What do I do if I spot red flags or deal breakers?

Dating can be difficult. 75% of people currently dating say it’s difficult to find someone to date. And, it can be even more difficult to date as a single Service Member who faces challenges such as relocation every few years or being stationed in a rural area with a small dating pool.

Yet, there are not many more important decisions than choosing a romantic partner. When dating, you might focus on what you want in a relationship. But, because people tend to avoid losses more than they seek gains, it might be more helpful to focus on what you don’t want in a relationship. In fact, people who have a list of what they don’t want in a relationship tend to be more satisfied with the person they choose to date.

What people often don’t want in a relationship is negative information about a potential mate. Negative information displayed by romantic partners are called red flags or deal breakers. Red flags can trigger future negative experiences if you continue to date a person who exhibits these behaviors. And seeing deal breakers might cause you to lose interest in continuing to date that person or reject them.

Some of the most common dating red flags are:

  • Aggression. Examples of aggression include anger issues, abusive behaviors, or psychological violence (such as verbal abuse or criticism, being controlling or possessive, or isolating you from family and friends). If you experience violence or abuse in your relationship, seek help for your safety and wellbeing.
  • Clingy. Examples of being too clingy include being needy or jealous.

Some of the most common dating deal breakers are:

  • Unmotivated. Examples of not being motivated include being lazy, lacking ambition, or having a different view on morality.
  • Apathetic. Examples of being apathetic include not giving you attention, not being caring, being untrustworthy, or dismissing your interests.
  • Distance. Living too far away is another deal breaker.
  • Poor hygiene and health issues. Examples of poor hygiene and health issues include a partner who smells bad, doesn’t take care of themself, or has STDs. 
  • Unattractiveness. General “unattractiveness” is a common deal breaker. People often screen for specific ideas of unattractiveness when dating online. Their deal breakers might be height, body type, certain activities, or other issues. 

The tricky thing about red flags and deal breakers is they aren’t always obvious from the start. As you get to know the person you’re dating, you learn both favorable and unfavorable things about them. By the time you recognize the red flags and deal breakers, you could be quite committed or attached to this person. This can make the decision between continuing to date them or ending the relationship very difficult. 

In addition, you might need to see multiple red flags or deal breakers before you decide between continuing to date them or ending the relationship. People often won’t reject a potential partner after learning only 1 red flag or deal breaker. Some people need to see 4 or more red flags or deal breakers before ending a relationship. But, ignoring multiple red flags or deal breakers can affect your long-term relationship happiness. People who ignore multiple red flags or deal breakers tend to be less satisfied with the relationship over time. This could be because they’ve had more time to think about the red flags and deal breakers, or the initial excitement of the relationship wore off. 

What do you do if you spot red flags or deal breakers in your dating relationship?

  • Think about your motivation for dating. Your dating motivations might depend on whether you’re looking for a casual, short-term relationship, a committed, long-term relationship, or just a way to spend your time or socialize. So how you react to red flags or deal breakers might differ based on those motivations. You might look past some red flags or deal breakers if you’re looking for a casual, short-term relationship or dating is just socializing. But if your motivation is to find a loving, long-term partner, you might stop dating someone who exhibits red flags or deal breakers so you can find someone more compatible.
  • Consider your options. How you view your options might guide how you react to seeing red flags or deal breakers with a romantic partner. For example, if you have high self-esteem, access to a large dating pool, or are looking for a long-term relationship, you might act quickly when you see red flags or deal breakers. But if you feel lonely, don’t want to be single, or only have access to a small dating pool, it can feel unsettling to end a relationship. You might think your options, such as being single or dating someone else, aren’t better than what you already have, so you might be more open to dating someone with clear red flags and deal breakers, especially if you feel lonely.
  • Work on communication. Communicating with the person you’re dating can help you uncover possible red flags or deal breakers or clear up any misunderstandings. And, you can utilize communication strategies to help you avoid argument traps or even improve your relationship, despite seeing red flags and deal breakers.
  • Decide if the relationship is still worth it. Ultimately, if you see red flags and deal breakers, you need to decide if you want to continue the relationship or end it. Because this often isn’t an easy decision, you might want to talk with someone, such as your chaplain or a mental health provider.

Interested in learning more about dating? Check out these additional HPRC articles:

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