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Red Flag Theory

A message came to me late in the day to call a past client who wanted to start therapy again. We had spent several sessions the previous year examining her life. In particular, we looked at the choices she made regarding the men she invited into her life. Our sessions had suddenly stopped when she declared she had finally found “someone who really cares about me, my soul mate”.

Her wanting to resume therapy probably meant it didn’t work out. She was likely back to beating herself up for choosing poorly. She had probably resurrected the cycle that there was something wrong with her because she kept choosing men who used, abused and disregarded her.

When we met, she was very depressed. She realized that yet another relationship had failed and her self-esteem was at an all-time low. “Why do I always choose the wrong guys?” was her lament throughout our first session. “If I would only choose better ….” I stopped her in mid-sentence and suggested to her that it wasn’t about her needing to choose better. After all, who can do that well at the beginning of a relationship?

Instead, I affirmed that the problem was more about her not acting on the “red flags” that the men presented. She chose to ignore the signals or to make excuses when they treated her poorly. She chose to keep them around, hoping they would change for the better.

People in a new relationship present well. It is not possible in 20 the beginnings of a relationship to see the real person; anyone can get snowed. So, should we stop looking for love in case they aren’t who we think they are? I think not!

I encourage people to think positively and give the new relationship a fair chance. Forget about all those “what ifs”, fears and worries borne from the past—easy to say—and stay open to the possibility that this relationship will work out. Do not focus on how you might get taken advantage of again.

Love the person and expect love back. If you don’t feel that your feelings are reciprocated, talk to your partner. Lay it out confidently. Keep giving feedback. Then, and only then, if things don’t change, end it! Do the best you can. Work at the relationship. But do not become so emotionally tied-up in it that you are willing to accept abuse. Remember the old adage, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”

No test exists for choosing the right person before you get to know them. If you are the kind of person who feels it is your duty to help others overcome themselves and their behaviours, stop it! And stop giving yourself hell for not trying to save all the defective relationships you enter. It is not your job to save a relationship or make it work. In the future, be open to love. But when the Red Flags present themselves, act on them! Don’t procrastinate! Jump all over those dubious behaviours with a thousand questions. And if you don’t hear the right explanations, hit the eject button pronto.

If the “red flag” behaviours don’t change—get out!