absolutely true when it comes to divorce.

When my marriage ended, one of the first things I did was compile a mental list of all the red flags I had ignored over the years. It wasn’t exactly intentional, it just sort of happened as I would journal to process what I was going through, and how I got there. Major events such as divorce are great catalysts for intense self-reflection.

While every relationship is as unique as the people involved in it, as humans we share universal anxieties, relatable traumas and common needs. Some red flags are particular to every couple and person, but some, I believe, are more universal. These are signs of potentially toxic and emotionally abusive relationships. Don’t ignore them like I did.

Constantly fighting isn’t healthy

My ex and I would disagree on a lot, both before and after marriage. Even though disagreements happen in a relationship, the sheer volume of stuff we argued about should have been enough of a sign that we were not a match made in heaven.

Fights and disagreements are also different things. Not every disagreement has to necessarily lead to a full-blown fight, but most of ours did.

We had fights about important things and silly things, nothing was off limits.

After we were married, even the smallest things like deciding what to eat and when to eat were an issue. Heck, even how to eat was an issue. We would get into horrible arguments over table manners for chrissakes.

Now that’s all over, and I have acquired a lot of perspective, I sometimes come across other relationship stories in which people describe ongoing situations which seem very similar from mine, with the silly fighting over food and everything. Much like past me, they believe they can get over this “phase,” and eventually work it out.

Perhaps they can, but I’m sorry to say I doubt it.

Completely resetting a relationship is hard — I know, I’ve tried. Relationships grow and develop from the base they start on, and if that base is set on frequent disagreements that often lead to fighting, then the tendency is that it will get worse, not better.

So unless you want to end up like me, stop believing that constantly getting into arguments with your SO is just something that happens, and that’s ok because you’re both “learning how to fight better,” which brings me to my next point.

“Learning how to fight better” isn’t the answer

That expression alone makes me cringe.

I’ve see that concept discussed as if meaning the same as “learning how to communicate better,” but I disagree. When a couple comes to the point of fighting, it means they’re past the point where good communication would have made a difference.

What does “fighting better” even mean, anyway?

Does it mean you’re learning the best strategies to win over your opponent? That you’re learning how come back swinging after you’ve taken a hit? (Speaking metaphorically here, please don’t actually punch each other).

There are claims that “fighting better” involves establishing some sort of rules, that it’s supposed to make the fighting civilized, or something to that effect.

To me, “learning how to fight better” only implies that fighting is ok, that it’s just something every couple engages in from time to time, no big deal. Normalizing fighting leads you to lose track of how many you’re having, and what you’re fighting about, which might lead you to ignore an important red flag: that you fight way too much.

You’re fighting from Monday through Sunday, but you’re fighting “the right way,” so you’re really fine as a couple, right? Right?

I don’t think so.

Disrespect can’t be explained away by sense of humor

My ex-husband enjoyed being sarcastic, and would direct his sarcasm at me, often hurting my feelings.

“It’s just my sense of humor,” he would explain, whenever I told him how I felt.

Only his “sense of humor” didn’t land as funny as he thought it did. It made me feel disrespected, diminished, often stupid.

Disrespect and sense of humor are different things, and one can’t explain away the other. If your partner thinks it’s funny to make jokes at your expense, or to laugh at something you’ve said in all seriousness, then that’s a red flag right there, especially if you explain how you feel about it and they’re unwilling to apologize.

Thinking ”everything will be better when (insert major life event)”

My relationship with my ex-husband wasn’t going particularly well in the year before our wedding, but I somehow got into my head that once we were married, things would be better.

It started a particularly nasty trend in my head. It went from “once we’re married” to “once he achieves the position he wants at work” to “once we have a child.”

“Things getting better” kept being postponed to some indefinite date in the future when a major life event was supposed to make our relationship magically turn healthy. Those external events would make us happier, make us not disagree so much, nor fight so often.

Putting up with a bad relationship and attaching happiness to an external event is not a healthy mindset. A couple should get along based on who they are and what they represented to each other. It’s natural to look forward to major life events, but ideally, a couple should enjoy the ride, not make each other miserable while expecting external circumstances to change a bad reality.

Don’t ignore red flags that point to emotional abuse

You may have your own particular standard to what constitutes a red flag, but don’t ignore more universal ones, especially those that point out to emotionally abusive behavior.

I ignored how egocentric my ex-husband was. How focused he was on his plans, and how little room he was actually willing to make for me — his wife — in his life.

I ignored his attempts to shape my speech, brushing it off as something that would eventually pass.

If you’ve ignored a major red flag and now regret it, don’t beat yourself up, it happens. We want our relationships to work out, and hope, combined with infatuation, sometimes overruns our judgment.

If you’re noticing major red flags in your relationship and don’t know what to do about it, try taking a step back to gain some perspective. Talk with a therapist if you feel you need external help.

Ultimately, go with your gut, even if it feels like it’s too late. Trust me, it’s never too late, especially when you’re reaching for a new beginning.